Walter Havenstein of Alton is running for the Republican nomination for governor. Democrats claim he is ineligible because although he has lived in New Hampshire since 1999 and maintained his legal domicile here all that time, he also was a legal resident of Maryland from 2008-2011. The New Hampshire Constitution states that the governor “shall have been an inhabitant of this state for 7 years next preceding.” (sic)
So, has Havenstein been an inhabitant of New Hampshire for the last seven years? Thanks to the state Democratic Party’s insistence that “domicile” and “residence” have two separate legal meanings, the answer is yes.
Section II, Art. 30 of the New Hampshire Constitution offers this definition of “inhabitant”: “every person, qualified as the constitution provides, shall be considered an inhabitant for the purpose of being elected into any office or place within this state, in the town, or ward, where he is domiciled.”
Current state law (RSA 654:1) gives this definition of “domicile”: “An inhabitant’s domicile for voting purposes is that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social, and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government.”
RSA 655:2 ties “domicile” for the purpose of holding elected office to the definition of domicile for voting purposes.
In 2012 the Republican-led Legislature passed a law tying “domicile” to “residence.” Its intent was to make New Hampshire voters declare New Hampshire as their primary residence for all legal purposes, not just for voting. Were that the law today, Havenstein might be ineligible to run for governor.
But Democrats said the change would “disenfranchise” college students who wanted to vote at school while maintaining a legal residence elsewhere. Some students challenged the law in court, and Superior Court Judge John Lewis sided with the Democrats. He struck down the portion of the law that instructed voters to declare New Hampshire as their residence for all legal purposes.
Havenstein got a property tax exemption on his Maryland condo from 2008 until he sold it in 2011. To get the exemption, he had to declare the condo his “primary residence” under Maryland law.
Former state Democratic Party Chairman Kathy Sullivan said in an April 4 press release: “By taking that homestead exemption, Havenstein gave up any claim to New Hampshire residency during those years, raising serious doubts about his eligibility to run for governor of New Hampshire.”
But Sullivan is one of many Democrats who have long maintained that residence and domicile are not identical. In 2005, Manchester Mayor Bob Baines’ campaign manager, Geoff Wetrosky, voted in the Manchester election. He claimed Sullivan’s residence, where he stayed for the few months he lived in New Hampshire, as his domicile. It is hard to claim, as Democrats are doing, that one can legally reside in another state and be domiciled in New Hampshire for the purpose of voting, but not for the purpose of running for governor — when domicile is the legal basis for determining both.
Havenstein has maintained his Alton domicile uninterrupted since 1999. Because of the Democrats’ insistence that “domicile” be kept strictly separate from “residency,” Havenstein has been a legally domiciled inhabitant of New Hampshire since 1999. And he has plenty of company.
Molly Shaheen, daughter of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, lives and works at least part-time in Los Angeles, where she co-owns a loungewear company, whose website describes her as “Los Angeles-based.” She votes in Madbury, though, from Sen. Shaheen’s home, which doubles as the official business address of the Los Angeles-based company.
The daughter of Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, resides in Hawaii. But for years she has voted in Weare, using her parents’ address. She says she intends to return to New Hampshire, and under the law that is enough to maintain her legal “domicile” in Weare though she lives full-time in Hawaii.
New Hampshire law should wed “domicile” and “residence” so the two are legally synonymous. But it does not, and the party that insisted on keeping them separate is likely to have a hard time reversing in court the argument it has advanced for decades.
Aside: On Tuesday The Washington Post’s homepage posted a column headlined “GOP, say bye to votes from women” beside an interview with New Hampshire Republican state Rep. Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem, who is running for Congress. Priceless.
Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His column on state politics runs on Thursdays.