Lawmaker's bill would require congressional candidates to live in the district before they could run

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Posted at 5:27 PM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 19:20:48-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's a simple question — how long should a Congressional candidate live in the area they want to represent?

The Constitution doesn't say much on the matter. "You don’t even have to live in the district where you’re going to get elected. Now once you’re elected you’re supposed to live in that district," said NewsChannel 5 Political Analyst Pat Nolan.

Here's the reason for the question. Former U.S. State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus and Conservative Filmmaker Robby Starbuck are both running in the newly redrawn 5th Congressional District. Both recently moved to Nashville.

A new billin the Tennessee General Assembly would require someone to live here through three election cycles before they could become their party's nominee. "Obviously I think his purpose is to make sure that the people who are on the ballot for most major parties are what I guess he would think are true Tennesseans. People who haven’t just parachuted in here to run for office," said Nolan.

But even if the bill passes and becomes law, there are big concerns that it's not even constitutional. The bill's sponsor thinks there's room for interpretation. "The Constitution is simply silent on this question and according to the Tenth Amendment, when the Constitution is silent, those powers are left to the states," said State Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.

But Nolan thinks if the bill passes, this will be challenged in court. "I’m sure there will be an effort to challenge this, particularly since people will go to court and say this is discriminatory against me as a candidate and it’s not fair and it’s not right and it will be up to the judges to decide," said Nolan.

That could cause a whole other slew of problems. If a court hasn't ruled before ballots are printed, there could be a lot of confusion about who could even win. "You may not know who’s going to fully be on the ballot until the legal challenges and there are several levels of that to go through," he said.

In other words, a simple question without a simple answer. "I’ve never seen a Congressional race starting quite like this," said Nolan.

NewsChannel 5 reached out to the campaigns of both candidates that could be impacted by this legislation.

Morgan Ortagus's campaign released this statement:

"I'll leave state matters to the state legislature. I'm focused on earning the support of Fifth District Tennesseans who want a conservative fighter to defend President Trump's agenda."
Morgan Ortagus

Robby Starbuck's campaign has not replied to our request, but he did tweet about the topic. "TN State Senator @SenFrankNiceley is trying to pass a bill that would stop me from running for Congress by creating a new law saying you must live in TN for 3 election cycles before you can run for Congress. Respectfully call these Senators to make your voice heard," said Starbuck.