Feb 15, 2022 - Politics

Bill proposes congressional residency requirements

Photo: Alan Poizner /The Tennessean/USA Today Network

Photo: Alan Poizner /The Tennessean/USA Today Network

New state legislation would allow candidates to enter congressional primaries only if they have lived in Tennessee for an extended period.

  • State Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) tells Axios his bill would aim to "protect Tennessee from invasion."

Why it matters: The legislation appears to be a direct response to the state’s redrawn 5th congressional district, where a competitive Republican primary is developing.

  • Morgan Ortagus, who announced she would run after getting an early endorsement from former President Trump, recently moved here.
  • Candidate Robby Starbuck is also a recent transplant.

Driving the news: Niceley says he started considering a residency requirement for U.S. House and Senate races after hearing about Ortagus and learning "that you could move in here and never even vote here and just run for Congress."

  • "We became a well-managed state because we elected Tennesseans who know how to pronounce 'Maury County,'" Niceley says.

State of play: The current text of the bill requires that nominees vote in three Tennessee elections. But Niceley says he plans to change the language to focus on a three-year residency requirement for primary candidates, which is in line with the existing rule for state lawmakers.

Between the lines: The Constitution only requires members of the House of Representatives to establish residence in their home state.

  • Niceley says federal rules prevent the state from regulating the general election but that primaries can have stricter requirements.

What they're saying: In a statement to Axios, Ortagus says she will "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."
  • Starbuck tweeted that the legislation was an attempt to "force me out of the race" and "change the rules in the middle of the game."
  • In a statement to Axios, Starbuck predicted the effort would fail and accused opponents of trying "every trick in the book to silence the people's voice."

What's next: The bill is up for a vote today in a Senate committee.


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