Why I voted to affirm Rep. Calvin Say as a qualified member of the House of Representatives
February 28, 2015
As the Minority member on the House Special Committee to investigate the residency challenge to Rep. Calvin Say, I know many people expected me to put forward a dissenting opinion. However, after carefully reviewing both positions, I voted with my colleagues to affirm that Rep. Say is qualified to represent the 20th District in the House of Representatives.
The petitioners challenging Rep. Say's residency provided a substantial amount of evidence that Rep. Say is often absent from his home in the 20th District and that in the past couple of decades, it may not have been where he spent most of his time. I've heard from many within my own party and others who feel that the decision should have been clear – if he doesn't spend most of his time living in his home in the 20th District then he shouldn't be qualified to be a representative of that district.
It's certainly a logical conclusion, but it's not what the law says. Our law states that "The residence of a person is that place in which the person's habitation is fixed, and to which, whenever the person is absent, the person has the intention to return." Our law makes it very clear that a person's residence is determined by where they intend to reside even if they are absent from that place. In all the evidence that was given, there wasn't anything to show that Rep. Say's intention to permanently reside in his Palolo home is other than what he says it is.
I can see how that's frustrating to the petitioners. It's a law designed to ensure that voters can leave to take care of a family member, or go to school, or work outside of their districts without losing the right to vote in that district. When I went to school on the mainland, I spent the majority of my time living in Washington D.C., but this law allowed me to retain my right to vote in my hometown of Mililani where I intended to – and did - return. In that sense, it's a good law particularly for a state where so many of our residents go away to school or provide temporary live-in care for loved ones outside of the town they consider home.
However, it does provide large loopholes for elected officials that can be frustrating for individuals like the petitioners who ask how long is too long to be away from your home. When does it stop being your home? I can't answer that question, and I suspect not many people could give a definitive response. But, according to the law, it's your home as long as you intend it to be your home.
Laws can, of course, change. I'm sure it's frustrating for the petitioners that the outcome they desire may be now solely reliant on the Legislature changing the laws that govern its own members. It's unlikely to happen, particularly in a single-party dominant government, and I know that seems unfair. It's not a perfect system.
But, it would be equally unfair to the voters of Rep. Say's district if we overturned their choice without compelling evidence that Rep. Say doesn't intend to return to his Palolo home.