The Question of Congressional Residential Status

U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) is a ‘Fire-Breathing Liberal.’  He is one of the most vocal Congressional members who has called for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.  He was one of the first supporters of the presidential campaign for Barack Obama and a hero, of sorts, to the far-left.

The subtitle of his best selling autobiography, ‘Fire-Breathing Liberal:  How I Learned to Survive (and Thrive) in the Contact Sport of Congress is being put to the test.  He is currently under fire for using a ‘false residency’ in order to adhere to election laws, which require members of Congress to reside in the state they represent. 

Wexler represents Florida’s 19th Congressional District located in much of south Palm Beach County and north Broward County.  He was elected to Congress in November, 1996 and he and his wife decided that they would prefer to raise their family in suburban Maryland, just outside DC, where he spends two-thirds of his time.  This would allow him maximum quality time with his family.  The remaining third of his time would be located within his district, representing his constituents at the local level.

“It quickly became apparent that I would miss out on the bulk of my children’s lives,” Wexler said.

As a result, the Wexler’s sold their home in Palm Beach and moved to Maryland.  When he is down in Florida, he resides at the home of his in-laws. 

Wexler has been open about this since 1997 and even discussed it in his autobiography. This year, he has 2 challengers to his Congressional seat who are using this against him.  Bill O’Reilly has even taken hold of this story possibly for reasons Wexler is aware of.  O’Reilly is “angry with me for sending an e-mail to my supporters,” Wexler said, accusing Fox News and O’Reilly of offensive and racially disparaging coverage of Senator Barack Obama.

Wexler isn’t the only person coming under attack for residency questions.  Florida Representative Susan Bucher, also of West Palm Beach is being accused of changing addresses 3 times since June 13.  Her reasons appear sound as she responded that her landlord passed away and was forced to move to a temporary location until she and her husband were able to move into her current residence. 

This all wraps up into the question:  Should our elected officials own a house within the district that they represent?  On the surface, that answer must be yes.  Of course, if I completely agreed with that answer, then they’d be no point continuing.

Wexler and his fellow Congressional members earn $169,300 (effective January 2008).  While that salary is fantastic to the overwhelming number of Americans (myself included), is it fair to them to force them to purchase or rent 2 homes?  Not all of our elected officials have a Kennedy-sized family fortune.

Since they spend a substantial amount of time in DC, I think it is honorable to want to maximize their time with their families.  Also, is it a big deal if Wexler stays at his in-laws house while in his district rather than rent a 1-bedroom for $1500 a month plus utilities.  I know I’d be unable to toss away $25,000 annually for an unfurnished apartment.  This will not change the amount of time he would be within his local district.  Nor, do I believe, will it alter the type of representation they would receive.  A good representative is a good representative no matter where they reside.

My representative is Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Though I don’t always agree with her positions, I am happy with her representation.  She is an active and vocal member of Congress who sends fairly frequent updates to her constituents as to the goings-on of Congress.  For that, I can not complain.

My 2 US Senators are Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Bill Nelson.  You can have them both.  I don’t think I can get 2 senators that care less about their constituents – at least that is how I feel.  If they lived on both sides of my home, I doubt that it would change my opinions about them.  Like I said, a good representative is a good representative. Likewise a bad representative is a bad representative.

Members of Congress, residing in the suburbs of the District of Columbia is extremely common.  Determining who is ‘gaming the system’ would be quite arduous. So, as with a true democracy, if you are unhappy with your representative, by all means – VOTE THEM OUT!

I, personally, respect the ones that want to maximize the time they spend with their families, nor do I begrudge them for not wanting to own/rent 2 residences just to keep up appearances. 

Maybe if he owned a home in Boca Raton and a home in Maryland, his opponents would say that he is out of touch with his constituents because he is an elitist.    


Update:  Wexler is the only member of Congress (out of 27) that does not own a home in their congressional district.  Many have said that their families reside in Florida and they return home every weekend. 

Do the taxpayers pay for members of Congress to travel home for the weekend?

“He did one year of keeping his kids that far away,” Wexler’s chief of staff, Eric Johnson said, “and he is not missing his kids’ childhood.”

My perspective is probably skewed – partially because I have always thought that Wexler was very good at representing his district, but I think the real reason why I took the time to reflect upon this and write about it was due to my own life. 

Ten years ago, my wife and I divorced, leaving me with shared custody of my daughter.  She was 7 years old at the time.  For part of the next 5 years, I was recruited by a company (coincidentally) in Maryland.  I repeatedly turned down their requests as I couldn’t bear to be apart from my daughter and miss her childhood.  I have not regretted this decision – not even once.

My profession has opportunities throughout this country so I am able to work in the same city where I helped raise my daughter. 

Wexler, to do what he wants as a career, must spend the majority of time in Washington.  He wanted his family with him.  I can not begrudge him that since I most likely would have done this as well. 

And since this was an issue he has openly discussed for 10 years, it is clear that this is a cheap political trick by his 2 opponents and Bill O’Reilly to bring this non-issue to light.



One response to “The Question of Congressional Residential Status

  1. Pingback: Rep. Robert Wexler’s Residence Update « My 2 Buck$