No, we didn't go to Pierre to fight for our political rights, but Madison's city finance officer Jeff Heinemeyer did. As you may recall, in 2006, Heinemeyer was elected to the Madison-Volga-Groton seat on the Heartland Consumer Power District Board. However, Heinemeyer sold his Madison house a week before the election and moved out to Lake Madison, outside city limits. He rented an apartment in Madison, but that wasn't enough for the Heartland board, which refused to seat Heinemeyer. Heinemeyer went to court, and in November 2007, Circuit Judge Vincent Foley bought Heinemeyer's argument that, because he still maintained his voter registration at his in-town rental address and spent most of his time working in Madison, he could legitimately claim Madison residency. Judge Foley thus ordered the board to seat Heinemeyer, and the board did so.
I thought this opened the door for my dad, who fulfills all the residency criteria sold by Heinemeyer's lawyer Wilson Kleibacker, to challenge Gene Hexom for Madison's mayoralty in 2010.
Alas, I can quit trying to figure out how to fit "HEIDELBERGER" on the campaign t-shirts: this week, the State Supreme Court overturned Judge Foley's ruling, with three of the five justices deciding Heinemeyer really does live in Wentworth:
“Heinemeyer does not actually live in his apartment in Madison,” wrote acting Justice John Brown of Pierre. “Heinemeyer acknowledged that he does not spend any substantial amount of leisure time at his apartment, keeps few, if any personal effects at the apartment, and rarely sleeps there overnight.
“Furthermore, while Heinemeyer testified that he obtained the apartment in order to have a place to eat lunch during the work-day and occasionally take naps, he also admitted that he began renting the apartment to satisfy the residency requirement in order to serve on the board" [Joe Kafka, "Man Cannot Serve on Power Board*," AP via Mitchell Daily Republic, 2008.11.13].
Now I sometimes like having lunch in town instead of driving back out to the lake, but it never occurred to me to rent an apartment for lunch instead of resorting to the brown bag or Dairy Queen. As for naps, well, I hate naps, but if I'm really tired, both libraries have some cushy, low-rent chairs.
The decision was no slam dunk: two justices supported Heinemeyer's argument. Chief Justice David Gilbertson noted that the Heartland board knew before the election that Heinemeyer was selling his Madison house and moving out of the district but didn't challenge his candidacy until after the election. "To permit the board to wait until after the election to oust Heinemeyer is to overturn a free and fair expression of the will of the voters," said Justice Gilbertson, stirring my democratic soul.
The Heartland board should have spoken up sooner, maybe contacted the paper or their favorite local bloggers to raise a stink before the election. (See: speaking up can save a lot of trouble!) But the majority of the court got it right with a straightforward interpretation of residency. You live where you live, not just where you have lunch. The law is the law, and the fact that an ineligible candidate won an election does not render that candidate eligible.
So blame (or thank!) the Supreme Court, dear Madison neighbors, for averting a (Jim) Heidelberger campaign for mayor.
*Add that maxim to "Man cannot live on bread alone." But who's that leave to run Heartland... puppies? pheasants? Greek gods? Oh great Zeus! hurl thy thunderbolts and lower my electric bill!