El Paso County GOP state senator accused of not living in his district

A Democratic-aligned nonprofit, the Colorado Ethics Institute, has accused Republican Sen. Dennis Hisey of not living in the Senate district he seeks to represent, as required by state law.

Hisey is running in one of the most competitive legislative races in this midterm election, after redistricting made it impossible for him to continue representing his current seat. Democrats, who hope to retain their majority in the state Senate, are fiercely contesting District 11, which covers the southern part of Colorado Springs.

CEI sent a letter to El Paso County District Attorney Michael J. Allen on August 23 asking him to investigate Hisey’s residence.

“Given Senator Hisey’s apparent efforts to claim a district of residence where one does not exist (and to seek to represent constituents who are miles from where he appears to spend his days and nights), I am writing to ask your office to conduct a full investigation into whether he illegally voted in an election for which he was ineligible, as well as any other potential violations of Colorado law,” reads Curtis Hubbard’s letter with the Ethics Institute.

“We have received the information and are reviewing the allegations,” the prosecutor’s office said Monday.

The allegation comes less than a month after Allen’s office announced a grand jury indictment against current seat state senator, Democrat Pete Lee, on a charge that he did not not live where he is registered to vote. Lee quits the legislature because the redistricting knocked him out of his district.

Hisey disputes the allegation that he does not live in the new Senate District 11.

He says he moved into his son’s house in the district last year, but for a while split his time between that house and the house he shared with his wife in his current district of Senate 2 at Fountain.

“I was splitting my time because I still represent Senate District 2. I divided my time between residencies. One of them has to be official and the other is not,” he said.

The Ethics Institute began investigating Hisey several months ago and has photos of him in the Fountain home, including photos of him mowing the lawn.

Hisey disputed that the yard upkeep is indicative of proof of residency — “I’m doing the same for my mother-in-law’s house.”

He said he moved out of his son’s house after buying an apartment in the neighborhood earlier this summer and started living there full-time a few weeks ago.

Redistricting and residency requirements complicate races

The once-in-a-decade process of redefining political lines has forced some lawmakers to run in new districts or find a new place to run.

In Hisey’s case, his home in District 2 was drawn into District 12. The senator currently representing that seat, Republican Bob Gardner, is not eligible for re-election for two years. Under Colorado rules, that means he can keep the seat and any incumbents living in the district must look elsewhere if they want to stay in the legislature.

Hisey moved to Senate District 11 last fall, just as the state’s legislative map was being finalized and just in time to meet the requirement that a state legislator live in a district for one year before being elected to represent it.

The way Colorado law is written, however, challenging residency requirements isn’t easy.

It requires a voter in the district to file a legal complaint and then post a bond of at least $13,000 to cover court costs if the challenge fails.

Senator Lee’s indictment earlier this year was the rare instance where the matter was treated as a criminal case. The complaint is not related to Lee’s residency as an elected official, but rather that he voted improperly, using an address where he does not live.

The charge is a Class 5 felony, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Lee’s first court appearance is scheduled for September 8.

Several years ago, newly elected Republican state Rep. Matt Soper faced a complaint from a resident of his Western Slope district. The man, who had worked for an unaffiliated candidate in the House race against Soper, alleged the newly elected lawmaker did not live at his Delta address. Soper’s mother owned the house and rented it out to a family.

In this case, the Chamber declined to take up the matter.

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