At a Thursday afternoon press conference in Waco, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri accused Democratic state Rep. Jim Dunnam of living outside Waco's House District 57, which he currently represents.
Dunnam, the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, has property in HD-57. Trouble is, says McClennan County Republican Party vice chair M.A. Taylor, "nobody ever sees any lights there. No cars come and go. It looks pretty deserted." Meanwhile, the Republicans allege, Dunnam has a house in McGregor (in state Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson's district) that appears very lived-in.
"The question needs to be asked," says RPT spokesman Bryan Preston. "How many nights a week are you staying in one house verses the other?"
The party has no plan to file any official legal complaint on the matter. "We decided to take it to the voters here in the district and let them be the judge," Preston says, noting that voters should be "the final arbiter" of whether or not Dunnam serves.
A similar challenge was mounted against Dunnam in 2002 — that time in the courts. At Thursday's press conference, Republicans presented a Waco Herald-Tribune article from 2002 detailing how, after redistricting caused his house in McGregor to fall outside the bounds of his own district, Dunnam purchased property in HD-57 with the intent to move there. At the time, Dunnam argued that this established his residency and that the legal challenge was "frivolous."
Mounting a successful challenge to a candidate's residency in Texas can prove difficult. "I’ve been fighting this battle with Dunnam ever since he was elected," Taylor says. "It’s real tough."
Marva Beck, the Republican challenging Dunnam's re-election, was out campaigning and did not attend the press conference. She released a statement saying, "This is the kind of deliberate dishonesty that we are fed up with from politicians and political leaders."
Dunnam says he's not worried about the attack. For one, he says, "They already lost a lawsuit on this." And he doesn't expect the court of public opinion to come to a different conclusion. "The people in Central Texas know the truth about this stuff, and they know the real deal," he says.
Dunnam says that a conversation about leaving the McGregor home, with his kids in school, was a non-starter with his family. "I was not going to disrupt my kids schooling," he says. "And I wouldn't vote for someone who would move his family just for politics." But he says that with his homestead in HD-57, on which he pays "a hell of a lot of taxes," he is confident that he meets residency requirements.
"They just don't like that I keep winning," he says.
UPDATE Friday 11:31am: The video story from our television partners in Waco, KWTX-TV.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.