Where does Owen Hill live?
It would seem a simple question for the Republican state Senate candidate, but it's not.
Hill, a 30-year-old Air Force Academy graduate, is locked in a primary battle against Rep. Larry Liston in the newly drawn Senate District 10. Liston has served in the state House since 2005, having been elected to represent House District 16, and now has been term-limited out of office. Hill ran for the state Senate in 2010 and lost against Democratic Senate Majority Leader John Morse.
At issue is Hill's claim, on at least two candidate affidavits filed with the Colorado Secretary of State, as well as on his voter registration, that he resides at his in-laws' address on Pennsylvania Avenue — a claim that a number of Liston supporters doubt.
After attempting to contact Hill via e-mail and phone to discuss the issue of his residency, we caught up with him last Thursday, walking out of the house he owns on East Madison Street.
"That's where he has always lived," argues Liston. "That's what I know."
It was a little after lunchtime, and Hill was rushing off to a meeting in Denver.
Later on the phone, he explained that his intention had been to sell the Madison Street house, and move his family of six in with his in-laws. According to the El Paso County assessor's website, his wife's parents' home has 1,746 square feet of livable space.
"We had it on the market for a little bit, and realized we needed some more work to do, and took it off the market for a bit. It'll go back on just as soon as we get that work done," Hill says of the Madison home. "This is the issue of us trying to work out the personal arrangement of what works out best for our family."
Hill originally had his sights set on the House District 16 seat, figuring Liston's impending departure would leave it up for grabs. However, Hill's Madison Street home wasn't in that district; it was in House District 18, which would have pitted him against Democratic Rep. Pete Lee.
So when Hill filed his candidate affidavit, he listed his in-laws' address, which does fall in HD 16. That document was filed on Oct. 4, 2011. One month later, according to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) record obtained by the Indy, he put his Madison Street home up for sale.
According to election law, a candidate must live in a district for 12 months prior to an election date to qualify to run in that district. As Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch notes, that doesn't exactly mean that a candidate must physically live there — just the intention of living in that district can be enough.
"Residency is very vague; it depends on intent," says Toro. "[Hill] has a story that sounds plausible."
Now, the story gets a little complicated. At the same time Hill was preparing his run for HD 16, the state Reapportionment Commission was finalizing its redrawing of the lines delineating state House and Senate districts.
On Dec. 12, the Supreme Court accepted the reapportionment maps, which drew Hill's Madison Street address into SD 10. The next day, Hill abandoned his run for the House, and announced his candidacy for SD 10. And that same day, according to the MLS listing, he pulled his house off the market.
"Once we realized this was the direction we were going with reapportionment," Hill says, "and since both of the houses are in the district — they're literally a half a mile from each other — we decided that we would go forward with what works for us and our family."
Whether that means he's actually living on Madison Street, Hill hasn't said. On a number of occasions in one week — evenings, over the weekend — we noted his Jeep parked in that driveway. But since both addresses are now in Senate District 10, he should be fine, right?
Just as his SD 10 candidate affidavit, filed on Jan. 4, shows his in-laws' address as his personal address, so does his voter registration. And as Toro points out, that could be the more serious issue.
"If what he is saying is that he changed his mind, and he's no longer moving to his mother-in-law's basement," Toro says, "then it's no longer his residence and he should change it. Absolutely. And arguably he has to."
Especially if he plans to cast a primary ballot in June. According to state statute: "Any person who votes by knowingly giving false information regarding the elector's place of present residence commits a Class 6 felony."
Hill hasn't answered repeated attempts for a follow-up interview.
To Liston, it is a question of Hill's character.
"When you are signing legal documents, sworn statements and affidavits, there is a sense of honesty that you are representing what you are saying is truthful," Liston says.
"I am quite stunned that my opponent would not represent himself in a truthful manner, because I think that it goes to the core of his integrity."