Questions arise over Sen. Pete Lee's residency 

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click to enlarge In recent weeks, questions have arisen regarding Sen. Pete Lee’s residency. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • In recent weeks, questions have arisen regarding Sen. Pete Lee’s residency.
El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller, accused but cleared of living outside his district, isn’t the only local elected official whose home address has been called into question.

State Sen. Pete Lee would have his constituents believe he shares a 936-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath house on North Sheridan Avenue with his stepdaughter, while his wife lives elsewhere — outside his district — in a home twice that size.

“I go back and forth quite a bit,” Lee, a Democrat, admits. But he notes all pertinent paperwork proving residency — driver’s license, voter registration and mailing address “for tax purposes” — list the Sheridan property as his home.

This is Lee’s claim, because he represents Senate District 11, in which the Sheridan house is located. So he has to make a case he lives there, though the state’s constitution, oddly, doesn’t require that he reside in his district after taking office.

Turns out, the game of elected officials fudging where they actually live in order to retain their taxpayer-funded positions isn’t unusual.

Waller was accused of moving outside his commissioner district by Douglas Bruce, who said he filed a complaint with the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office after being asked to do so by former Commissioner Jim Bensberg. DA Dan May recused himself from investigating the complaint because he supports Deputy DA Michael Allen in the June 30 Republican primary against Waller for the office of DA, so the matter was referred to 10th Judicial District DA Jeff Chostner in Pueblo.

Chostner concluded last month that evidence was lacking to force Waller to give up his seat. The investigation showed that Waller used a Veterans Affairs-backed loan to buy a home in Palmer Lake last fall outside his district but receives mail and pays rent at a rental property within his commissioner district. State law states that if a commissioner moves out of his or her district, the seat becomes vacant.
But the state constitution says this about legislators’ residency: “No person shall be a representative or senator who shall not have attained the age of twenty-five years, who shall not be a citizen of the United States, who shall not for at least twelve months next preceding his election, have resided within the territory included in the limits of the county or district in which he shall be chosen.”

A blurb about Lee that appeared on the El Paso County Democrats website when he sought the Senate District 11 seat in 2018 states, “He and his wife Lynn live in Cheyenne Canyon [sic] and have been in Colorado Springs for 40 years.”

Except that he claims he doesn’t live there now.

According to El Paso County Assessor’s Office records, Pete (Sanford) and Lynn Lee have owned a 2,178-square-foot, three-bedroom, four-bath home on West Cheyenne Road since 1991. He’s listed as the sole owner of the Sheridan property, which he purchased in the 1980s. The tax bills for each property are mailed to those respective addresses.

The Assessor’s Office values the Cheyenne Road property at nearly $400,000 and the Sheridan home at about $183,000.

Lee claims he actually lives in the bungalow that lies 5.2 miles across the city from his wife’s primary residence.

“I lived in the Cheyenne Cañon house,” he says. “But then I moved back to the Sheridan house. It’s been my tax address and my voting address and my residential address.”

That said, he adds, “I spend a lot of my life with my wife. I spend a lot of days over there.”

From 2011 to 2019, Lee represented House District 18, which includes both of his homes. In 2018, he ran for SD11, which covers much of the city and a portion of Ute Pass and includes the Sheridan property. But the Cheyenne Road house lies within Senate District 12, which is represented by Bob Gardner, a Republican. In Lee’s case, no official complaint has been lodged, but exactly where he actually lives could be a point of debate.

Asked about that, El Paso County Democratic Party Chair Electra Johnson, who also lives in Cheyenne Cañon, says she hasn’t seen Lee in that vicinity for several years.

“I don’t really know what his living arrangement is, honestly,” she says. “I haven’t been to his house in well over three years. I do understand the concern. You should live in your district that you represent.”

Agreed, says Gardner, noting that residency questions like those surrounding Waller and Lee happen with “some frequency.”

“If the voters choose to elect a carpetbagger, I suppose there’s not much I can do about that, but they ought to know there are people playing games with residency,” he says. “They [voters] should insist that someone actually and truly lives in their district.”

But he concedes that Lee hasn’t broken the law, because the constitution doesn’t say a legislator must live in a district he represents after he’s elected.

“Do I think it’s appropriate?” he says. “No, I don’t.”

Oddly, Gardner notes, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t require candidates for Congress to live in the districts they represent. They’re only required to live in the state in which the congressional district lies.

“In theory, I could run for the 1st Congressional District in Denver, not that I’d want to,” he says. “I’m past being astounded by the games being played with residency.”

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