Did This State Rep.-Elect Lie About Living In His District? A New Complaint Alleges So

<p>Hart Van Denburg/CPR News</p>
<p>The Colorado State Capitol.</p>
Photo: Colorado State Capitol West Side 2 November 2018
The Colorado State Capitol.

Colorado’s Constitution requires legislators to live in the districts they represent. It seems pretty straightforward, but a complaint against a newly-elected state lawmaker reveals it may be surprisingly hard to enforce.

The complaint filed with the Secretary of State is expected to be finalized on Tuesday. It alleges Republican Rep.-elect Matt Soper didn’t live in House District 54 for the required amount of time, when he ran for, and won the House seat. Yet, even if the charges are found to be true, his removal wouldn’t be automatic. Instead, it would require a full vote of the state House of Representatives.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, a candidate must have lived in a legislative district for at least one year before the November election to qualify to represent that district.

Palisade resident Dave Edwards filed the complaint and alleges that Soper listed a three-bedroom house in Delta that his mother owns and rented out to a family as his address, but that he lived at another residence, and for part of that time outside of the House district. Soper also used the Delta address on his voter registration form.

“Something this major should not go without someone raising a concern,” Edwards said.

Edwards is a registered Democrat and backed Soper’s opponent, unaffiliated candidate Thea Chase. If Soper is ousted it wouldn’t benefit Chase, as Republicans would appoint his replacement.

“The evidence is pretty overwhelming against Soper,” Edwards said. “It’s nothing personal against Matthew. He should have run from District 61 where he probably lives, or he should have created a valid residency in District 54. But this is not something we should tolerate in a democracy.”

Omar Carreon, who rented the Delta home from Soper’s mother on Hartig Drive for two years, told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel that Soper hadn’t lived there. Carreon also signed a sworn affidavit on Dec. 3.

“In the Hartig Drive house, my brother and I each used one of the two upstairs bedrooms, and our parents used the other bedroom, which is downstairs. During the time our family lived at 10 Hartig Drive, no other person lived or worked at that address,” stated Omar Carreon in the affidavit. “In an article written by Mr. Ashby and published in the October 19, 2018, issue of the Grand Junction Sentinel, Matt Soper was quoted as saying that he ‘has a room’ at 10 Hartig Drive. That was not true then, and it was never the situation at any time while our family lived at 10 Hartig Drive.”

Soper did not respond to CPR News’ request for comment.

House District 54 was an open seat in the last election. It was formerly held by a Republican from Grand Junction. Most of Mesa County and the western half of Delta County fall within its boundaries. The seat in House District 61, where the complaint alleges Soper likely lived, was also open, but it is a much bluer district that includes towns like Aspen, Crested Butte and Breckenridge. A Democrat won the house seat in November with more than 60 percent of the vote.

The question of who is right — Soper or Edwards — will not go to a court of law. Instead it will eventually fall to his fellow lawmakers to decide whether Soper can represent HD-54.

Soper is expected to be sworn into office on Jan. 4 when the legislative session begins. Under state law the Secretary of State’s office can refer the complaint to the House. From there it goes to a bipartisan credentialing committee made up of three House leaders, who will submit a recommendation to the full chamber.

If Soper’s colleagues feel there’s enough evidence to remove him from office local Republicans would be tasked with activating a vacancy committee to select his replacement.

Nonpartisan state employees tell CPR that this is the first time they’ve ever been aware of someone’s election to the state House of Representatives being challenged on the residency requirement.

Beyond the residency issue, the District Attorney’s office for the 7th Judicial District is currently investigating whether Soper committed voter fraud by casting ballots from the Delta home, where he allegedly didn’t live.