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

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican state Sens. Dennis Hisey, left, and Jerry Sonnenberg confer at their desks in the Senate chamber March 24, 2022.

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

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

CEI sent a letter to the district attorney in El Paso County, Michael J. Allen, on Aug. 23, asking him to investigate Hisey’s residency.

“Given Sen. Hisey’s apparent efforts to claim a district of residency where it does not exist (and to seek to represent voters who are miles from where he appears to spend his days and nights), I am writing to request that your office conduct a thorough investigation into whether he illegally cast a ballot in an election for which he was ineligible, as well as any other potential violations of Colorado law,” states the letter from Curtis Hubbard with the Ethics Institute.

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

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

Hisey disputes the allegation that he doesn’t live in the new Senate District 11.

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

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

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

Hisey disputed that yard care is any indication of proof of residence — “I do the same thing for my mother-in-law's house.”

He said he has moved out of his son’s home, after purchasing an apartment in the district earlier this summer and began living there full time a few weeks ago.

Redistricting and residency requirements complicate races

The once-in-a-decade process of redrawing political lines has forced some lawmakers to run in new districts, or to find somewhere new 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, isn’t up for reelection for two more years. Under Colorado’s rules, that means he gets to keep the seat and any incumbents living in the district must look elsewhere if they wish to stay in the legislature.

Hisey made his move to Senate District 11 last fall, just as the state legislative map was being finalized and just in time to meet the requirement that a state lawmaker live in a district for a year before they can be elected to represent it.

The way Colorado’s law is written, though, challenging residency requirements isn't an easy matter. 

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

Sen. Lee’s indictment earlier this year was the rare case where the issue has been handled as a criminal matter. The complaint isn’t related to Lee’s residency as an elected official, but instead that he voted improperly, using an address where he doesn’t live.

The charge is a class 5 felony, which can be punished by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Lee’s first court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 8.

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

In that case, the House declined to take up the matter.