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Objections board to rule on Kansas House candidate’s residency

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Wednesday, June 4, 2014, at 7:23 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, June 6, 2014, at 10:42 a.m.

The State Objections Board will consider Thursday morning whether a candidate who is living in a house under construction can remain on the August primary ballot in District 93 in southern Sedgwick County.

The candidacy of John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, has been challenged by Rep. Joe Edwards, R-Haysville. Edwards’ objection states that the address Whitmer used to file for office has not been approved for occupancy.

“John violated the ethics of his filing by filling falsely in the position stating he was living in the district NOW,” Edwards wrote. He said this violates Article 2, Section 4 of the Kansas Constitution, which requires candidates for the Legislature to reside in their districts.

“I hate to be objecting, but this is a violation of our rules and everything that I am required to live by,” Edwards wrote.

The West Red Rock address Whitmer lists on his candidate filing has not yet received a certificate of occupancy, said Richard Meier, building administrator of Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department.

Meier said he has not established whether anyone is living at the address and that it would be a violation of building codes to occupy the residence without a certificate.

Whitmer said he is living at the home that has been under construction for more than a year.

“Here’s what I know: We own the lot. We own the home. If I wanted to pitch a tent in the backyard, is that illegal? If I wanted to put an RV in the backyard, is that illegal? If we own the lot, can I not live there?” he said.

Whitmer said that, at worst, he could be in violation of a code and would be ready to pay a fine.

“It may be I don’t have the certificate of occupancy, and if the city wants to come out and send an inspector out and there are certain code violations, then I’ll pay a fine,” he said. “That’s an issue of code violation, and it’s not a residency issue. Does that make sense?

“It’s not an issue regarding residency for election purpose. It’s the wrong venue,” he added.

Whitmer said Edwards is afraid to answer questions about his own record that would arise from a primary challenge.

“Absolutely. He’s scared stiff and that’s why he’s doing this,” Whitmer said. “What’s he afraid of?”

Edwards said the issue is whether candidates are following the law. Either Whitmer is occupying his home against code or he is living outside of the district in another residence, he said.

“He’s made the statement that he wants to take my job because he thinks he can do it better. … We sit up there making laws, and yet he’s there breaking the law. And it’s my opinion that he wants the job for the prestige, not for the work. And so as lawmakers, we need to abide by the laws, and he’s just violating the law. He should not have moved in ahead of time,” Edwards said.

He said he has documents obtained from the Building and Construction Department that show the work on Whitmer’s home is not complete.

“They don’t even have a bathroom set in there. No water’s running. None of that stuff’s done. So how is he living in a place that has no water, has no toilet?” Edwards said.

He questioned Whitmer’s ethics.

Whitmer chairs the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training, a post he was appointed to by Gov. Sam Brownback. The commission has the power to suspend, revoke or deny a law enforcement officer’s certification for falsifying documents or failing to disclose information.

Edwards said that given Whitmer’s post, he should know better than to violate codes.

“It doesn’t bother me if someone’s running against me. I’ve got a Democrat running against me now. You know, I just feel like if you’re going to get into this, do it legally,” he said.

The objections board is made up of the secretary of state, attorney general and lieutenant governor.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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