Rep. Bob Barrett claims he drove 6 miles every week to empty his garbage, drove about as far to do his laundry and lived without cable or satellite TV in a home he rented from a campaign donor at below market rates to legally claim residency in the 32B House District he represents.
Minnesota’s Supreme Court will consider Barrett’s claims as it reviews a District Court judge’s finding that removed the legislator from the general election ballot because he has not lived in his district in the six months preceding the election as the state constitution requires.
If Barrett loses, not only would he not be on the ballot; the people who live in the Taylors Falls district of 32B could be without representation in the Minnesota House until after Valentine’s Day — more than a month after the 2017 legislature convenes.
Tuesday’s scheduled Supreme Court oral arguments cap off a two-year battle between Barrett, who is a Republican, and DFL activists who have sought to have him ousted since redistricting in 2012 that placed the house Barrett owns outside of his 32B House District. In 2014, Valerie Mondor (a voter with DFL ties) filed a petition claiming Barrett did not live in the district. That year, Judge George Stephenson found there was not enough evidence to say Barrett did not live in the house he rented in the district. However, the judge did say Barrett’s claim that he lived in the district “lacked credibility.”
Barrett’s Testimony “Simply Not Credible”
This year, a different voter — also with DFL ties — petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court to have Barrett removed from the ballot. The court again appointed Judge Stephenson to receive evidence and make findings of fact in the case. Judge Stephenson found the petitioner, Tamara Monaghen, “proved by clear and convincing evidence” that Barrett did not live in the district. Judge Stephenson wrote that Barrett’s testimony that he lived at the rental house “was simply not not credible.”
DFL activists Monaghen, Timothy Kastelein, Denise Gerdes and Patrick Rich worked together to gather evidence that Barrett did not live at the rental home, including visiting the home 30 times over 15 days, propping open the front door with a stick that would be disturbed if anyone entered and setting up a motion-activated trail camera to monitor the house’s driveway. During one visit, Rich said his headlights illuminated the living room window. “There was nothing in the living room at all. There was no furniture or anything hung up on the walls,” he wrote in an affidavit.
The motion-activated camera took more than 800 photos. Only two of them appear to show Barrett at the rental home’s mailbox.
According to court documents, when asked why his rental home does not have trash pickup, Barrett said the trash pick-up for that area is on Fridays and he does not like Friday trash pick-ups. Instead, he says he disposes of the trash at his home in Shafer — which is about six miles away. When asked why he doesn’t have a washer and dryer at the rental home, he said he does his laundry at Shafer laundromat.
Court documents also show Barrett rents the home for $300 a month — an amount he acknowledges is low for a two bedroom home — from a donor to his campaign he has known for years. Loren Caneday donated to Barrett’s campaign in 2014. Barrett couldn’t recall if Caneday had donated to him in 2016.
Barrett’s attorney is asking the court to deny the petition because it was filed so late in the election year. Barrett’s attorney also says the evidence presented isn’t reliable, including the motion-activated camera. Kastelein, who installed the motion-activated camera, told the judge he couldn’t “say 100 percent that I got every time Mr. Barrett would have entered or exited his driveway.”
Minnesota’s Supreme Court will hear the case at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, and you can watch it live video of it here on The UpTake. If Barrett loses his case, Minnesota law says no one will be elected in 32B this November. Instead a special election will be held on February 14, 2017 when Laurie J. Warner (DFL) will face someone the Republican party nominates. That means for at least the first six weeks of the legislative session no one will represent House District 32B unless the court orders something different.
Attorney Virginia Stark will make the arguments for the petitioners. Attorney R. Reid LeBeau will make arguments for Rep. Barrett.
Judge Stephenson’s findings of fact in the case: