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Editorials

This candidate for KC mayor appears to live in Virginia. Shouldn’t that be a problem?

 

Clay Chastain wants to run for mayor yet again.

Wait. Does he even live in Kansas City?

He acquired property in Bedford, Va., in 2017, county records show. He uses a phone with a Virginia area code. He was once registered to vote in Virginia, a clerk said Wednesday, but isn’t registered there now.

Chastain is registered to vote in Kansas City at an address on Wyoming Street. It’s an apartment where a friend lives. He does not appear to own any taxable real estate in the city he wants to govern.

“I live in Virginia, and I live in Kansas City,” Chastain said Wednesday, clearing nothing up. “I spend most of my time in Virginia because I have a job in Virginia, and I have a family obligation in Virginia.

“If I’m given a job in Kansas City as the mayor, I’ll move to Kansas City.”

Chastain is free to explain that promise to voters, who may prefer candidates who live here full-time now.

But there’s a legal issue involved, too. The city’s charter requires mayoral candidates to reside “in the territory embraced within the City limits” for the two years before Election Day.

Chastain thinks he’s spotted a loophole. “I do reside in Kansas City. Part-time,” he said.

Political residency is a slippery concept, sure, but come on. The claim is absurd. Yet Chastain will likely make the ballot for the April primary anyway.

As it turns out, no one at City Hall is empowered as a legal matter to check the residency claims of Clay Chastain, or anyone else running for city office this year. Election boards don’t do it. No one does.

There are other requirements for mayoral and City Council candidates, involving taxes, criminal history, age and voter registration status. Again, though, there is no formal process in place for any person or board to make sure candidates have complied.

Missouri law allows candidates to file a lawsuit if they believe an opponent is unqualified. But that can be an expensive and time-consuming effort, with narrow deadlines that discourage objections.

In 2015, Mayor Sly James declined to challenge Chastain’s residence, saying it would provide the Virginian with a “soapbox.” Chastain ended up on the primary ballot.

Restricting challenges to lawsuits fundamentally harms the election process. It assumes that the only parties with an interest in the ballot are the candidates, not the people.

That simply isn’t right. Voters should be confident that all candidates meet the minimum requirements to be on the ballot. The people have a stake in a fair process and a ballot that includes candidates who are at least eligible to serve.

Otherwise, why have any requirements at all?

Chastain’s effort to game residency requirements illustrates the need for a formal vetting process for all candidates. In Kansas City, that could mean vetting by the city clerk or a designee. It should not be up to opposing candidates to raise a challenge.

Candidates who face eligibility questions would have the right of appeal — no one should be kicked off the ballot for frivolous or political reasons. But if the city or state chooses to impose requirements on candidates, it must ensure those basic requirements are met, or get rid of them.

In Kansas City, the rules of engagement are clear: Mayoral candidates must live in the city before they ask for votes. Chastain has flaunted that ordinance long enough, and a process must be in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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