A nonprofit run by a Democratic political consultant is raising questions about the residency of a Republican state senator whose bid for reelection in November could decide which party is in charge at the Colorado Capitol.
The Colorado Ethics Institute compiled a dossier this summer indicating that state Sen. Dennis Hisey is still spending a substantial amount of time at a home he owns with his wife in Fountain instead of at a home in Colorado Springs where he is registered to vote and ostensibly moved into in October.
The home in Fountain is in Senate District 12, the district Hisey currently represents. The Colorado Springs home, which is owned by Hisey’s son, is in Senate District 11, which Hisey is running to represent after last year’s redistricting process forced him to decide to either not seek reelection or move into a different district to run again.
State law requires that legislators live in their district for at least a year before Election Day.
The Hisey dossier, compiled with the help of a Denver-based private investigations firm, highlights the real estate shuffle legislators are engaged in after last year’s once-a-decade redistricting process. Some sitting lawmakers were drawn into politically unfavorable districts. Others, like Hisey, were drawn into districts already occupied by lawmakers whose terms don’t expire until early 2025.
Another state lawmaker, Democrat Rep. Kyle Mullica, moved from Northglenn to his mother’s home in Federal Heights in October to run for state Senate and, he says, to help his mom out. Mullica and his family then purchased a home in Thornton, which is also in Senate District 24, which he is running to represent.
Additionally, Democratic state Rep. Tracey Bernett moved from a house in Longmont to an apartment in Louisville on Nov. 3, 2021, after the Longmont address was drawn into a Republican-leaning district last year. (Election Day in 2022 is Nov. 8.) She declined to discuss her move when contacted Wednesday.
The complaint against Hisey also comes against the backdrop of a felony grand jury indictment earlier this month against Democratic state Sen. Pete Lee, alleging that the Colorado Springs lawmaker lied about his residence in relation to voting. The Colorado Springs Independent questioned in 2020 whether Lee lived in his district, and Lee was clandestinely recorded during a break in a legislative proceeding admitting that while he is registered to vote at a home in his district and pays taxes there, he spends his nights at a house in an adjacent district.
Lee is being prosecuted by El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen, a Republican, and some of the senator’s defenders allege the case is politically motivated.
The Colorado Ethics Institute is asking prosecutors in El Paso County to investigate Hisey’s residency and voting record in the same way they investigated Lee. The nonprofit said Wednesday it had provided prosecutors with a copy of its dossier, but the district attorney’s office said it couldn’t confirm receipt.
“The recent emphasis on public officials voting where they truly reside suggests that the district attorney’s office will thoroughly investigate the matter and take all steps necessary to ensure appropriate laws are enforced,” Curtis Hubbard, the Democratic consultant who leads the Colorado Ethics Institute, said in a written statement.
Hubbard went so far as to urge Hisey drop out of the race.
Hisey, in an interview with The Colorado Sun, denied any wrongdoing. He said he rented a room in his son’s house in Colorado Springs, in Senate District 11, but that he splits his time between there and the Fountain home since he will represent Senate District 12 until early January.
He has since moved into an apartment near the Broadmoor World Arena in Senate District 11. State records show he registered to vote at the apartment on Aug. 15, about a week after Lee’s indictment became public.
“They’re grasping at straws rather than going out there and talking about the issues and what’s going to be best for (the district),” Hisey said. “They’re looking for anything they can find to discredit a good, healthy voting record that I have.”
Hisey registered to vote at his son’s Colorado Springs home last year after he was drawn into the same Senate district as state Sen. Bob Gardner, a fellow Republican who still has two years left in his term.
Hisey, a former El Paso County commissioner, had the choice of not seeking reelection or moving into another district to run for office. He chose to run, changing his voter registration in October 2021 in time to try to satisfy the one-year residency requirement.
But the dossier compiled by the Colorado Ethics Institute as part of what the group says was a four-month investigation includes evidence collected by the Denver investigations firm H. Ellis Armistead & Associates indicating Hisey still spent a lot of time in Fountain.
The dossier includes photographs that appear to show Hisey mowing the lawn at the Fountain home and talking to a neighbor, as well as details from public records inquiries. An investigator even twice followed Hisey from the Fountain property to the state Capitol, according to the document.
The senator’s wife, Kathy Hisey, remains registered at the Fountain address, and voted in the June primary using that address. (Hisey says his wife will continue to live in Fountain.)
Hisey said the fact that he spends time at the Fountain property doesn’t prove he lives there.
“Do we want to talk about the shower that whistles when I use it?” he said of his son’s home in Colorado Springs. “Or the shelves we put in the garage so there would be room for me?”
Candidates must file an affidavit with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office when they launch their campaigns. The office told The Sun that it compares the addresses on candidates’ affidavits to the address on their voter registration to make sure they match.
Beyond that, the office said people who believe a candidate doesn’t live in the district they are running to represent may challenge the candidate’s qualifications in court.
State law defines a person’s residence as “the principal or primary home or place of abode … in which a person’s habitation is fixed and to which that person, whenever absent, has the present intention of returning after a departure or absence, regardless of the duration of the absence.”
The law also says business pursuits, employment, income sources, marital status and the amount of time spent at a place can be used to determine what is someone’s “principal or primary abode.”
Hisey is facing Democratic state Rep. Tony Exum in November. Senate District 11 is considered a tossup, and it’s one that Republicans likely need to win this year in their quest to take back the Senate from Democrats.
State Sen. Kevin Priola, of Henderson, dealt the GOP a significant blow to its chances of reclaiming a majority when he announced on Monday that he had switched to the Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, the case against Lee, who isn’t running for reelection this year, is advancing. He is due to be advised of the charges against him Sept. 8 at a hearing scheduled in El Paso County District Court in Colorado Springs, records show.
An attorney for Lee said the senator will fight the charge.
Hisey and Lee aren’t the only lawmakers in recent memory to have their residency called into question.
Earlier this year, Republican Austin Hein filed a campaign finance complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office against House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, pointing out that the address listed on McKean’s voter registration was a vacant lot. McKean said his voter registration address was automatically changed to the lot, where he’s building a home, when he updated his driver’s license.
The complaint was dismissed because state elections officials found it wasn’t a violation of campaign finance law. Hein ran unsuccessfully against McKean in the June 28 primary.