Utah’s candidates for congressional and legislative seats used to be required to provide a home address on their campaign filing forms. But now, a number of them have taken advantage of a new option to shield that information from public view.
It’s a change to state law that was made last year in an effort to help protect the privacy of candidates once they become lawmakers amid complaints by Sen. Jake Anderegg, the bill’s sponsor, that his at-home interactions with some constituents have been “getting worse.”
“It’s getting more and more angry. It’s getting more and more dangerous. It’s getting more and more violent,” he said during debate of the bill. “I have had people show up unannounced at my home and … they weren’t bringing me flowers, I’ll tell you that.”
The most alarming of these interactions, he said, happened four or five years ago, when his young daughter answered the door for a person he described as “probably not stable” and who was mad about a bill Anderegg, R-Lehi, had run.
“If someone has a grievance with me, I’ve put my name out there. I’m an elected official; come and talk to me,” he said in a recent interview with The Tribune. “You want to come boycott me? Come boycott me. I’m fine with that. But that shouldn’t translate to then my 8-year-old daughter and someone getting belligerent with her on the front steps of my house when I’m not around and she can’t find my wife. That’s just completely inexcusable.”
Anderegg, who is up for reelection without any opponent, opted this year to block his address from public view, as did a number of other congressional and legislative candidates.
Candidates who choose to do so are still required to provide their home addresses to the state lieutenant governor’s office so it can verify that House and Senate candidates live in the districts they’re seeking to serve. But they no longer have to make that information public, so long as they provide an alternate address, such as a business or post office box, where they can be reached.
Congressional candidates have used the option to keep their home addresses private more frequently than House and Senate candidates, with a little more than half of the more than 40 people who filed election paperwork for those seats this year choosing to do so, a Salt Lake Tribune analysis has found.
That can make it difficult for voters to determine whether the candidates seeking to represent them at the congressional level actually live in their district — something that isn’t required by the Constitution but that voters generally like to know and that has come up as an issue in past races.
This year, there are at least four major party congressional candidates who live outside their districts. In a first for Utah, both candidates running to represent the 4th Congressional District — Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams and Republican nominee Burgess Owens — live outside the district. So do 1st Congressional District Republican nominee Blake Moore and 3rd Congressional District Democratic nominee Devin Thorpe.
Moore and Owens both opted to mask their home addresses, while McAdams and Thorpe did not.
Moore said the decision not to disclose his address was based on a recommendation he received and was done “for privacy purposes,” though he said he’s had nothing but good interactions with voters so far.
Shielding his address had “absolutely nothing to do” with the fact that he doesn’t live in the district, he said.
Anderegg said he’s glad candidates have had the option this year to protect their information and said he isn’t worried congressional candidates may use the bill to shield themselves from public scrutiny over their residency.
“That was never my intent,” he said. “I don’t have any issue with it. I don’t care if they live in the district.”
It is illegal, however, for a state lawmaker to live outside the district they represent or for a candidate to run in one in which they don’t live, as one Utah House member discovered the hard way nine years ago.
During debate on Anderegg’s bill in last year’s session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle shared their own experiences with constituents coming to their homes. But not all were on board with the proposal.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, argued that having a publicly known address is one of the sacrifices of serving in public office.
“If you’re going to mount the bully pulpit, if you’re going to run for elected office, I think one of the minimum things you have to be willing to sacrifice is to tell people in your district where you live,” he said during floor debate. “I know that is scary for some people but I just think that is one of the boxes you have to check if you want to serve in the public arena.”
Weiler is running for reelection this year facing only a write-in challenger in the Nov. 3 election and has opted not to hide his home address. Neither has Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo — even though he told lawmakers during debate on the bill that his home has been vandalized in the past and that he’s had to call the police to investigate “hate mail scrawled on my driveway.”
Bramble, who is unopposed in the general election after winning a primary, said in an interview that while he believes Utahns have a right to know where their representatives live, he’s glad that candidates who may feel more vulnerable have the option to protect their information.
Sometimes people knock on his door “and want to yell at me, but that’s OK,” he said.
“What’s the worst thing that can happen? I can tell them to vacate the property, leave the premises and close the door,” he said. “But again, that’s my decision. I can see where for others, that may not be a viable option. It may be a little different intimidation or fear for safety.”
But while Anderegg said he thinks these interactions have gotten worse over the years, Bramble said they’ve been happening ever since he was elected 20 years ago. The difference now, he said, is that the issue has “gotten more publicity.”
Anderegg acknowledged during debate on the bill, SB163, that people need ways to access their elected officials, and he recognized that those who run for public office give up a certain level of privacy. But the Lehi Republican said he has “12 different ways you can contact me” and didn’t think home addresses needed to be as easily accessible as they were.
Even with the passage of the bill, it’s still possible for someone to track down a lawmaker or candidate’s address, he said. But he argued that the lieutenant governor’s website, where the candidate filings are available for access by the public, was the “easy, low hanging fruit” where someone could get every address in one spot.
Anderegg told The Tribune that one of his primary concerns has been that, without an option to protect their privacy, candidates might see the uncivil political discourse and decide that running for office isn’t worth it.
“Civility is dying and it’s alarming,” he said in an interview. “And I hope it doesn’t drive good people who otherwise could serve away from engaging in public service.”