When you are an elected representative — whether local, state, or national — you have an obligation to live in the area you represent. Seems pretty straightforward, right? If you live in Arizona but want to represent Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District, you can’t. You don’t live there.
This simple rule of living in the place you represent is a hallmark of democratic representation. But some of our elected officials simply don’t see it that way. You may remember two recent examples of New Mexico politicos getting into trouble after we found them living outside their districts — Johnny Luevano and David Doyle. Now, it seems, State Representative Sandra Jeff might be joining their wily ranks.
A widely known secret?
Questions about Sandra Jeff’s residency have dogged her before.
In 2010, the Albuquerque Journal profiled Jeff’s excessive campaign spending in Albuquerque, far from her Crownpoint district:
State Rep. Sandra Jeff is a first-term lawmaker from Crownpoint on the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico. Her district is about 130 miles from Albuquerque.
But her most recent campaign-finance reports show some unusual entertainment expenses a long way from home… [the story went on to list more than $1,000 in restaurant tabs she racked up in Albuquerque meeting with constituents and Navajo chapter officials]
Asked whether she has a residence in Albuquerque, the legislator says she has a “business address” in the city. -Albuquerque Journal, March 20, 2010
She had a tough 2014, too. After Vice President Joe Biden called Jeff personally asking her to vote for a minimum wage increase in New Mexico, she lied to reporters saying the call never happened. Then she went missing during the vote. The drama, dubbed “The Ballad of Sandra Jeff” by NM Telegram’s Matt Reichbach, became legendary during the 2014 legislative session.
A few months later, Jeff was challenged in court and ultimately removed from the ballot by the Supreme Court after she failed to obtain enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Now she’s back as a write-in candidate after Secretary of State Dianna Duran certified her request. And that new qualification got us thinking because one filing in Jeff’s earlier court case outlined the problems a process server had trying to find Jeff or her family at the Crownpoint address she claims.
After finding no one home the first time, he returned to the complex another day to be chased away by the residents who told him she didn’t live at that address and threatened him with a gun and rocks. Residency never became an issue in that case because the court took her off the ballot for failing to obtain valid signatures.
So we decided to check up on her residency now.
Sandra Jeff claims to live at 4 Regal Ridge Dr. in Crownpoint, NM. It’s the address on her declaration for candidacy and the one she puts on her official forms (more on that later). But, after checking with the McKinley County Rural Addressing Office, we were told that that 4 Regal Ridge is not a property, there are no tax records of it, and that there is no assessed property on that lot. That matches with what the residents in the neighborhood told the process server last Spring.
However, we caught her on multiple occasions over the past months in Albuquerque at a house at 6612 Welton:
But her association with her house in the Northeast Heights didn’t start recently; it has been going on since before she took office. Her 2009 Campaign Finance Reports list an Albuquerque address as the campaign headquarters. Similarly, Jeff’s campaign bank account is with an Albuquerque bank — quite an inconvenient arrangement if you’re doing campaign business in Crownpoint.
She’s still doing business there, by the way. Even though her finance reports list the Crownpoint PO Box address for the bank holding her campaign account, her finance reports show she’s doing plenty of business at the Bank of the West’s Del Norte branch deep in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. It’s just 2 miles from the ABQ residence where we keep seeing her coming and going.
And she does her campaign Christmas shopping at Albuquerque big box stores just down the road from that same home – more than 100 miles away from her district.
What’s more, in October 2010 the Albuquerque Journal published the City of Albuquerque’s abandoned property list — it lists “Sandra Ruiz Jeff” as residing at 6612 Welton:
It appears Sandra Jeff may have been hiding in plain sight in Albuquerque for quite some time.
So the question is this: Does Sandra Jeff live in the district she claims to represent?
It’s a simple question, but one that raises a host of other important ones. Can she truly claim to represent her McKinley/San Juan district if she lives over a hundred miles away in Albuquerque? That’s what we want to know. Since we started asking questions, others started to take notice.
This morning, Jeff called KRQE to complain about our investigation. Here’s KRQE’s story.
— Alex Goldsmith (@AlexG_Reporter) August 27, 2014