A Republican political operative is asking the Oregon secretary of state to investigate whether a Democratic candidate is falsely claiming to live with his parents to get elected.
Hai Pham, a dentist and Vietnamese refugee, is running for the state House in an open Hillsboro district that favors Democrats. A complaint filed with the Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday by Dru Draper, political director of the House Republicans’ Evergreen PAC, alleges that he doesn’t actually live in the district.
Legislative candidates needed to establish residency in their districts by Jan. 1, 2022, the day new maps took effect.
Pham owns a five-bedroom, nearly 6,000-square-foot home on northwest Jackson Quarry Road in an unincorporated area north of Hillsboro, purchased for $1.3 million in 2012. The home’s in Oregon’s 31st House District, a swing district that incumbent Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, abandoned last year to run in a more Democratic House district in Salem.
Instead of running in the 31st, Pham registered to vote Jan. 26 from a modest three-bedroom home on southeast 81st Avenue in Hillsboro. That home, owned by Binh, Vonnie and Doris Pham, is in the 36th House District – an open race where Democrats have a large advantage.
Earlier in January, Pham applied for a vacant state House seat in the current 30th House District. The home he owns is in that district, but the one where he registered to vote later that month is not. Pham withdrew from consideration before local Democrats picked their short list of candidates on Jan. 31, the Hillsboro News Times reported.
At the time, he said he withdrew because he wouldn’t live within the 30th House District after redistricting.
“After speaking to party leaders, we all agreed that while I could seek the appointment but not run for re-election, the best thing to do is for me to withdraw from the race,” Pham said in an email to local Democrats obtained by the local newspaper. “I will remain a PCP person and my commitment to the Democratic Party, just not as a legislator as this time.” A precinct committee person can elect a county party leader and nominate a state lawmaker when a vacancy emerges.
That same week, he registered to vote from the south Hillsboro home 13 miles from the one he owns. His wife, Natalie, is still registered to vote from the couple’s home in unincorporated Hillsboro.
The rural home appears to feature in photos on Pham’s campaign website, as well as in family pictures he shared on his dental office’s Facebook page. Distinctive windows in old listing photos on the real estate website Zillow match the background in the campaign and family photos Pham posted.
Pham lists his Hillsboro dental office, in the 36th House District, as his mailing address on his candidate filing. Between Nov. 23, 2021 and Feb. 25, 2022, he also listed his dental office as his home address on the statement of organization for his campaign bank account.
His campaign Facebook page lists his ZIP code as 97124 – the ZIP code for the rural home Pham owns. The dental office and the south Hillsboro home are both in the 97123 ZIP code.
Jake Weigler, a spokesperson for Pham’s campaign, called the complaint a “dirty smear” in an emailed response.
“Hai considers the house on 81st Ave his residence and the secretary of state determined he was qualified to seek the seat in March 2022,” Weigler said. “This is a dirty smear against an intergenerational, immigrant family by a paid operative of the House Republicans.”
Legislative candidates must live in their districts, though congressional candidates aren’t bound by the same rules. Oregon law states that the elections officials can consider where legislative candidates receive personal mail, where their immediate family live and their voter registration, among other factors, when determining whether they live within the district.
New York Times columnist Nick Kristof was bounced off the ballot in the Democratic primary for governor over a high-profile residency challenge, but other successful challenges are rare in Oregon and throughout the country. When it comes to voting, state law directs election officials to first consider a residence as the place where the voter intends to return.