Tennessee elections chief says review shows McCormick meets residency requirements

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, presents Gov. Bill Haslam's anti-meth bill in the House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. The panel advanced its bill that would carry lighter restrictions on cold and allergy medicines than the Senate version, setting up the prospect of a conference committee between the two chambers. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins says he's determined that state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, whose legal residency in Hamilton County has been questioned, "meets a sufficient number of factors" to remain on the ballot as a candidate in the House District 26 contest.

In recent weeks, an issue about the former state House majority leader's legal residency has been raised in light of the Aug. 4, 2017, purchase of a $487,032 home in Nashville by McCormick and his wife, Kim McCormick, a top aide to Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora Tydings.

The deed of trust for the Nashville home lists the house as McCormick's "principal residence." The representative still owns a 3,500-square-foot Chattanooga residence on Big Ridge.

McCormick, a seven-term representative and former House majority leader, accused Democrats of being the culprits behind raising issues about his legal residency.

"The guy that came and creeped around in my backyard through a gate and looked at the windows is a Democratic campaign guy. He works for one of the guys who's running against me," McCormick charged.

McCormick said during several Times Free Press interviews that he continues to spend the majority of his time outside of the General Assembly's annual four-month legislative session at his Chattanooga home and thus meets the Tennessee Constitution's requirements.

The state constitution's Article 2, Section 9 states that no one can be a state representative unless he has "resided three years in this state, and one year in the county or district, immediately preceding the election."

McCormick works as a real estate broker. He said he and his wife, who formerly worked at Chattanooga State and in 2017 went to work for Tydings, currently as her vice chancellor of external affairs, made the decision to buy the home because Kim McCormick spends most of her time in Nashville.

Goins and current House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, said in recent interviews a younger man identifying himself as a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student had contacted them with questions about McCormick's ability to run for the seat.

"Someone called Friday and it was the first we became aware of even a hint of an issue in regards to his residency," Goins said Monday, saying he had already reached out to McCormick.

"A person can have, as you know, more than one residence," Goins said. "There's a statute that we look at for guiding factors and after talking to Rep. McCormick, he's going to be supplying some information that would meet those factors."

That process was soon completed, Goins said.

Goins said the charges were similar to those made in another case in which someone first challenged a Roane County judicial candidate's ability to run before the local election commission, saying the candidate actually lived in Knox County. That came at a public meeting of the Roane County Election Commission as candidates were being approved to run.

In McCormick's case, no one publicly identified has spoken out, although some Chattanooga-based reporters had been contacted by a man identifying himself as a UTC student. Goins and Majority Leader Casada said they had been contacted by a man identifying himself as a UTC student, as well.

Casada, who is currently vying with McCormick to become the House's next speaker, said he wanted no part of it when the man called his office.

"We told him real quick that has nothing to do with us. We're not interested in it. And I know Gerald - I've been out to his place and he lives in Chattanooga. There's no doubt in my mind."

Efforts by the Times Free Press to reach the UTC student leveling the charges were unsuccessful Tuesday.

In Roane County, the accusation was that the candidate, who had formerly lived in Roane and eventually won the race, had purchased a vacation home in Roane simply to run. The local election commission determined he could run. The losing judicial candidate later filed suit in a case that was ultimately decided by the Tennessee Supreme Court. The winner of the election also prevailed in the state's highest court.

"It's fairly close on this, honestly. It's one I was involved in," Goins said of the Roane County decision.

He noted the Hamilton County case was unusual because questions to his office about McCormick meeting residency requirements came after the April 4 candidate qualifying deadline as well as the Hamilton County Election Commission's May 29 meeting in which candidates were approved to run.

The ballot is now set, and because Hamilton County has paper ballots, one of only two counties to have paper balloting in Tennessee, it would be difficult to make changes, Goins said.

But the election coordinator said he felt "compelled" to conduct a "due diligence" inquiry," and sought a number of documents from McCormick. The list included a federal income tax return, Hamilton County property tax payments, information on his business and other data.

Goins said he also conducted a search of databases that, among other things, showed McCormick's real estate license has a Chattanooga, not a Nashville addresses.

McCormick said he didn't realize the deed of trust he and his wife signed and had notarized had the 12-month "principal residence" requirement in the Nashville home's purchase.

He said he reached out to the mortgage company officials to tell them that the Nashville home is not his principal residence. McCormick said an official assured him that was OK provided that his spouse counted the Nashville as her "principal residence," which McCormick stated she does.

State Election Coordinator Goins, meanwhile, on Tuesday, notified his local counterpart, Hamilton County Election Administrator Kerry Steelman, by letter Tuesday that he had conducted an inquiry.

"For the reasons outlined below, Representative McCormick would have met the residency [requirements] had the challenge been made timely," Goins wrote.

He noted that candidates may have multiple homes, "but only one residence for voting."

Goins said Tennessee Code Annotated 2-2-1222 provides that a person's residency is "determined by a person's intent plus actions consistent with that intent" and sets forth the various factors such as property ownership, and various licenses that determine a person's residency.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.