Assemblyman Richard Pan has some explaining to do about where he really lives, and Sacramento County's district attorney should ask the questions.
Some facts are unequivocal.
State law clearly states that legislators must live in the district they represent. Redistricting last year put Pan's Natomas home in the same Assembly district as another incumbent. So he bought a condominium in the open 9th District, registered to vote there and swore under penalty of perjury that he was living there.
The available information suggests that Pan is, at the very least, skirting the law by keeping his real residence in Natomas.
His wife and two young sons never moved. When The Bee's Jim Sanders checked Pan's whereabouts at night or in the early morning five times in the past month, he was at the Natomas home every time. Several neighbors near Pan's condo in the Pocket report there's no sign that he actually lives there.
While state law allows legislators to own multiple homes, only one can be their legal residence as a voter and as a candidate. Because there's a presumption that lawmakers are being truthful when they declare their residence, the burden for prosecution is rather high.
Still, there is certainly enough here to warrant District Attorney Jan Scully launching an investigation. Scully's office wouldn't say Thursday whether it will look into the case, but Pan's office says it has not been contacted.
The Los Angeles district attorney has filed charges in two similar cases, against Sen. Rod Wright and City Councilman Richard Alarcón, alleging that they lied on their residency declarations.
Pan is saying little about this. He issued a statement last week that he is "in full accordance with state law."
His spokesman told The Bee's editorial board on Thursday that nothing in the law requires a legislator to spend a certain amount of time in a residence, and that the assemblyman does not plan to change his living situation. Pan earlier told reporters he was not selling his Natomas home because of the weak real estate market and because his wife's dental practice was nearby.
He also doesn't plan to stop accepting $142 per day from the state money meant to defray lawmakers' living expenses in Sacramento during the legislative session while keeping a home in one's district. While eligible, few Sacramento-area legislators have ever claimed the per diem. Pan's spokesman would not say whether Pan would still be taking the payments if he wasn't paying two mortgages.
Pan, a Democrat first elected in 2010, is a promising legislator. This editorial board endorsed him both times he ran. Elected officials, like the rest of us, have every right to do what's best for their family's well- being and their finances. Some may argue there are far more serious transgressions by lawmakers that go unnoticed or unpunished.
But actually living in the legislative district one represents is a basic requirement. The makers of laws should be expected to follow the letter of the law, as the rest of us have to do.
This may be less of a legal problem for Pan than a political issue. It's a matter of trust. Once a politician loses the confidence of his or her constituents, it's very difficult to recover.