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Panel Rejects Challenge to Romney's Bid

Politics: Massachusetts ballot commission says the Republican is eligible to run for governor, backing the candidate's residency claim.

June 26, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — A state commission ruled Tuesday that Republican Mitt Romney is eligible to run for governor, unanimously rejecting a challenge by Democrats who contended the 55-year-old venture capitalist gave up his Massachusetts residency while directing the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

The state Ballot Commission accepted Romney's argument that he was not responsible for errors made by his accountant on tax returns, declaring he fulfilled a requirement in the state constitution that candidates for governor must reside in Massachusetts for at least seven consecutive years.

In a dispute that for weeks pushed aside issues such as education and tax reform, Democrats contended that Romney gave up his status as a Massachusetts resident when he listed Utah as his primary residence for two years while organizing the 2002 Games.

Romney countered that while residing in Utah, he continued to vote in Massachusetts and maintain the home he owned for 30 years in Belmont, outside Boston.

Campaigning Tuesday on a farm in the western part of the state, Romney welcomed the action by the commission, which is made up of three Republicans, one Democrat and one member with no declared party affiliation.

"This challenge was designed not to be a credible challenge to my candidacy, but to be an embarrassment," said Romney, wearing work clothes and standing beside a cow.

"I am more determined than ever to win."

But James Roosevelt, legal counsel to the Democratic Party in Massachusetts, said the inquiry conducted by the ballot commission provided a valuable service to voters.

"A number of important questions have been raised through this challenge--legitimate questions about Mr. Romney's behavior as a candidate and as a businessman," Roosevelt said, referring to apparent inconsistencies in Romney's public statements.

"Like many leading CEOs, Mr. Romney refuses to accept responsibility for his financial behavior, for making false statements and then blaming others for his misdeeds," Roosevelt added.

The controversy centered on a $54,000 tax break Romney received by listing his Deer Valley, Utah, home as a primary residence. Romney at first said the tax bill had gone to his wife, and later blamed a clerical error in Utah for incorrectly categorizing his home.

He also said his accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, had mistakenly listed him as a part-year Massachusetts resident in 1999 and as a nonresident in 2000. Romney changed those forms in April after deciding to enter the gubernatorial race.

Democrats cited an interview Romney gave to a Utah newspaper to suggest he was hedging his bets as he decided whether to run for office from Utah or Massachusetts.

Romney and his attorneys argued that residence is not determined by tax-filing status alone.

Romney is the only Republican seeking election to an office controlled by the GOP in Massachusetts for 12 years.

Five Democrats are jockeying for the gubernatorial nomination in their party.

Adrian Durbin, a spokesman for State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien--the leading Democratic candidate, polls show--said Tuesday that the commission ruling was not unexpected.

"Over the course of the next few months, the people of Massachusetts will have to decide if Mitt Romney has been truthful with them on this matter," Durbin said.

A Boston Herald poll last week showed Romney receiving 45% of votes against 35% for O'Brien.

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