A Columbia attorney is trying to knock Assemblyman Tom Berryhill out of his bid for the Senate by enforcing a clause in the state constitution that requires candidates to live in a district for a year before running for office.
Heidi Fuller is running against Berryhill for the Republican nomination to succeed Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto. She filed her lawsuit against Secretary of State Debra Bowen this week in the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento.
Berryhill's campaign says Fuller's claim contradicts legal opinions from the secretary of state's office, as well as a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a one-year residency requirement for Tennessee voters.
Fuller has been in the running for the seat since the spring, when she decided to challenge Cogdill in the 14th Senate District because of his support for a temporary tax increase in a budget compromise.
Berryhill entered the race in December, shortly after Cogdill declared that he would not seek re-election. Berryhill lived in Jeff Denham's Senate district, but moved to Oakdale recently to compete for Cogdill's seat.
Fuller calls Berryhill a "carpetbagger" and contends he should stay in his own district.
"I was disappointed with his decision to completely ignore our constitution," she said. "I don't think it's right."
Fuller is asking Bowen to enforce Article 4, Section 2 of the state constitution, which reads:
"A person is ineligible to be a member of the Legislature unless the person is an elector and has been a resident of the legislative district for one year, and a citizen of the United States and a resident of California for three years, immediately preceding the election."
The state does not enforce that clause, which sanctions moves like Berryhill's, or the one Denham had proposed when he was considering a run for the Assembly in Berryhill's district in December. Denham, a Republican, has since chosen to run for Congress.
The secretary of state's office has held that the state article Fuller cited is not enforceable under the U.S. Constitution.
"In our minds, this is a frivolous lawsuit," said Laura Ortega, a Berryhill campaign spokeswoman.
Berryhill has two weeks to respond to Fuller's complaint.
The attorney general's office declined to comment. The secretary of state's office did not return a call for comment.
The 14th District is considered a safe seat for Republicans.
Bee assistant city editor Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.