GOP says Eastland not resident of Senate district

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The Mississippi Republican Party has asked the state Election Commission to remove Hiram Eastland III from the Nov. 7 ballot because he hasn’t met the residency requirement to run in Senate District 14.

Eastland, 28, is one of five candidates seeking the Senate District 14 seat left vacant by the death of Robert “Bunky” Huggins, R-Greenwood, in May. The district includes portions of Leflore and Carroll counties.

In a Sept. 21 letter to the Election Commission, GOP executive director Arnie Hederman said that Eastland has not lived in the Senate district for two years prior to the election. Hederman said Mississippi State Tax Commission records show Eastland has claimed homestead exemption for property in Hinds County.

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The Republican Party raised the same issue about Jonathan McMillan, who had announced his candidacy from Kilmichael. McMillan had filed for homestead exemption in Madison County. McMillan withdrew from the race several days ago, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Homestead exemption has long been recognized in state law and by the courts as a means of establishing residency.

“We know of no evidence to rebut the presumption of residence established by these current homestead exemptions. Certainly, there is no evidence which would support a conclusion that … Mr. Eastland has been an actual resident of Senate district 14 for two years before the scheduled election date of Nov. 7, 2006,” Hederman said in the letter.

Eastland told The Greenwood Commonwealth that he was not surprised by the challenge.

“We thought they would do that,” he said. “We were prepared.”

All candidates in special elections run without party labels.

Eastland said he sought and received an opinion from the attorney general’s office that he could maintain residency in Leflore County, although he lived in Jackson to attend law school at Mississippi College School of Law. Until recently, Eastland worked in the opinions division of the attorney general’s office.

After he decided to run for the Senate seat, he took a job with Boys State.

Eastland said he never changed homes. He maintained a permanent address in Leflore County, he said, and moved to Jackson for the convenience of being close to school and work.

Tax Commission records from 2005 show Eastland and his wife own a house and lot in the Belhaven area of Jackson. Eastland is not listed on the property tax roll submitted for Leflore County for 2005, according to the Tax Commission.

The Election Commission will certify the ballot shortly before the election. Recently, the commission extended the qualifying deadline for four vacant legislative posts to Oct. 24.