If you want to be Stephen Colbert’s congressman, you’d better know your district.
That might be a problem for Reinier Prijten, who announced last week that he would challenge freshman Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) in New Jersey’s 11th district, where famous residents include Colbert and self-proclaimed “Jersey Guy” Chris Christie.
“Reinier Prijten will become a full-time resident of Morristown, New Jersey in May, after finishing a temporary business endeavor in California. He had lived in the New York region most of the last 30 years,” said his spokesman, Jay Townsend.
Records show that Prijten has never lived in New Jersey and has voted out of an address in New Rochelle, New York. His website says that he “resides with his son in Morristown.”
He uses a Morristown address that matches up to the UPS store and his campaign account was opened with a Tampa, Florida bank, according to Prijten’s filing with the Federal Election Commission.
Prijten has declined several attempts to discuss his campaign through direct message, responding that all questions go through Townsend, a New York-based political consultant.
Reached on his cell phone, Prijten would only say “would you please talk to Jay. Thank you very much,” before hanging up his phone.
Townsend responded to a call from the New Jersey Globe on Friday with an e-mail on Monday, citing his travel schedule in “a bad cell zone.”
“Unlike Congresswoman Sherrill, he will live in the district he hopes to represent,” Townsend said.
Sherrill’s Montclair home is located less than one mile from her district in a town that was split when new lines were drawn in 2012. She rented a home in the 11th during her campaign but moved back after her lease expired. Her home in currently on the market.
Two other New Jersey congressmen faced residency-related issues during the 2018 campaign.
Reps. Andy Kim (D-Marlton) and Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill) both grew up in New Jersey before returning from Washington after serving in the Obama administration to run for Congress.
“The biggest difference between residency questions that have come up in the past is those candidates were all New Jerseyans,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “It’s the single, most basic requirement of the Constitution: a congressional candidate must be a resident of the state.”
Prijten’s sudden move to New Jersey to challenge Sherrill is ripe for criticism, according to Rasmussen.
“Notwithstanding the decline in potency of carpetbagging as a campaign issue, a total lack of understanding of living in New Jersey should be expected to count for many voters,” Rasmussen says.
Rasmussen said that while there are some examples of candidates moving to a state just to run for office, acceptance of voters is rare.
“Robert F. Kennedy and Hillary Clinton were both household names that brought a level of familiarity that stood in place of residency,” Rasmussen explained.