If there’s a checklist for starting a political campaign, one item would have to be, “Am I qualified to run?”
Businessman Kris Hart planned to announce his candidacy for governor of Pennsylvania in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, Thursday, but quickly changed his plans after he learned — from me, I’m afraid — that he didn’t meet the state residency requirement to serve as governor.
The 34-year-old Republican grew up in Montgomery County, then spent more than a decade in Washington, D.C. He went to college, worked on a Senate staff, owned a neighborhood grocery store and co-founded a program to help the homeless.
He recently moved back to Pennsylvania and said in an interview Tuesday that he’s ready to run for governor.
“I’m very passionate about people. I understand policy, and I get politics,” Hart said. “And, so, you put those three things together, I almost have an obligation to serve the people that I love for the issues that I passionately care about.”
Asked what issues he is passionate about, Hart mentioned education. But he said he isn’t in favor of just “throwing money at problems.” He described himself as a centrist with libertarian leanings on some issues, a small-government guy and a solid Republican.
In any case, it turns out there was a hitch in Hart’s plan.
Among the Pennsylvania Constitution’s requirements for serving as governor is seven years residency in the state before the gubernatorial election. Having just moved back to Pennsylvania in May, Hart is way short.
I confess this hadn’t occurred to me when I spoke to Hart the first time. I called Charlie Gerow of Quantum Communications, a veteran Republican strategist, to talk about the race. When I described Hart, he immediately flagged the residency problem. (An old reporter’s trick: Talk to people who know stuff before you write.)
I asked respected election lawyer Adam Bonin if court decisions had found wiggle room in the seven-year residency rule. Not much, he said. It’s going to be a problem.
When I called back to ask Hart about the residency requirement, it was clear this was new information to him.
Within a few hours, he’d decided he couldn’t run for governor, but would keep his team and his website and continue meeting with citizens as he considers other options, including a run for U.S. Senate. That office does not have a prior residency requirement.
UPDATE: Hart’s website now says he’s running for U.S. Senate.
Four Republican candidates are already in the primary to challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey next year. Gerow said, if Hart jumps in, he’ll face an uphill climb as a newcomer.
“For any candidate, voters are looking for somebody who has served them in other capacities, who has a record in the community, in the state doing things for folks on a human level,” Gerow said. “It’s not going to be easy for someone who’s just recently moved to the state or just recently gotten involved in public affairs.”
Hart said he had deep roots in the state and family throughout Pennsylvania, and ideas he’s sure will connect with voters.