Rep. Mike Honda doesn't live in the 17th Congressional District he represents -- but he has an explanation: The San Jose house he's lived in for four decades was in the district until the boundaries were redrawn three years ago.
Ro Khanna, his Democratic challenger, does live in the district -- but he hasn't for long. Khanna has moved three times in the last decade as he pondered or pursued runs for various Bay Area House seats.
Now, a debate over residency has emerged in the Bay Area's most hotly contested race: Does being in touch with constituents equate more with where you live or how long you've lived there?
"Residing in the district demonstrates a personal commitment to represent the views and concerns of the people you serve,'' Khanna's spokesman, Tyler Law, said.
But Khanna, 37, hadn't even been born yet when Honda, 72, worked one of his earliest jobs at a copper-smelting business in Newark, which now falls within the district. Roughly half the voters who'll decide Honda's fate this year were in his old district, too.
Honda won't move, his campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said Monday, but he "has deep roots in every part of the 17th District." Since that job long ago in Newark, he served as a San Jose school board member, a Santa Clara County supervisor and an Assemblyman before being elected to Congress in 2000.
Unlike state lawmakers, House members need not live within their districts -- the U.S. Constitution requires only that they reside in the state from which they are elected.
Many Californians have made the most of this. Rep. Tom McClintock still lived in Thousand Oaks and served that area in the state Senate in 2008 when he won a House seat northeast of Sacramento, hundreds of miles away; even now, he lives 50 miles from his district -- something a fellow Republican challenger is playing up. Rep. John Garamendi lived a stone's throw outside the district he represented from 2009 until 2011's reapportionment. And Alameda Councilman Tony Daysog lives in the 13th District while now running to succeed Rep. George Miller in the 11th District.
Then again, Rep. Jerry McNerney moved from Pleasanton to Stockton in 2012 in order to live and win re-election within the newly drawn 9th District.
Redistricting in 2011 put Honda's home, which had been in his own district for his first six House terms, instead into Rep. Zoe Lofgren's 19th District; in fact, Honda's home is closer to the edge of Rep. Anna Eshoo's 18th District than to his own.
Yet voters didn't seem to care when electing Honda to a seventh term in 2012 with 74 percent of the vote. Nor are they all that likely to care now, said Bruce Cain, a political expert who directs Stanford University's Bill Lane Center for the American West.
"It's more of a problem if you don't come back and visit the district," he said: A lawmaker who spends all of his time in Washington or elsewhere might sooner be seen as an outsider.
Honda has hosted or appeared at many district events and "has had lots of time to establish himself in the new areas he acquired as a result of redistricting," Cain said.
Khanna has always lived where he runs. When challenging Rep. Tom Lantos in 2004's Democratic primary, he lived in San Mateo; when he prepared to run to succeed Rep. Pete Stark in the 15th Congressional District, he lived in part of Fremont within that district; and when he decided to challenge Honda, he moved elsewhere in Fremont in order to be in the 17th District.
Republican candidate Vanila Singh, 43, proudly notes she is the only candidate in this race who grew up in the current district. Joel Vanlandingham, 47, another Republican in the race, lives in Eshoo's 18th District.
Honda's local district office is about two-tenths of a mile outside his current district, which Khanna's spokesman said is puzzling: "Certainly your district office should be located there," Law said.
Honda's staffers also hold office hours two afternoons per month at Fremont's main library and once a month at Newark's library, both within the district.
"Certainly your district office should be located there."
"A prudent man would've moved his office," Cain said, though the district office's location still isn't likely to move many votes.
Kembaiyan said Honda chose to put his district office there because it's centrally located for his constituents from Sunnyvale and Cupertino on the district's west side to Newark and Fremont on the east, convenient to several highways and public transit.
While Honda has alluded to the Bay Area's high housing costs as a reason for staying in his longtime home, he would make a killing if he sold his house now. He bought it for $29,000 in 1971, but online real estate markets Zillow and Trulia estimate its market value at $773,000 and $834,000, respectively.
Kept low by Proposition 13, his total annual property tax bill comes to $1,786.08.
But Honda can keep that low tax rate if he moves anywhere within the district. Under Proposition 60 of 1986, a senior citizen can keep the same tax rate when selling a current home and buying another of equal or lesser value in the same county -- a one-time-only deal. And Alameda County is one of nine that accepts inter-county transfers under this law.