UTICA, Ind. (AP) — An Indiana congressional candidate changed his voter registration last year to an address local officials say isn’t a residence — a large metal-sided garage that he says has a two-bedroom bachelor pad inside.
Republican Mike Sodrel, who was previously elected to a single U.S. House term in 2004, switched his residency from a lakeside home valued at more than $1 million located just outside southern Indiana’s 9th District as he entered the race for the solidly GOP open seat.
Election experts say the residence changes by Sodrel and another top Republican contender for the seat don’t appear illegal, given that they aren’t required to live in the district to run for office. However, they come at a time many Republicans have made “election integrity” a top concern amid former President Donald Trump’s continued questioning of U.S. voting systems.
Sodrel, 76, the multimillionaire owner of a trucking company, switched his voter registration on Feb. 15 from the lake home residence in Bartholomew County — where he had been registered to vote since 2011 — to an address 70 miles south in Utica, less than a mile from the banks of the Ohio River, just outside Jeffersonville and within the 9th District.
“As I travel across the 9th District, what people ask me about is, what can we do about out-of-control inflation? About border control, and how to control fuel prices. Nobody wants to know where I live,” Sodrel said.
Residency questions troubled top Indiana political figures such as Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican Richard Lugar in losing U.S. Senate races over the past decade.
But current 9th District Rep. Trey Hollingsworth overcame opponents dubbing him “Tennessee Trey” for moving to southern Indiana just before entering the 2016 race for the open congressional seat and spending millions of his Tennessee family’s wealth to win a crowded Republican primary. Hollingsworth unexpectedly announced in January he wouldn’t seek reelection, setting off a scramble for candidates entering the race.
Sodrel’s $45,000 homestead property tax deduction, indicating the Bartholomew County home as his primary residence, was removed earlier this year, county property records show. He still owns the four-bedroom home with an enclosed pool that has an assessed value of nearly $1.4 million.
Sodrel, a longtime area resident until selling his nearby New Albany home a decade ago, told The Associated Press he pays $500 a month in rent and that the second-floor apartment of what he calls a “garage” is now his primary residence.
Sodrel remains the primary owner of the trucking company he started, Jeffersonville-based Sodrel Truck Lines, and his candidate financial disclosure report lists its value at between $5 million and $25 million, with a 2021 income of over $5 million.
Officials at the Clark County Assessor’s office, however, said Sodrel’s new address — a property consisting of a pole barn and small cabin — is not a registered residence. Town of Utica officials said they were unable to locate building or occupancy permits for the property.
Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel, who serves on the Indiana Republican state committee as the party’s 9th District chairman and is the county Republican Party chairman, said he and his wife have owned the property since the 1990s, and that he has paid taxes on it since.
“(Sodrel) came to me three years ago and said he was looking for a place to rent because of this market. And that’s how it all came about,” Noel said. “There’s ample place for someone to stay at.”
Noel said he chalks up criticism about Sodrel’s residency to “wild accusations” that come with the political season. Sodrel said he’s “sure” he’ll go from “renting to buying something at some point.”
Clark County Clerk Susan Popp, a Democrat who is a county election board member, said no complaints about Sodrel’s residency or voter registration have been filed.
“He can be registered there to vote, but it certainly doesn’t look well for someone who’s running for Congress,” she said.
Stu Barnes-Israel, another of the nine GOP candidates running for the 9th District congressional seat, changed his voter registration in recent months from his 4,500-square-foot home in Indianapolis to a 2,300-square-foot home previously owned by his grandparents in his rural southeastern Indiana hometown of Greensburg in the 9th District.
Barnes-Israel and his wife received a homestead property tax deduction on their house near downtown Indianapolis assessed at $664,000 until Jan. 20, according to the Marion County auditor’s office, although he had first switched his voter registration in November 2021 to Greensburg, where he was registered while serving in the Army and attending graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.
Barnes-Israel, who has worked for the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company and Chicago-based investment firm Citadel, said that he, his wife and their two sons now live full-time in the “nostalgic” house 50 miles from Indianapolis.
“We spend time all over the place,” Barnes-Israel said. “We spend a little bit of time in Indianapolis to be by an airport, to help me be able to balance my career, but Greensburg’s been home my entire life.”
Charles Taylor, director of the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University, said that at a time when many Republicans are questioning election integrity, Sodrel and Barnes-Israel have opened themselves up to criticism.
“It sort of becomes a political issue, like are you really from this district?” Taylor said. “Are you really living there?”
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Smith on Twitter.
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