When Rick Santorum makes his formal announcement for president this coming Monday, he will do so from the steps of the courthouse in Somerset, PA. The location was picked for a reason -- it was where Santorum's grandfather immigrated to America, and it will allow him to tell the tale of how his grandfather fled fascist Italy in 1925 and worked in the coal mines of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
But the location also reopens old questions about Santorum's legal residence, which has been a source of controversy for the better part of a decade. The issue is significant because Santorum launched his career in politics by attacking his opponents' residency. Back in 1990, the Republican ousted a longtime Democratic incumbent, Rep. Doug Walgren, by waging an aggressive campaign questioning whether Walgren lived in the district. In winning election to the U.S. Senate in 1994, he did the same thing, by raising questions about whether incumbent Harris Wofford lived in Pennsylvania, according to reports.
So it is ironic that questions about Santorum's own residence has dogged him for years. He and his wife Karen have owned a house in the Penn Hills, PA, suburb of Pittsburgh since 1997. But while he was in office, Santorum and his family spent most of their time living in a much larger house the couple owned in Leesburg, VA. Santorum says he kept his legal residence in Pennsylvania and spent holidays and some weekends there. But he always voted absentee, and the local press found another couple listed as registered voters at the same address.
Santorum's five school-age children also lived in Virginia but attended a "cyber" charter school in Pennsylvania (where they could access their classes and schoolwork via computer and not have to physically attend the school). What's more - the Penn Hills, PA, public school district paid 80% of the tuition costs for the five Santorum children.
In 2004, the Penn Hills school district ruled that Santorum did not meet the qualifications of residency because he and his family spent most of the year in Virginia. The district demanded repayment of tuition costs totaling $72,000. Once the controversy surfaced, Santorum withdrew his children from the cyber school and they were home schooled in Virginia. After a protracted legal fight, the PA Dept of Education paid $55,000 to Penn Hills to settle the dispute over tuition costs.
Santorum lost a Senate re-election bid in 2006 to Bob Casey. He and his wife sold their home in Leesburg, VA, late the following year.