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Tommy Tuberville: Florida’s third senator?

“Tuberville lives in Auburn, Alabama, with his wife Suzanne.”

— website of Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.)

In late June, Tommy Tuberville traveled to the Wiregrass region of Alabama, which borders Florida. “The Wiregrass is one of the best-kept secrets in Alabama,” Tuberville told a gathering of local leaders in Dothan. “Everyone is seeing the growth in Florida, but that will only last so long because you can only take so many people in the Florida area.”

Tuberville — who coached Alabama’s Auburn University football team from 1999 to 2008 and was elected senator from Alabama in 2020 — isn’t heeding his own pitch.

Three weeks after his Wiregrass appearance, Tuberville sold, for nearly $1.1 million, the last properties that he owned in Alabama, according to real estate records. The properties, known as Tiger Farms LLC, are in Macon and Tallapoosa counties, on the outskirts of Auburn. That same month, he also sold one Florida condo for $850,000 and bought another for $825,000.

Tuberville’s office says his primary residence is an Auburn house that records show is owned by his wife and son. But campaign finance reports and his signature on property documents indicate that his home is actually a $3 million, 4,000-square-foot beach house he has lived in for nearly two decades in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., located in the Florida Panhandle about 90 miles south of Dothan.

The Alabama sale in July was notarized by a person who lives in Santa Rosa Beach, indicating Tuberville was there on July 14. His wife, Suzanne Tuberville, a licensed real estate agent in Florida, has worked at a Santa Rosa Beach real estate firm since the start of this year; she does not have an Alabama real estate license.

The senator also signed in person a deed, notarized in Florida’s Walton County, where Santa Rosa Beach is located, on June 30 — during a two-week period starting June 26 that was designated in the Senate as a “State Work Period,” when lawmakers often return to their states to meet with constituents. Tuberville’s office issued a news release saying the senator met with local officials on three days of that period, June 26-28, including in Dothan, but was silent on the rest of it.

Under the U.S. Constitution, senators are required to be “an inhabitant” of the state when elected, so residency requirements can be minimal. Two Democrats, Robert F. Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, were elected senators from New York shortly after moving there. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who represents a district in the Panhandle, in 2019 considered running for Alabama’s senate seat. But voters increasingly are sensitive to the perception that a lawmaker is not connected to a state. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in 2012 lost his Senate seat after it emerged that, contrary to Senate rules, he had billed taxpayers for hotel stays in the state. Lugar had sold his home in Indianapolis after he was elected in 1976 and bought one in McLean, leaving him with no residence in the state.

The question about whether Tuberville is truly a resident of Alabama has affected his political ambitions. In 2017 he announced his decision not to run for governor the next year, citing potential controversy over residency issues. Alabama law requires a person be a state resident for seven years to run for governor — but only for one day to run for Senate.

At the time of his decision on the governor’s race — about 10 years after his Auburn coaching job ended — Tuberville owned a lakeside home in Alabama, which he sold 16 months later for $1.4 million.

In 2018, he voted in Florida in the midterm elections, according to the Birmingham News, but he registered to vote in Alabama on March 28, 2019, a week before announcing his Senate bid. For his voter registration address, he listed as his residence a property, appraised at about $300,000, located in Auburn.

Local media accounts in 2020 said that Tuberville owns this home with his wife. But property records show it is owned by Tuberville’s son, who has the same first name but a different middle name, along with the senator’s wife. The home was purchased in 2017, when the son, generally known as Tucker, was in the process of obtaining an Alabama real estate license. The son now works in New York, according to his LinkedIn page. Neither Tucker nor Suzanne Tuberville responded to requests for comment.

The senator also owns a condominium in Washington that he and his wife purchased for $750,000 in 2021, with a $674,250 mortgage, according to real estate documents.

During his Senate campaign in Alabama, Tuberville didn’t deny he was a newcomer to the state, even though he had once coached football there. “Yes, I am not an everyday resident of Alabama,” he acknowledged to a group of voters in a video posted by the campaign of his main challenger for the GOP nomination, former senator Jeff Sessions. “… I’m a carpetbagger of this country.”

Tuberville’s frequent visits as senator to his home in Santa Rosa Beach can be gleaned through expenditure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by Tuberville’s various campaign organizations and PACs. They show that since Tuberville became a senator, there have been almost monthly expenditures for travel and food in either Santa Rosa Beach or another Florida town, Panama City Beach, which is 50 miles away.

While airline expenditures in the Tuberville filings do not reveal the destination of the tickets, American Airlines at the start of this year suspended service to the airport nearest to Auburn. But the airline provides nonstop service from Washington to Panama City Beach. The campaign finance reports list seven expenditures made to American Airlines in 2023. (Tuberville could also pay for flights out of his own pocket, which would not be reflected in these expenditures.)

Steven Stafford, Tuberville’s communications director, did not deny that the senator no longer owns property in Alabama. But he suggested that the Santa Rosa Beach property was a vacation home.

“Coach has purchased and invested in real estate for decades,” Stafford said in an email. “Coach has owned the property in Santa Rosa Beach for two decades — he bought it while he was coaching at Auburn. He goes there upon occasion if he has a free weekend. It is within driving distance of Auburn. I’m sure many Senators have vacation homes.”

It’s nearly a four-hour drive from the house in Auburn to the home in Santa Rosa Beach, according to Google maps.

Stafford added that Tuberville “purchased his current Auburn residence for his son when his son was a student at Auburn. After his son graduated, he moved out. After Coach retired from coaching, Coach moved into the Auburn house. The Auburn property is his primary residence — although his job requires him to be in Washington four days a week when the Senate is in session.”

Stafford’s statement does not match up with documentary record. Tommy Tuberville never owned the house. Tucker Tuberville graduated in May 2016, according to his LinkedIn page, meaning the house in question was purchased — by Tucker Tuberville and his mother — nine months after Tucker graduated from college. Tucker then worked for his father as an assistant football coach at the University of Cincinnati from May to December that year. Tuberville’s other son, Troy, did not start at Auburn until 2018 and graduated in 2021; he registered to vote using the same address as his father — this Auburn property. He did not respond to a request for comment.

In a later email, Stafford acknowledged the house was purchased after Tucker graduated from Auburn. “His son lived at the Auburn house briefly and then Coach moved there afterward,” he said.

In a 2017 promotional video for ESPN, Tuberville says he retired to Florida, not Alabama.

“Six months ago, after 40 years of coaching football, I hung up my whistle and moved to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, with the white sands and blue waters. What a great place to live,” he said, displaying a view over the ocean from the house.

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This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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