Sunday, November 27, 2022 Nov 27, 2022
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Politics

Should Lauren Davis Even Be on the Ballot?

The GOP candidate for Dallas County Judge appears to have lived in Puerto Rico during a crucial period, making her potentially ineligible to run.
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Davis masked up on March 18, 2021, in Puerto Rico, where her three-story house overlooked a canal in Humacao.

I’m going to back into this story a bit. I’ll get to why I think GOP candidate Lauren Davis was living in Puerto Rico when she should have been living in Texas if she wanted to run for the top spot on the Dallas County Commissioners Court. But you need to know two things first.

One, the head of the Commissioners Court is called a judge. Currently that is Democrat Clay Jenkins. He’s not a judge who wears a black robe and sends people to jail. He’s the county’s chief executive. Think of him as the mayor of the county. Pretty easy civics lesson, right?

Two, this story didn’t originate with a tip from Jenkins or anyone else in politics. Early voting started Monday. Election Day is November 8. Given how late we are in the process, it would be natural to assume that someone on the blue side of the ballot fed me information to hurt a rival. Not the case. This story started on a dog walk.

Over the weekend, I ran into a neighbor, and we got to talking about the political yard signs that have sprouted up in our hood. Lauren Davis’ name came up. I knew a little bit about her, mostly because I’d recently taken a swim through her campaign finance reports. Her most recent filing is striking for two reasons. First, she has raised a total of $669,606, which is a lot for someone with no previous political experience. Second, 77 percent of that sum came from just five sources: Darwin Deason ($25,000), Amanda Schumacher of Palm Beach ($25,000), Michael Colby of Westlake ($100,000), Lisa and Kenny Troutt ($105,000), and Robert Rowling ($250,000).

The other thing I knew about Davis was that earlier this year some questions had arisen about whether she satisfied the residency requirements to run for county judge. She needed to live in the state for the year prior to the March 1, 2022, primary in which she beat challenger Edwin Flores. Here is what the Dallas Morning News reported in January:

• Republican County Commissioner J.J. Koch “said Davis did not have a Dallas address for much of 2021 and had no record of ever voting in a Republican primary in Dallas County.”

• Dallas County GOP chair Jennifer Stoddard-Hajdu “said she had never met Davis until hours before the candidate filing deadline [in December 2021]. At that time, she said Davis mentioned she had sold her home in Dallas and lived in Puerto Rico until the summer of 2021.” And Stoddard-Hajdu “told the News that although she initially had concerns about Davis’ voting record and residency, she agreed to accept her application for candidacy with advice from the state Republican party.”

(An application for candidacy, by the way, doesn’t require proof of residency, only a statement from the candidate that he or she meets the requirement. I have left multiple messages with Stoddard-Hajdu; she has not responded. Her family has faced its own imbroglio over residency requirements for candidates.)

• “Business records show that Davis and her husband moved ownership of one of their businesses to Puerto Rico in January 2021, and gave a residential address in San Juan as their residence at that time. Property records show the Davises owned a home in Northwest Dallas until December 2020. The address she used to file for office is a rental home in North Dallas that was last on the market in May 2021. Davis told the News this week that she has been a resident of Dallas County since 2012.”

It all seemed strange to me. Here’s a candidate with no experience in politics yet she is raising boatloads of cash, and even her own party chair was selling her out, saying Davis told her she was living in Puerto Rico in the summer of 2021, when a legitimate candidate would have needed to live in Texas since March 2021. I said something to my neighbor on that dog walk about how much money Davis had raised. My neighbor said something to the effect of: “I know a family that let one of Lauren’s sons live with them when Lauren was living in Puerto Rico to reduce her taxes.”

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Lauren Davis Campaign

That’s how this story started. I have now talked to multiple families who have either hosted a Davis child at their Dallas homes in 2021 for a number of weeks while the rest of the Davis family was in Puerto Rico or who visited Davis in Puerto Rico at an address that the visitors believed to be the Davis family residence. Those visits to Puerto Rico occurred at times that would indicate Davis was not living in Texas in the year prior to the March 1, 2022, GOP primary.

Multiple people I spoke with told me that they were led to believe by Lauren and her husband, Ben, that the family established residency in Puerto Rico to take advantage of the island’s tax laws. In January 2020, Act 60 streamlined the process by which entrepreneurs can move to Puerto Rico and pay less in taxes than they would if they were operating on the mainland. In short, there are all sorts of tax benefits to living in Puerto Rico, but the key is: you have to live in Puerto Rico. One way to qualify is that, for 183 days, or at least half the year, you must be present in Puerto Rico. And you have to sever important ties to the mainland. You can’t earn income from a source on the mainland, and your family members can’t live there.

I don’t know, obviously, the exact nature of a possible tax liability the Davises might have been trying to avoid, but Ben is listed on the website of a healthcare company, Servant Health, whose address in public records was tied to the same Puerto Rican address where the Davises hosted Dallas families. And Servant Health was awarded in March of 2021 a $7.5 million government contract to manufacture surgical gloves.

There are other details that raise questions about where the Davis family lived and when. I have seen an email reputedly from Davis to Dallas County stating, “Please cancel my voter registration effective January 1, 2021,” and directing future correspondence to the Humacao, Puerto Rico, residence that is pictured at the top of this post. I have email exchanges that indicate Davis was looking for a home to lease in Dallas in May of 2021. I was told by one family that their daughter visited Davis and her family in Puerto Rico in June of 2021.

Finally, there is Davis’ employment history with Downtown Dallas Inc. As the organization would do with any question about employment, it confirmed dates for me. From a DDI email: “Lauren Davis worked for Downtown Dallas Inc., as a full-time employee from January through December of 2020, and again from July to August of 2021. She also worked for us as an independent contractor from January through July of 2021.”

To bring that into focus: for a roughly 183-day period that was sandwiched by full-time employment, Davis worked as a contractor. If Davis and her husband were attempting to reduce their tax liability by living in Puerto Rico, this income from a mainland source could create problems for them.

I tried to ask Lauren Davis about all this: why and when she’d gone to Puerto Rico, how long she’d stayed, what happened with DDI, what proof she could offer that she has lived in Texas since March 1, 2021. Monday evening on a phone call, she dodged those questions, saying they concerned private matters. She said repeatedly: “Texas residency is Texas residency.” When I asked her to explain what that meant, she wouldn’t elaborate. She also told me that the residency question had been settled, that it was “old news,” that the best proof she had that she’d met the requirement was that she was on the ballot, and that she wanted to talk only about issues facing Dallas County.

“You are getting caught up in drama about school,” she said, “and I want to keep you from looking stupid, like TMZ.”

Davis was referring to the vitriol over DISD’s mask mandate and how it played out at Dealey Montessori. For a sense of how ugly that situation got, here’s a video of Davis speaking before the DISD school board a couple of months after she returned from Puerto Rico, using her daughter as a political pawn:

The other parents I’ve spoken with asked me not to use their names because they fear retribution. Things at Dealey in late 2021 got extremely heated, with protesters accusing the school of child abuse. I see the fears of the parents I’ve talked to as justified.

But Marnie Glaser said I could use her name. She was the head of Dealey’s site-based decision-making committee. She was also, for years, a friend of Lauren Davis’. Their children were close, and Glaser spent spring break of 2021—March 15 through March 19—at the Davises’ house in Puerto Rico. Glaser helped me piece much of this timeline together. She and Davis are no longer friends.

“I got the sense in Puerto Rico that Lauren felt really isolated,” Glaser told me. “And she spent all of her time listening to Fox News. I mean, it was all the time. So I kind of watched the transformation, the radicalization of this nice, normal person. She was always conservative, but she was normal. Yeah. And also she was vacuuming all day. Like, compulsively vacuuming.”

For now, whatever happened in Puerto Rico—and why and when it happened—will remain a mystery. Lauren Davis isn’t talking about it. All she has to do is point to the obvious and indisputable: she’s on the ballot.


Postscript: in response to a list of detailed questions that I emailed to Davis Tuesday morning, through her somewhat notorious lawyer, Jack Stick, she sent a letter from Matt Jeffries, the Davises’ CPA. Here is the full text of the letter:

“We are the preparers of the federal and state tax returns for Ben and Lauren Davis, and have been for the past eight years. Based on all information provided to us, the Davis’s [sic] are residents of Texas and file their tax returns for all jurisdictions as residents of Texas.”

Present tense. The Davises are residents of Texas currently. That much is settled.


Epilogue to the postscript (10/27/22): after this story published, Davis sent a revised letter from her CPA. It reads: “Based on all information provided to us for the 2021 tax year, the Davis’s [sic] were residents of state of Texas [sic]. No contrary evidence to this fact was provided or is known to us at the time of writing this letter.”


Yet more (10/28/22): after publishing the epilogue to the postscript, I got into a lengthy email exchange with Ben Davis. In part, he wrote: “I’ve done some research on YOU, and I have not found any proof of YOUR Texas residency. Is there a ‘residency card’ or something that we should both have to prove our Texas residency to each other? I’ve never received or heard of one of those.”

I replied: “I invite you to share with me whatever information your CPA supposedly has that bolsters your claim of Texas residency. With apologies, your word isn’t sufficient. I’m sure you understand. I’m not running for office, so my residency doesn’t matter, Ben.”

Ben Davis wouldn’t tell me what information his CPA has concerning his Texas residency, writing only: “Let me tell you what I sent them…ALL information that establishes my residency and allows them to prepare and sign off on tax returns (with their CPA license at risk) they certify as accurate.”

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Tim Rogers

Tim Rogers

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Tim is the editor of D Magazine, where he has worked since 2001. He won a National Magazine Award in…

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