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Bil Lepp: Where does the definition of 'reside' live at? (Opinion)

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D, Pendleton, has taken Gov. Jim Justice to court because the West Virginia Constitution says, “They shall reside at the seat of government during their terms of office ...”

“They” includes the executive branch, which includes the governor.

Even the governor acknowledges that he stays in Lewisburg a lot.

Gov. Justice’s lawyers argue the word “reside” is, apparently, too vague a concept to define, that the definition is unclear.

English is a tricky language.

Toad Gilky, of Halfdollar, doesn’t believe in silent letters. He asked me what a silent letter was. I explained it’s like the “a” in “aisle,” the “b” in “subtle,” the first “c” in “cucumber,” the “o” in “’possum,” and most of the letters in “colonel.” He was still confused, so I said, “A silent letter is a letter in a word that doesn’t make any sound. It’s a letter in a word you don’t say.”

Toad pondered on that and then said, “Well, none of the letters make a sound if you don’t say them.”

Who can argue with that sort of logic? Maybe Toad should join the governor’s legal team.

Justice’s lawyers are arguing that “reside” is unclear, but the whole phrase we need to consider is “reside at.”

Everybody in West Virginia knows what “at” means. “At” is maybe the most definable location word in our West Virginia lexicon. As in, “Where are you at?” “Where do you live at?”

“At” means your exact global location. Anybody around here knows if a question ends in “at” it means, “Where exactly on the planet are you/it (at)?”

Justice’s lawyers are presumably focusing on the definition of the word “reside” because everybody knows what “at” means. This is why lawyers are so expensive.

I don’t have a law degree or a shelf of law books, but I do have something the lawyers don’t seem to have. A dictionary.

“Reside” comes from the Latin re, meaning “back,” or “again” and sedere, meaning “to sit.” “Resedere” means “to come back again and sit.” As in, “At the end of the day, where do come back and sit at?” Or, “Where is your La-Z-Boy at?” Ergo, the place you regularly sit, or rest, at the end of the day is where you reside at.

What’s confusing about that?

Don’t lawyers have to study Latin?

The state Division of Motor Vehicles requires you “provide two proofs of West Virginia residency” to get a West Virginia driver’s license. The Division of Natural Resources offers “Resident lifetime hunting ... and fishing licenses” for West Virginia citizens. These state agencies use derivatives of “reside” to legally mean “the place where you live at.”

Nobody in West Virginia who has dealt with the DMV to obtain or renew a driver’s license has any doubt what “residency” means. So, either the governor’s lawyers don’t drive, or they are under 15 years old.

“Reside” has its origins in the Proto-Indo-European (the root from which many of the world’s languages stem) sed, for “to sit.” This root is also connected to the words “chair,” “rest,” “nest” and a host of other words implying the location you live at.

If “reside” means the place you live, rest, sit, nest, settle, ect., and “at” means your exact location on earth, then “reside at” means the exact place you live at.

Maybe the real question isn’t where the governor resides at, but where Gov. Jim Justice is at at all. It seems like Gov. Justice wants to be governor without all the hassle of governing.

Just for the sake of Justice’s lawyers, “governor” originally meant “steersman,” or “at the helm.” The governor is supposed to steer the state. The reason it is important for the governor to reside at the seat of government is because the governor is essentially a political first responder. If there is an emergency in the state — if a mine explodes or 30,000 gallons of chemicals spill into the river — the governor needs to be in charge. He needs to be in Charleston with the other leaders of the state, at the helm, to guide us through the emergency.

The governor is sworn to uphold the state constitution. The third sentence of Article VII, the article describing the governor’s duties, states, “... shall reside at the seat of government.” The very first thing the constitution says the governor shall do is something the governor pretty flagrantly shain’t doing. If he’s breaking the first rule, why should we believe he cares about the rest of the rules?

I offer this lesson pro-bono to Justice’s lawyers. You don’t have to pay me. Maybe use that money to buy a dictionary? Email if you want to know where to get one at.

Bil Lepp, of South Charleston, is a professional storyteller and writer.

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Baker, Peggy - 11 a.m., Koontz Funeral Home, Hamlin.

Goff, Joyce - 1 p.m., Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

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Woodall, Kennedy - 11 a.m., Forest Hills Cemetery, Flatrock.