HUNTER TRIAL DELAYED UNTIL JANUARY, POSING DILEMMA FOR CANDIDATES AND VOTERS

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Republicans Bill Wells and Carl DeMaio voice intent to challenge Hunter; others silent on whether they will run if Hunter is on the ballot

By Miriam Raftery

Photo courtesy Times of San Diego

August 14, 2019 (San Diego) – Judge Thomas Whelan has ruled that Congressman Duncan Hunter’s federal corruption trial will be postponed until January 14th.  That’s after the Dec. 6 deadline for candidates to run for the seat, posing a dilemma for some Republican candidates who have said they would not run if Hunter is still in the race. If the trial extends into February, voters could be casting early vote-by-mail ballots without knowing if Hunter has been found guilty or not.

The delay from the original Sept. 10 trial date was made at the request of Hunter’s lawyers to allow time for an appellate court to consider the Hunter team’s motion to dismiss the case. The Hunter team argued prosecutors were biased for attending a Hillary Clinton fundraiser (which prosecutors say was in their official line of duty). The judge denied that request, noting that Hunter’s own lawyer attended the same event.

Hunter faces 60 counts including misuse of campaign funds for personal expenses such as family vacations to Italy and Hawaii, jewelry, oral surgery bills and overnight trysts with five mistresses. He is also charged with wire fraud and filing false campaign reports to cover up the theft. His wife, Margaret, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and is cooperating with the prosecution.

Thus far, Hunter insists he will not resign, though that could change if he accepts a plea offer or chooses to resign if convicted. But even if convicted, he could be running for reelection from prison since there is no requirement to relinquish his office. 

If reelected while behind bars, Hunter would collect his taxpayer-paid salary, but would not be allowed to vote on anything or participate in any legislative matters. His constituents would be left without representation in Congress, though his staff would be allowed to handle constituent casework.

Congress could vote to expel him, a rare move that was last done after Rep. Jim Trafficant was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2002 and refused to resign.  However, it takes a two-thirds supermajority to expel a member, meaning Democrats would need around 56 Republican votes to expel Hunter, along with every Democrat—an unlikely scenario in the currently divided Congress. 

But even if expelled by Congress, if voters were to reelect Hunter in November after his conviction, he would regain his seat – no matter whether he is free or behind bars.    

But first, Hunter would have to beat Republican challengers in the March primary.  Federal elections, unlike those for state and local offices, are partisan so the top vote-getter from each political party advances to the general election in November.

The filing deadline opens Sept. 12 and runs through Nov. 2 for candidates who wish to file signatures on petitions from voters in lieu of a hefty filing fee. The last day to pay the filing fee to appear on the March primary ballot is December 6, unless Hunter changes his mind and does not file for reelection, in which case the deadline would extend until December 11 – still over a month before his trial date.

So far, five Republicans, one Democrat and an Independent have announced interest in running. But not all are willing to challenge Hunter if he remains in the race.

ECM emailed or sent messages online to all five declared Republican candidates yesterday to ask if they intend to run now that the decision to run must be made before Hunter’s trial.  Only one candidate, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, responded.

“I fully understand his employing any and all tactics to defend himself, but Congressman Hunter should resign,” Mayor Wells told ECM. “No person is more important than the country and he puts the district and the country at risk by putting his own needs over those of the people.” Wells makes clear, “I am running and will do so until the voters decide.”

Conservative talk radio host and former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, who does not live in the district, sent a press release out making clear that he is still in the race – and returning to the airways.  When DeMaio announced his campaign for US Congress, Federal Communications Commission equal time regulations required that he step down from his job hosting the DeMaio Report. In this new format, DeMaio is paying for the airtime for his daily editorials and will produce his on-demand podcast using campaign funds. 

I’ve made the decision to go back on the air because my loyal listeners say they miss our dialogue each day and because I believe Republican candidates need to speak directly to voters without the bias and distortion of the liberal news media,” said DeMaio.

The other potential Republican candidates are former Escondido mayor Sam Abed, Temecula Councilman Matt Rahn, and retired  Navy Seal Larry Wilske. Abed has previously told media he would only run if Hunter resigned.

A brutal primary battle among Republicans could benefit the only announced Democratic candidate, Ammar Campa-Najjar, a former federal official, small business owner and past Hispanic Chamber of Commerce representative who came within 3.5% of beating Hunter in 2018.  He has a well-funded campaign in the district that is being targeted nationally by the Democratic party in hopes of picking up a seat despite heavy Republican registration, given Hunter’s legal and ethical challenges.

Independent candidate Helen Horvath, an Army veteran who earned a PhD, has also announced intent to run for the 50th Congressional district seat. 

Resources:

House Ethics Manual 

Highlights of the House Ethics Rules