By Miriam Raftery
October 9, 2018 (El Cajon) – Robert Weaver, a Navy veteran now working for an acquisition agency for the U.S. Navy, has been forced to withdraw from the El Cajon mayoral race in order to keep his job. The decision hinges on a broad legal interpretation of what constitutes a partisan race.
“I was informed last week that the US Office of Special Counsel has determined the El Cajon Mayoral race to be partisan. This ruling means that I am in violation of the Hatch Act and I must choose between my candidacy and my Government job,” Weaver stated in an email sent to ECM today. “I have elected to resign my candidacy.” View letter from the Office of Special Counsel.
The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, prohibits civilians working for the federal executive branch including the Department of Defense from running for partisan offices or engaging in certain other political activities, but allows them to run for nonpartisan offices. The law was intended to prevent federal employees from intimidating or influencing others.
Mayoral positions are considered nonpartisan under California law, since candidates do not run to represent a political party and no primary races are held. Weaver is a member of no political party.
However, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel issued a ruling finding that this race is partisan because one of the other two candidates, incumbent Mayor Bill Wells, has been endorsed by the Republican Party and his name will appear on a mailer sent by the party.
It is too late for Weaver’s name to be removed from the ballot. In addition to Weaver and Mayor Wells, Joel Scalzitti, a Helix Water Board member, is also in the race.
The Special Counsel’s broad interpretation of “partisan” could preclude candidates from running for virtually any office, if anyone else in the race receives an endorsement from a political party.
The ruling is also problematic because a candidate has no way of knowing when entering a nonpartisan race whether an opponent will seek or receive a partisan endorsement and withdrawing late in the race could mean some voters cast ballots for the candidate not realizing that he or she has withdrawn. Not making a decision on whether a candidacy violates the Hatch Act until a month before an election, as was done here, would also deprive a candidate the opportunity to have time to mount a viable campaign, if the ruling were to allow the campaign to go forward.
Weaver works at the Space and Warfare Naval Systems Command (SPAWAR) in systems acquisition, where he has said he does not supervisor anyone. In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, he said of the ruling, “I think they’ve taken a very harsh reading of the law and I would like to see that overturned.”
In a region such as San Diego with many civilians employed in the Defense industry, the Special Counsel’s interpretation w\could preclude a large number of people from pursuing political office.