What Will Happen If Congressman Duncan Hunter Is Convicted?
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and his wife Margaret are facing federal felony charges for allegedly spending $250,000 of campaign money on personal expenses. On Monday, a federal judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to a September 10, 2019 court date.
Hunter ran for re-election in the 50th Congressional District and is ahead of his Democratic opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar by just under four percentage points. Analysts say if Hunter is convicted, the House of Representatives would have to vote to expel him if he doesn't decide to step down on his own.
"Surprisingly, members of Congress can serve when they’re under trial, even after they’ve been convicted and can even serve while they’re in jail, so there's no automatic prohibition from serving in Congress," said Thad Kousser, professor of political science at UC San Diego. However, Kousser said, representatives cannot vote from behind bars. Congress has voted to expel members five times, the last time in 2002.
Hunter at first refused to give up his leadership and committee positions after he was indicted, but later stepped down after pressure from then-House Speaker Paul Ryan. But Kousser said he does not believe Hunter would do the same when the Democrats take control of the House in January. "There's no way that he's going to cave in to pressure from Speaker Nancy Pelosi to do that," Kousser said.
Kousser said if Hunter is convicted and the House votes to expel him, a special election could be held. But the timing could be an issue. The September trial is expected to take at least three weeks, and it could take a couple of months to organize a special election. Kousser said in such a case, a special election probably wouldn't take place until the spring of 2020, the same time a primary would be held for a regular election for representative for the 50th district.
"One reason why Democrats might be loathe to call a special election that’s different from any other election is that special elections are actually low turnout affairs... They bring people to the polls who are the most frequent voters, and those people tend to be Republican, so Democrats could be hamstringing themselves playing on a right-tilted playing field if they do call a special election," Kousser said.