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Gov. Newsom Will Not Call Special Election Following Resignation Of Rep. Duncan

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California Governor Gavin Newsom's office said Wednesday that a special election will not be called following the resignation of San Diego Congressman Duncan Hunter.

Speaker 1: 00:00 It will be more than a year before the 50th district will have a vote in the house of representatives. The 50th district includes East County, some of North San Diego County and a small portion of neighboring Riverside County. This comes after governor Gavin Newsome said he will not hold a special election following the resignation of representative Dunkin. Hunter Hunter pled guilty to misusing campaign funds in December and has since not had a vote in the house. His resignation will be official on Monday. Joining me to discuss this is KPBS news reporter, Prius breather. Priya, welcome. Thanks. I mentioned that governor Gavin Newsom declined to hold a special election for the 50th congressional district. Why was it up to the governor to decide whether or not to hold a special election?

Speaker 2: 00:41 So if Dunkin Hunter had resigned before December six and that would have been shortly after he pleaded guilty in federal court to the one conspiracy charge, a state mandate would have required that a special election be held. But because he didn't resign until actually it won't be effective until Monday, January 13th at the end of the business day, it was up to governor Newsome as to whether or not there should be a special election. And his office told me, uh, the governor's office received representative Hunter's resignation letter based on the timing of the resignation, a special election will not be called. So essentially, logistically it would have been very complicated. And I got a chance to speak with the registrar voters, Michael WGU about that. And he actually was all ready to send out the overseas and military ballots next Friday for the March 3rd election. And so what a lot of people were hoping for was that the special election could have been consolidated with the March 3rd election.

Speaker 2: 01:37 But because Dunkin Hunter waited so long, it essentially got to the point where it would have been logistically impossible. So why couldn't the governor then just appoint someone to the seat? Yeah. A lot of people have been asking me that question. You know, we saw when Senator John McCain died that the governor of Arizona was then able to appoint another Republican to serve out the rest of his term until they were able to hold an election. However, that's not what's allowed legally when something happens with the representative. So essentially the governor's office had two choices. One was to hold a special election and the other was to leave the seat vacant as you mentioned until next January. And go through the process that had already been scheduled with the general election, which is a primary on March 3rd and then the general election in November.

Speaker 1: 02:21 And before we go any further, can you give us some background on what happened before? Hundred pled guilty to misusing campaign funds?

Speaker 2: 02:27 Right. So this all stems back to uh, the indictment. A Hunter and his wife were charged in August of 2018 with 60 counts of using campaign funds for personal expenses and some of those expenses included family vacations, school tuition for his kids. And then he went a step further allegedly and falsified federal election commission campaign reports. So he would say that these personal expenses were for campaign travel or toy toy drives or dinner with volunteers and gift cards, things like that. Initially he said that the charges were politically motivated. You know, I think you remember some of his famous quotes. He said this is a witch hunt and that was right before his last election, but then he obviously did a one 80 his wife actually decided to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors. And then as we saw in December, he also changed his plea and entered a guilty plea and he set to be sentenced on March 17th he faces up to five years in federal prison and also a $250,000 fine.

Speaker 2: 03:32 You visited the 50th congressional district yesterday. What did you hear from constituents about that district not having representation for an entire year? So in some ways this is something that they've been used to. There's about 750,000 people who live in that district. But Congressman Hunter, when he had been indicted, he was stripped of many of his committee assignments. And then after he pleaded guilty, he received a letter from the house of representatives, I believe it was speaker Polosi essentially telling him that he can no longer vote. So in many ways, he's sort of been a defunct congressmen up until this point for the last year as he was facing these allegations. But a lot of the constituents said it would be a real shame to not have a special election and have to wait an entire year until they have representation. So let's take a listen to what some of them had to say. I think there should be a special election. We can go without a representative for a year.

Speaker 3: 04:26 Well, I think our community should be represented at all times by a rep, by a Congressman. So if we don't have a Congressman for a year, I mean, that's not really fair for the people around here who, who vote

Speaker 2: 04:40 have somebody represent the people. Sure. Yeah. So in order of how you heard those people. The first one was Lori fountain, Joseph knob and William Phillips there. But as you can see, and actually Joseph who told me that he's a Democrat and the other two a Lori said she's an independent and William said he's a Republican, but across party lines, all of them agreed that they wanted representation. Now Hunter changed his plea to guilty in the campaign finance case in early December. Do we know why Hunter may have waited to resign until January 13th so that's kind of the million dollar question here because what many political analysts that I've spoken to have said is that gen a special elections generally favor Republicans because there's a lower turnout. So what's interesting is, you know, we heard from Dunkin Hunter's senior after his last court appearance that a Dunkin Hunter jr was going to be meeting with Republican leaders in Washington to discuss exactly the timeline of when he was going to resign.

Speaker 2: 05:36 So we can only imagine that Republicans were putting pressure on him to resign sooner so that they would have probably most likely another Republicans serving in the house from Southern California for the rest of this year. So it's really unclear as to, you know, why he decided to wait this long? Because people say that it favors Democrats, that the seats going to be vacant for, for a full year. And so the seat isn't going to be filled until the winner of the 50th district race takes office in January of 2021 who is vying to represent the 50th congressional, yet this is a pretty stacked race. There are three Republicans with strong local name recognition. One is the former representative Darrell Eissa, who represented a neighboring district. Um, he's always been a very strong opponent to president Barack Obama. Um, Carl DeMilo, who many people know he was a talk radio host and a former San Diego city Councilman and then also state Senator Brian Jones.

Speaker 2: 06:35 Um, those are the three on the Republican side. On the Democrat side. We have 30 year old Amar Campanis Shar, who was a former Obama administration official. You guys might remember his name because he actually ran against Dunkin Hunter last year and, and came dangerously close to actually beating him. But I should point out that the 50th district is extremely Republican. It's one of the reddest districts in Southern California. So most people think that this is going to go to one of those three Republicans that I mentioned, but we'll have to wait and see. And you'll have more on the 50th race at the end of the month, right? That's right. Um, I have another feature airing on January 27 that goes into a lot of these candidates more in depth. All right. I've been speaking with KPBS news reporter, Prius or either Priya. Thank you so much. Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.