NEWS & Insights

CA-20: More Confusion

There is yet another stumbling block to overcome in the California campaign to replace former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R) in his Bakersfield anchored congressional seat and some action will come this week.

Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) is running to replace McCarthy and has both the former Speaker and ex-President Trump’s endorsements. He finished first in both the jungle and special election primaries. Mr. Fong’s opponent for both the subsequent special and regular elections is Republican Tulare County Sheriff Mike Bourdeaux.

The Secretary of State, however, ruled that Fong cannot run for Congress because he had already qualified as a state Assembly candidate, and one is barred from running for two offices simultaneously in California.

Secretary Shirley Weber (D) argued that Fong missed the withdrawal deadline from his Assembly filing and therefore is disqualified from entering the congressional race for the regular term under the simultaneous candidacies stipulation.

Mr. Fong challenged the SoS ruling in court and won. Therefore, he was placed on the ballot for both offices in the June jungle primary and is unopposed for the Assembly seat. Thus, he was on the ballot for both offices even though California election law forbids such a situation. Secretary Weber is appealing the court decision, and the appellate hearing will occur later this week.

Ex-Rep. McCarthy waiting too long to officially resign caused all these problems for Mr. Fong. As a result of his untimely resignation, the action could send the succession elections into political chaos.

In attempting to recap the situation, the regular primary was held on Super Tuesday, March 5th, while the special election came two weeks later on March 19th. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) could not legally make the special concurrent with the regular primary because under California law a mandatory number of days must elapse from the occurrence of a vacancy to the scheduling of a replacement election.

The appellate court will either sustain the lower court ruling entitling Mr. Fong to run in the congressional regular election or declare the lower court decision that allowed him to do so as invalid. If the high court does the latter, the candidates and administrators will be moving into unchartered political territory.

The ruling will not affect the special election because Mr. Fong was not simultaneously on the ballot for any other office. If he is removed from the regular election ballot, he will have several decisions to make.

His first option will likely be to appeal to the state Supreme Court. He will then have to decide whether to accept the congressional seat, assuming he wins on May 21st, if the Supreme Court has not ruled by that date. If the highest court were to declare disqualification, then Fong could only serve the balance of the current congressional term. If he doesn’t accept the congressional seat, he could continue in the state Assembly, and is assured of doing so because he is unopposed in the general election for that position.

If the courts continue to rule in Mr. Fong’s favor, then he will resign the Assembly seat upon being sworn into Congress post-special election, and Gov. Newsom will have to call a subsequent special election to fill the balance of the current Assembly term, and then another special election for the regular term because the primary has already been held and Fong was the lone candidate.

The other questions to be answered if Mr. Fong is disqualified concern Sheriff Bourdeaux, who finished second in both the regular and special primaries. Therefore, he is qualified for both the special and regular general elections.

Without Fong on the ballot, is Bourdeaux then unopposed for the regular general? If the court orders yet another new election, does Bourdeaux challenge that ruling since he was a legitimate candidate in the regular election and won the second qualifying position? He could then argue his rights are being displaced only because of Fong’s disqualification.

California’s 20th Congressional District is the most Republican in the state. There is no question with two Republicans qualifying for the special and regular general elections that a GOP candidate will eventually win the seat. When such occurs, however, continues to remain in abeyance.

We offer this political insights report for your information and not as a predictor or representative of opinions of HBS or its employees.