A Fine Mess in San Diego – And A Democratic Socialist Congressman

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

After an investigation that seemed to take forever, a federal grand jury has now indicted San Diego Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife Margaret for illegally spending a quarter million dollars of campaign funds for personal use and lying about it.

The indictment reveals a long history of misusing campaign funds, and includes such tidbits as this, “On or about March 20, 2015, when Duncan Hunter told Margaret Hunter that he was planning to ‘buy Hawaii shorts’ but had run out of money, she told him to buy the shorts at a golf pro shop so they could falsely describe the purchase later as ‘some [golf] balls for the wounded warriors.’”

Hunter’s hometown newspaper, the San Diego Union Tribune, has called on him to resign from Congress, and it is certainly hard to see, given the lurid details in the indictment, how he avoids conviction, which would force him out of office.

But there is a problem: whether he resigns or is forced out, Duncan Hunter’s name cannot be removed from the November general ballot; he is one of two candidates for congress in the 50th Congressional district, a position he won in the June primary.

Hunter was the second Republican congressman to endorse Donald Trump in 2016.  The first was Rep. Chris Collins of upstate New York.  He too has been indicted, this time for insider trading, but he has announced he will not run for re-election and New York Republicans are moving to replace him on the ballot.

But that cannot be done in California.  Under our “top two” runoff system, there are no party nominees, thus the party cannot replace a candidate if one decides to drop out, dies, or even is found guilty of multiple axe murders.  Our law also prohibits write-ins in the general election, although they are permitted in the primary.

This is a problem in our law that ought to remedied; especially the prohibition on write-ins.  Write-ins have been used to elect members of congress in the past when the party’s nominee was found to be too flawed.  However, California law does not allow this, so Republicans are stuck with Hunter as their candidate in November, despite this stinging indictment against him.

But the California Republican Party, long a party that never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, has only itself to blame for his mess.  They were warned before the primary that they were risking loss of one of the most Republican seats in California with Hunter as their candidate.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, before the primary Bill Wells, the mayor of El Cajon, joined the race hoping to make the runoff with Hunter; thus two Republicans would be running in November, and if one, Hunter in this case, became unelectable, the party would still hold the seat.  But Hunter’s father, a former congressman, pressured the San Diego Republican establishment not to support Wells, and he ran with little resources and failed to make the runoff.  Instead the second spot went to Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who got 18 percent in the primary.

Campa-Najjar it turns out is an extreme left wing progressive, strongly supported by the new darling of democratic socialists, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who called him her “progressive brother.”

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Campa-Najjar is that he is grandson of one Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, who masterminded the terrorist murder of Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Israeli commandos assassinated Al-Najjar the following year.

Naturally, Campa-Najjar, who was born after his grandfather died, has rejected his grandfather’s terrorism, but the progressive cause is sympathetic of Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and encourages boycotts of Israel.  Hamas has named a hospital in Gaza for Al-Najjar.

Democrats actually wanted a moderate and former Navy SEAL to make the runoff with Hunter, but progressives put money and time behind Campa-Najjar and he won the second spot instead.

The 50th is an extremely Republican district, it has the lowest Democratic registration of any congressional district in California, and has rarely failed to give Republican candidates less than 60 percent of the vote.  Trump carried the district by 15 points.

But it is hard to see Republicans trying to run a credible campaign for Hunter.  His congressional career is over; either he goes to trial before a jury and ends up like Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort facing decades in prison, or he cops a deal with prosecutors that surely would involve resigning his seat in congress.

The best Republicans can hope for is to argue for voters to cast a ballot for Hunter knowing there will be a special election next year.  But the 29-year-old Campa-Najjar, who has never held an elective office, could be the luckiest guy in America, and get a free trip to Congress to help end Republican rule in the House of Representatives.

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