Vince Fong says he is running for the congressional seat currently being vacated by Kevin McCarthy. But the run may be fraught with legal complications.
Fong, R-Bakersfield, who is the state assemblyman for the 32nd district covering parts of Kern and Tulare counties, filed to run for re-election for that post. He qualified on Nov. 29, the Kern County election office said. The deadline for an incumbent to file was last Friday, Dec. 8.
After saying he would not run for Congressional District 20 — McCarthy already announced he would not run for re-election and resign by the end of the month — Fong changed his mind on Monday and turned in his paperwork to the Kern County elections office, according to a Fong social media post.
It’s official. Just took the oath to run for Congress and I look forward to meeting everyone throughout the 20th Congressional District! pic.twitter.com/z8cdzFmBFn
— Vince Fong (@vfong) December 12, 2023
But, is Fong legally allowed to run?
“No withdrawal is allowed, and a person cannot run for more than one office in the same election,” California Sec. of State Shirley Weber’s office told GV Wire.
Weber’s office referred to two sections of the state election code — EC 8800 which states “No candidate whose declaration of candidacy has been filed for any primary election may withdraw as a candidate at that primary election,” and EC 8003(b) “No person may file nomination papers for a party nomination and an independent nomination for the same office, or for more than one office at the same election.”
Fong’s campaign team has not publicly revealed how they plan to get around those restrictions if a challenge arises. Political watchers GV Wire has spoken with say this could lead to a court fight.
Fresno County election clerk James Kus says that while candidates file and are sworn in at the local offices, the Secretary of State determines eligibility. The deadline to certify candidates is Dec. 28.
Kern County spokesperson Ally Soper said that the county registrar of voters is forwarding Fong’s filed paperwork to Weber’s office.
“County Counsel works in conjunction with Kern County’s Registrar of Voters to advise them on their ministerial duties to accept Assemblyman Fong’s properly filed paperwork for the 20th Congressional District, and pass it along to the California Secretary of State,” Soper said in a statement to GV Wire.
Congressional Running Deadline Wednesday
With McCarthy officially not running for re-election, the filing period for his seat — which covers parts of Fresno, Kern, Tulare, and Kings counties — was extended five days through Wednesday, Dec. 13.
It is also unclear if McCarthy has filed his resignation letter. He made the announcement last week in an X (formerly Twitter) video and an op/ed in the Wall Street Journal. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said the letter would be officially transmitted to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana.
Messages seeking comment from Johnson and McCarthy were not returned to GV Wire.
If McCarthy officially resigns before Jan. 3, election law requires Newsom to call for a special election. Depending on the timing, the special election primary candidates could appear on the same ballot as the primary for the full-time seat.
If Fong is allowed to run for Congress, it is unclear how the Assembly District 32 race will play out because no candidates filed to run against him in that race.
Andy Vidak, a Republican and former south Valley state senator (2013-2018), filed paperwork to raise funds for the Assembly seat if the nomination period reopens, he said. Vidak’s interest was first reported by Rob Pyers of California Target Book.
Fong Out, Then In
Election experts consider Fong a front-runner. Before serving in the Assembly, Fong worked as a district director for McCarthy.
Fong announced on Dec. 7 that he would not run for the seat McCarthy would leave behind. “Now is not my time,” Fong wrote in a news release.
Another front-runner, state Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, announced she would not run in a Sunday email. The next day, Fong changed his mind.
“After Speaker McCarthy announced his decision not to seek reelection, my family and I initially thought the best way to serve our community was to continue representing the Central Valley in the State Assembly. However, it is my strong belief that the Central Valley must continue to be represented by proven, conservative leaders in Congress. In light of recent developments and in an attempt to unite our community in this critical moment in our nation’s history, I have decided to run for Congress in 2024,” Fong said Monday morning.
On Tuesday, McCarthy endorsed Fong as his successor.
“Throughout his career, Vince has fought tirelessly to improve the quality of life in the Central Valley. There is no one that I trust more to continue the fight for common-sense and conservative values in Washington DC. I am proud to endorse my friend Vince Fong for Congress,” McCarthy said in a news release.
Fong has also turned in paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to raise funds for the congressional seat. He has not reported any figures so far.
Congressional District 20 has a definitive Republican voter registration advantage. As of the most recent Report of Registration in October, 46% of the voters are Republicans; 27% are Democrats; and 18% have no party preference.
Tulare Sheriff Considering
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux confirmed to GV Wire he pulled papers to run to succeed McCarthy, but he has not made a final decision.
“The biggest factor is I have high school children and being halfway across the country is not something that is real inspiring about that position. But having said that, I think that I would bring, if I did decide, I would bring a brand new refreshing outlook,” Boudreaux, R-Springville, said Tuesday morning.
Known as a conservative sheriff, strong on gun rights and challenging certain state mandates, Boudreaux said he would protect agriculture and the oil industry.
“I would bring a law and order approach to a district that’s in desperate need of that type of focus,” Boudreaux said.
Boudreaux was last elected in 2022, and because of a new state law, would not face re-election until 2028.
Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Porterville — who is not running for re-election and said he will not run for the congressional seat — posted on X that Boudreaux “would be hard to beat…”
Other Candidates on Fong’s Eligibility
Boudreaux said he was not familiar enough with election law to comment on Fong’s congressional bid.
“It’s a challenge, to say the least. But I encourage him, that if he does decide that he wants to run for Congress, that he has to do everything he can to to make himself a viable candidate,” Boudreaux said.
David Giglio, R-Madera — another candidate who filed to run before McCarthy’s announcement — said Fong should not be able to run.
“As Republicans, we’ve spent three years talking about adhering to election laws and we criticize the Democrats for not adhering to the election laws,” he said. “And I think it’s pretty disgraceful that former Speaker McCarthy and Vince are apparently totally disregarding the election laws because they’re trying to stop a loyal supporter of President Trump from filling his seat.”
Candidates who have pulled papers to run include Sarah Jacqueline Goldberg, Andy Morales, Joe Murillo, Mohammad Arif, McCarthy, Ben Dewell, Marisa Wood, David James Fluhart, Sathya Knechler, John Burrows, Nathan Wilkins, Fong, Giglio, and Boudreaux.