Shirley Weber again wants to block Bakersfield’s Vince Fong from being on the same ballot for the state Assembly and Congress.
After a Sacramento court forced California’s secretary of state to include Fong’s name on the March 5 ballot, Weber followed through on a promise to appeal the decision. State Attorney General Rob Bonta, on behalf of Weber’s office, filed a writ of mandate Monday with the Third District Court of Appeal based in Sacramento.
Weber ruled that Fong could not run for Congress and a state Assembly seat on the March 5 primary ballot. However, the court overruled her.
It is unclear if the appeal court will rule on the matter before voters decide who advances in the race for the 20th Congressional District — a race without an incumbent representing parts of Fresno, Kern, Tulare, and Kings counties.
Former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy declined to run for re-election. He resigned the seat altogether on Dec. 31, leading to a March 19 special election. Regardless of any court ruling, Fong will be allowed to run in the special election.
Weber is asking for the court to make any final ruling by April 12, the date she is legally required to certify the March 5 results.
Fong, R-Bakersfield, blasted the appeal.
“The Secretary of State’s appeal is a last-ditch attempt by a liberal Sacramento politician to strip Central Valley voters of their right to choose the candidate of their choice in this election. This is a dangerous interference in our election process and is clearly intended to disenfranchise Central Valley voters. We are confident that the appeals court will side with voters and reject this clearly partisan ploy,” Fong said.
Weber and Bonta are Democrats.
Superior Court Favors Fong
Fong, a four-term Assemblyman, already filed to run for another term. When McCarthy declined to run — and potential frontrunner state Senator Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, also declined — Fong filed for the congressional seat.
Although Kern County election officials accepted Fong’s nomination papers, Weber reversed the decision, citing the election code. Fong sued in Sacramento County Superior Court, and Judge Shellyanne Chang sided with Fong.
Chang ruled that the law’s language applied to “independent” candidates. Congress is a partisan race, with Fong running as a Republican.
Still, Chang expressed concern.
“It may result in voter confusion and the disenfranchisement of voters if Fong is ultimately elected for both offices but does not retain one. Moreover, it somewhat defies common sense to find the law permits a candidate to run for two offices during the same election,” she wrote in her ruling.
The state’s appeal quoted Chang’s concern several times.
Ballots will be mailed out the first week of February. Weber said there was not enough time to seek court relief after Chang’s ruling on Dec. 28 — also the date Weber had to certify the list of candidates for March 5.
Weber’s office did not respond to GV Wire’s request for a comment or interview.
State: First Court Got it Wrong
At issue is the state law, Election Code 8003(d), long interpreted that a candidate can only run for one office at a time.
If the Fong ruling stands, the state said it “would cause voter confusion, lead to frivolous candidacies, deter other qualified candidates from running, and require costly special elections if one person were elected to multiple seats and then resigned from the offices they did not want to serve in.”
In the state’s argument, it believes the language is plain and longstanding, and Chang’s ruling “defies common sense.”
“Moreover, the fact that apparently no candidate has simultaneously run for two offices in the 110 years of the statute’s history is strong evidence that the universal understanding of the statute was that, until a few weeks ago, it prohibited such candidacies,” the state’s appeal said.
The appeal makes an argument that allowing Fong to run for two offices at the same time can lead to absurd results in the future. One example: a popular candidate running and winning for governor, attorney general, and other state Constitutional offices. The candidate could resign from all but governor, and appoint friends to the other positions.
The current U.S. Senate race was also discussed in the appeal. Congressmembers Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Katie Porter, D-Irvine, are running.
“Surely they would have chosen to not give up their current seats in Congress for the chance to run for Senate if the law had been understood differently,” the appeal said.
The state’s appeal also makes an argument that the interpretation of the word “or” in the law should be interpreted in its favor.
The state asks that if the appeal court does not rule directly on Fong’s candidacy, it should do so for future scenarios.
“Even if this Court were to disagree with the Secretary’s interpretation, the Secretary urges this Court to grant the petition to clarify the meaning of the statute for the future administration of elections,” Weber’s appeal said.
The appeal case is Weber v. The Superior Court of Sacramento County, no. C100304.