Indictment Politics

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 26, 2018 — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) was indicted on one count of felony invasion of privacy late last week. The photograph of a partially nude woman with whom he was having an affair is the subject of the felony charge. Though the extramarital affair was consensual, being photographed in a compromising position was not, hence the invasion of privacy indictment. Transmitting the photo through use of a computer makes the charge a Class E felony under Missouri law, which could mean a prison sentence of up to four years.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' mug shot

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ mug shot

While the legal situation will be left to the courts to adjudicate, the political aftermath merits discussion. Though Gov. Greitens claims he will fight the charge, more often than not these situations end in reaching a legal agreement. In cases involving office holders, resigning from office is always part of any plea agreement. This was certainly the case for then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R) in Alabama, when he agreed to resign when the charges against him were reduced to misdemeanor campaign violations. Upon news of the indictment, Republican state legislative leaders said that they would assign a committee to investigate the charge, which opens the door to potential impeachment proceedings.

Should the governor reach a plea bargain, or be found guilty and thus forced to resign his position, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson would ascend to the governorship. As a Republican, Parson’s becoming governor would not result in a change of party leadership. Because Gov. Greitens was just elected in 2016, Parson, should he succeed a resigned or impeached state chief executive, would serve in the state’s top position through 2020 and be eligible to run in his own right in the ’20 election.

The governor is moving to dismiss the charge against him, and may be able to make such arguments at his next court appearance on March 16.

Moving to California, San Diego County Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) is under increased pressure not to file for re-election on March 9. Enduring an FBI investigation for allegedly using campaign funds for personal expenses, Hunter has drawn two significant Democratic opponents for the June 5 jungle primary election, and at least one viable Republican with one more possibly preparing to enter.

With a potential indictment coming, and if so the legal accusation will likely be brought after the March 9 candidate filing deadline, attention is turning to what could become a competitive 2018 election. The pair of Democrats has already raised in the neighborhood of $500,000 apiece. Jamul-Dulzura School Board member Josh Butner has attracted over $422,000 with just under $277,000 remaining in his campaign account. Former Labor Department official Ammar Campa-Najjar has done even better, amassing over $520,000 in campaign funds while holding just under $300,000 in his campaign account.

Though Rep. Hunter maintains he will run under any circumstance, other Republicans are beginning to make moves as time begins to run short. This week, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells became an official candidate with former San Diego City councilman, and ex-mayoral and congressional candidate Carl DeMaio possibly soon following suit. And, it has long been speculated that retiring Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) would run here if Hunter did not. Rep. Issa confirms that he would consider making a race in Hunter’s adjacent 50th District, but only if the incumbent chooses not to run.

California has a jungle primary format where the top two candidates advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation, which creates more pressure for Republicans. If a politically wounded Hunter advances against one of the Democrats, which is a likely scenario, the party could be in position to forfeit one of their few safe California Republican districts.

Additionally, because the June 5 election is not a partisan primary, the GOP would have no way of replacing Hunter on the ballot if he were to be indicted and/or forced to withdraw. Therefore, the party’s moves before the impending March 9 deadline become all the more critical and merit watching as the filing period begins drawing toward culmination.

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