Newsletter: Essential California: What’s next for Duncan Hunter’s seat?

Rep. Duncan Hunter at the Capitol in January 2018.
(Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Jan. 8, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

California’s Rep. Duncan Hunter has officially submitted his resignation, effective this coming Monday, to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

[Read the story: “Rep. Duncan Hunter submits his resignation from Congress” in the Los Angeles Times]

Hunter had pledged to resign early last month, shortly after he pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds. But he’d left the actual timeline a bit vague, saying simply that it would come “shortly after the holidays.” Hunter faces up to five years in prison and will be sentenced in March.

California’s 50th District


Hunter, who was first elected to Congress 11 years ago, represents one of the more conservative districts in the state, one that includes central and northeastern San Diego County and a small part of Riverside County. Hunter narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar for reelection in November 2018, several months after his indictment.

With a potential trial looming and Hunter looking increasingly vulnerable, several high-profile Republicans were already challenging him for his seat in 2020 before he pleaded guilty.

What happens now?

Once Hunter’s resignation is official, Newsom will have 14 days to call for a special election to fill his seat. But per state law, the governor is not required to hold a special election since the nomination period has already closed, “raising the prospect that the seat could remain vacant for the rest of 2020,” as Politico put it.

This is already an election year for the 50th District, so in this scenario the March primary and November general election would just continue as planned.

The contenders

The battle to replace Hunter is already shaping up to be one of California’s most heated races, whether or not there’s a special election. By October, when Hunter was still running, the Desert Sun had deemed it a potential GOP “civil war.” The biggest Republican name now in the race, at least in terms of his national profile, is longtime Obama foil and former Rep. Darrell Issa, who retired in 2018 from representing a neighboring congressional district.

[Read the story: “As GOP tries to flip some California seats, a civil war brews in the 50th Congressional District” in the Desert Sun]

You might remember Issa from his leading role in the Benghazi investigation, or his bankrolling of the campaign to recall former Gov. Gray Davis back in 2003. He also once held the distinction of being the richest member of Congress, with a roughly $250 million fortune made while leading a Vista-based manufacturer of vehicle antitheft devices. (Do you remember the Viper car alarm system with the recorded voice that says “Please step away from the car”? Well, that’s actually Issa’s voice speaking in the recording.)

The two other prominent Republican contenders are former San Diego city councilman Carl DeMaio and state Sen. Brian Jones. DeMaio is now a conservative radio host and has significant local name recognition, but he’s come up short in every bid he’s made for elected office since leaving the city council in 2012.

Meanwhile, Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, who lost to Hunter in 2018 by just under 9,000 votes, is also running again.

And now, here’s what’s happening across, and beyond, California:

Iran launched 15 ballistic missiles at two military bases used by U.S. forces in Iraq, the Pentagon said Tuesday night, as long-simmering tensions between Washington and Tehran erupted into fiery explosions and fears of war after the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general. There were no confirmed reports of U.S. casualties in the predawn attack. Los Angeles Times

Is unionization the next step after two years of activism at video game and tech companies? One of the country’s largest unions is targeting video game and tech companies — and hired a Southern California organizer to spearhead the project. Los Angeles Times


The never-ending fight between Hollywood writers and their agents continues: A federal judge denied a request by the Writers Guild of America to dismiss a lawsuit brought by three talent agencies, clearing the way for a legal battle over long-standing agency practices that could last for years. Los Angeles Times

Lisa Vanderpump, Inc. How the restaurateur has exploited Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules” to build a hospitality brand with 350 employees and a net worth bested only by Kardashians. the Hollywood Reporter

Twenty local Hot Shot crew members from the Angeles National Forest are heading to Australia to help battle its devastating wildfires. The firefighters selected have years of experience. Los Angeles Daily News

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Mexico balks at U.S. plan to send Mexican asylum seekers to Guatemala: Mexico is voicing opposition to the Trump administration’s controversial plan to send Mexicans seeking asylum in the United States to Guatemala instead. Los Angeles Times


Republicans pledge to pass Senate impeachment trial rules without Democrats: The process Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hoping to pursue mirrors the procedural outline the Senate used when it held an impeachment trial for President Clinton. Los Angeles Times

Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign said it has bought 60 seconds of ad time during the Super Bowl, likely costing at least $10 million. New York Times


Here’s what to expect as the Harvey Weinstein cases unfold on both coasts. The New York case is already underway and in some ways offers a preview of what can be expected when Weinstein comes to L.A. to face charges. Los Angeles Times


An elephant seal was shot in the head and mutilated near San Simeon. Police are looking for answers. San Luis Obispo Tribune


A podcast about small businesses connects entrepreneurs in Kern County. It started as a project for a local Toastmasters club, but now thousands of people tune in every week to hear to small-business tribulations turned success stories. Bakersfield Californian

A San Diego shawarma truck ranks no. 1 in the country Yelp reviewers. Shawarma Guys can be found parked in front of the Bottle House liquor store at Grape and Fern streets in South Park. San Diego Union-Tribune

Slipping service at Yosemite’s grand Ahwahnee Hotel: AAA hotel inspectors revoked the hotel’s prestigious four-diamond rating, and guests “are reporting bad food, shabby rooms and indifferent staff.” San Francisco Chronicle

Yosemite National Park
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Up for a train vacation? Amtrak is having a 2-for-1 sale that includes the Coast Starlight between L.A. and Seattle and the Southwest Chief between Chicago and L.A. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles: sunny, 67. San Diego: partly sunny, 63. San Francisco: partly sunny, 55. San Jose: cloudy, 57. Sacramento: partly sunny, 53. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Diana Maniatis Rutledge:

My father was a proud Greek immigrant and, of course, a restaurant owner and operator. In the 1940s and 1950s, his place on Fletcher Drive and Glendale Avenue, Donnelly’s Drive-In, was an original Los Angeles diner, drive-in and local hot spot for families and date nights. I remember the round circular architecture, the cars parked three-deep, the ORIGINAL car hops, only imitated today ... dressed in their striped short shirts, white aprons and headpiece caps who could balance their overly-stacked Coke trays with the BEST burgers, fries, shakes with one finger. My mother told me on V-J Day he stayed open into the wee hours of the night until every last french fry, Coke and cup of coffee had been sold .... not a drop left. Old-timers will remember this place with a special place in their hearts as their mouths water for yesteryear.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.