TULARE COUNTY – Assemblymember Vince Fong is ineligible to run for the United States House of Representatives — according to the California Secretary of State — but his campaign is not ready to concede just yet.
In a Dec. 15 press release, the Secretary of State’s office announced its determination that Fong cannot run for the 20th Congressional District race because he was already in the running for reelection to the State Assembly. The office pointed to Section 8003 of the Elections Code in its statement, which stipulates that candidates cannot run for more than one office in an election.
“The Secretary of State’s office has determined that Mr. Fong’s filed nomination papers for Congressional District 20 were improperly submitted,” the press release said. “Mr. Fong will not appear on the list of certified candidates for Congressional District 20 that our office will transmit to county election officials on candidates on Dec. 28.”
Fong’s campaign plans to file a legal challenge to the determination within the next week.
Fong, a Bakersfield Republican, currently serves Kern and Tulare counties through the 32nd Assembly District. He was first elected in 2016 and worked as the district director to former House Speaker and then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
On Dec. 7, Fong issued a statement that said he would continue to seek reelection to the State Legislature — he filed that paperwork at the end of November — despite McCarthy’s Dec. 6 announcement that he would be leaving his seat in Congress.
Fong reversed his decision on Dec. 11 and declared his candidacy for the House; his filing was accepted by the Kern County Elections Division. Fong quickly received McCarthy’s endorsement alongside questions surrounding the legality of his candidacy.
In his Dec. 11 announcement, Fong said that while he thought the best way to serve the community would be to continue representing the Central Valley in the State Assembly, “it is my strong belief that the Central Valley must continue to be represented by proven, conservative leaders in Congress.”
According to the Secretary of State’s office, because Fong did not withdraw his candidacy for State Assembly before the filing deadline closed on Dec. 8, he cannot withdraw from that race and file for the Congressional race, which had an extended filing deadline through Dec. 13 because of McCarthy’s resignation.
“Under state law, a candidate who has filed their declaration of candidacy is not permitted to withdraw as a candidate at that primary election,” the Secretary of State’s office said.
In response, the Fong campaign issued a statement on Dec. 15 calling the Secretary of State’s determination an “unprecedented interference in the candidate filing process.”
“Assemblyman Fong was qualified for the ballot by the Kern County Elections Office and the Secretary of State does not have the authority to unilaterally remove a candidate from the ballot,” said Ryan Gardiner, a spokesperson for Fong’s campaign, in a statement to the Mid Valley Times.
The Fong campaign’s position is that the Secretary of State’s role is solely to certify candidates approved by counties, not make its own rulings on a candidate’s eligibility.
Additionally, Gardiner said the prohibition on filing for two offices simultaneously “pre-dates our current top-two system of elections,” and was enacted to prevent someone who lost a party primary from running as an independent in the general election.
“That situation clearly doesn’t apply to this race,” Gardiner said.
Fong’s Dec. 15 statement called the Secretary of State’s decision “misguided” and he said he would “do whatever it takes to give voters in our community a real choice in this election, because the voters choose our elected officials, not Sacramento.”
According to the most recent unofficial candidate lists published by the counties inside the 20th Congressional District — which includes Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties — the following individuals have also filed a declaration of candidacy for the office: Mike Boudreaux, Ben Dewell, Stan Ellis, T.J. Esposito, David Giglio, Kyle Kirkland, Kelly Kulikoff, Matthew Stoll, Nathan Wilkins and Marisa Wood.