It’s been a wild couple days for San Diego politicians in the news. The biggest development: The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California announced that Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife, Margaret, were indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday. They’re accused of using campaign coffers as a personal bank account — despite warnings from his campaign treasurer — and falsifying disclosure documents to cover their tracks.
The federal government launched an investigation after Union-Tribune reporter Morgan Cook began writing stories on Hunter’s potential campaign finance violations.
Initially, Hunter dismissed the allegations, saying some of the charges — like air travel for a pet rabbit — were made by mistake. He also said many of the charges took place in California and elsewhere while he was in Washington, D.C.
His own social media accounts, as well as public records, showed otherwise. He was with his family, for instance, when campaign funds were used at an Irish dance competition at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in 2016.
The indictment stunned even veteran campaign reporters and other politicos in its detail and the breadth of the inappropriate spending alleged — from the miniscule, like a ring pop at a Santee Target, to the lavish, like a family vacation to Italy.
Hunter, a Marine veteran, is accused of misusing campaign funds for personal expenses at the Miramar Commissary, trying to tour a Navy base to conceal having spent campaign funds on a family vacation and concealing a personal purchase by saying it was for “wounded warriors.”
“Hunter’s campaign released a statement after news of the indictment broke in which one of his attorneys, Gregory A. Vega, attacked the credibility of prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” reports the Union-Tribune. “The statement said two prosecutors involved in the investigation attended a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in August 2015. Vega called for the U.S. Department of Justice to recuse the prosecutors.”
Hunter wasn’t the only East County Republican who had a bad day Tuesday. Which brings us to …
Anderson Says Altercation With Lobbyist Was a ‘Misunderstanding’
Republican Sen. Joel Anderson is facing calls to resign following news that he had an altercation with a female lobbyist at a Sacramento restaurant.
Anderson told the woman, “You better shut up before I bitch slap you,” two people who witnessed the incident told the Los Angeles Times.
In a statement Tuesday, Anderson acknowledged an incident took place but said it was a misunderstanding. “I have the utmost respect for Stephanie and I sincerely regret my word choice that was not directed at her,” Anderson said, referring to California Nurses Association lobbyist Stephanie Roberson.
The Senate Rules Committee is investigating the incident. The CNA has called for Anderson to resign.
The Republican and Democratic leaders of the state Senate, Sens. Pat Bates and Toni Atkins, who both represent parts of San Diego, have declined to comment.
Anderson is currently running for the state Board of Equalization, a role he told VOSD in June was his “dream job.”
Depending on the results of the Senate committee investigation, one thing to watch will be whether Anderson’s fellow legislators move to suspend him. In 2016, Anderson was the lead proponent against Prop. 50, which halts pay and benefits for legislators who’ve been suspended — a move that requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
“This is going to be a great tool for them to use against people like me who stand up against the majority,” Anderson said of Prop. 50 at the time.
Dems Sense an Opportunity in the 77th Assembly District
Republican Assemblyman Brian Maienschein has easily won elections in the 77th Assembly District on San Diego’s northern end for years. But this time around, Democrats feel they have a powerful weapon: President Donald Trump.
The national political winds, combined with the district’s changing demographics, have convinced state and local Democratic officials that the 77th District can be flipped in November, and so they’re quietly investing in the race.
The divide between registered Republicans and Democrats is now essentially nonexistent, and the district is home to a growing body of independents – a type of voter who’s been trending toward the Democratic Party in the Trump era.
Portraying Maienschein as a Trumpian figure won’t be easy. He avoids controversy, and he’s still remembered for helping to organize fire recovery centers as a San Diego city councilman. His career, GOP operatives say, is rooted less in ideology and more in local politics.
Though she’s never held office, Sunday Gover is attracting a level of support that her predecessors lacked. Melinda Vasquez, who challenged Maienschein in 2016, said state party leaders were reluctant to give her money because they felt Maienschein was a Republican they could occasionally rely on. San Diego’s Toni Atkins was speaker of the state Assembly during part of Vasquez’s run.
Trump Praises Harkey
President Trump endorsed Republican Diane Harkey in the 49th Congressional District race in a tweet Monday, saying she is “strong on crime” and “loves our Military & Vets.” Among the most widely watched House contests in 2018, the district includes Camp Pendleton and stretches mostly along the coast from Del Mar to Dana Point.
Democrat Mike Levin, who’s running against Harkey, responded that he wasn’t surprised by the endorsement of his opponent “whose campaigns have been funded by a Ponzi Scheme,” referring to a fraud case against Harkey’s husband’s real estate firm.
In Other News
- In an op-ed, Mark Powell of the San Diego Association of Realtors, argues that rent control policies strip homeowners of personal property rights and will do nothing to fix the San Diego region’s housing shortage. Voters across California will weigh in on a ballot measure that would let local governments adopt rent control, and National City voters will consider a rent control initiative in November.
- On average, health insurance premiums for the 116,149 Covered California policyholders in San Diego County are going up next year, largely due to the Trump administration’s scrapping of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in 2019. (Union-Tribune)
- NBC San Diego looks at questions about the safety of some guardrails installed along Interstates 8 and 15. Guardrail safety has become a serious issue, prompted in part by a 2014 New York Times investigation of malfunctioning guardrails.
- Because people like La Jolla Shores, they go to La Jolla Shores. While there, they eat things. When they are done, they put food wrappers and containers in the trash. Now, that’s become a problem and nobody can agree who is responsible for overflowing trash bins. The city blames businesses, a local group blames the city. (NBC San Diego)
- Tijuana’s yellow taxis will be allowed to operate by the border once again. A court sided with the union that represents the taxi drivers, who were banned from the area last year after a series of violent incidents against competitors, such as Uber drivers. The agreement, however, comes with a set of new rules, including 24-hour surveillance and routine inspections. (Zeta Tijuana / Union-Tribune)
- A booming housing market and looming gentrification have long threatened the unique cultural identity of Barrio Logan. Now, City Heights, including its Little Saigon neighborhood, are feeling some of those same pressures. (KPBS)
- Alpine residents are upset about losing power temporarily as San Diego Gas & Electric replaces their wooden utility poles with steel poles, an effort designed to reduce fire risk. The company is planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on such pole replacements. (San Diego Reader)
- Attorney Cory Briggs is suing Escondido Mayor Sam Abed for blocking an Escondido resident on Facebook. NBC 7 found that Abed has blocked others on his social media accounts, including the San Diego chapter of the ACLU.
The Morning Report was written by Ry Rivard and Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.