Congressional special election will cost Tulare County over $800,000

Candidates running to finish out Devin Nunes’ current term in the 22nd District have mixed feelings about the timing and cost of the April 5 special election

TULARE COUNTY – Tuesday’s special election for the 22nd Congressional District is costing Tulare County more than $800,000, according to county officials, and candidates have mixed emotions about the cost to taxpayers. 

The Sun-Gazette was unaware of the cost of the election until the Tulare County Board of Supervisors March 29 meeting when County Administrative Officer (CAO) Jason Britt told the board the special election will cost the county between $800,000 and $850,000 “for this unanticipated special election for the congressional seat that nobody really planned on this April.” 

The cost was confirmed with Registrar of Voters Michelle Baldwin who said the entire primary election on June 7 will cost between $1.2 million and $1.4 million. 

Britt’s comments came during a mid-year budget review of county finances for the remainder of the 2021-22 fiscal year which ends on June 30, right about the time when many of the same candidates running to finish out Rep. Devin Nunes’ current term in the 22nd will find out if they will be carrying on their work in Washington representing the newly formed 21st Congressional district. If no one gains over 50% of the vote in the April 5 special election, the top two will move onto a runoff on the June 7 ballot anyway due to California’s “jungle” primary system.

Nunes resigned from office after nearly 20 years in Congress in January to become the CEO of the Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG). Selling itself as an alternative to “Silicon Valley, the mainstream media, and Big Tech,” the new Truth Social platform attempted to launch earlier this month but has been plagued by glitches, bugs and inaccessibility. Most who signed up for an account have been put on a waiting list with nearly 1 million names. Those who have gained access have only heard once from former President Donald Trump, the primary selling point for having an account. Nunes, a Trump loyalist and national figure during his time as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 2015-2019, is best known nationally for issuing a report in 2018 alleging an FBI conspiracy against Trump in the 2016 election. Trump awarded Nunes the Presidential Medal of Freedom in January 2021.

“Recently, I was presented with a new opportunity to fight for the most important issues I believe in. I’m writing to let you know I’ve decided to pursue this opportunity, and therefore I will be leaving the House of Representatives at the end of 2021,” a Dec. 6 press release from Nunes’ office states.

Republicans Matt Stoll and Michael Maher, and Democrat Eric Garcia, are all running to represent Nunes’ former district and to represent Tulare and Fresno counties in the new district. Garcia, a retired Marine who just earned his license as a marriage and family therapist, called out Nunes for making a “ridiculous” decision to leave in the middle of his term. Garcia said the veteran federal lawmaker made a promise to represent his constituents through the end of his term and instead decided to break the promise to pursue a more lucrative option and burdening the cost to his home county and Fresno County, where it will cost even more as nearly two-thirds of the district live there.

“He basically said, ‘I’m leaving the party early and here’s the bill’,” Garcia said. 

Former Navy fighter pilot and small businessman Matt Stoll said he isn’t sure what it costs to draft, print, mail, collect and process the 414,000 ballots between Tulare and Fresno Counties but said he is sure it is a necessity to have the special election.

“The cost to the people is invaluable,” Stoll said. “The people need to be represented so I fully support it.”

Stoll, who owns a property management business, Visalia Landscape and Tree Company, Inc., and runs a retail shop, Garden World, in Visalia, is running on a pro business campaign with a focus on easing regulations on small business owners like himself. He hopes to spend the remainder of Nunes’ term fighting for water storage projects for the Central Valley as the state may be entering its third year of drought. 

“Time is of the essence and we need representation now,” said Stoll, who is also running in the 13th District.

Connie Conway isn’t running in the new 21st District but is the front runner for the existing 22nd. The Tulare County native and experienced politician served on the Board of Supervisors from  from 2000 to 2008, like her father did from 1981-1991, and as minority leader in the State Assembly from 2008 to 2014. She said she had mixed emotions about the Governor’s decision to hold the special election instead of consolidating it with the June 7 primary. There is a trade off in this rare instance between taxpayer dollars and taxpayer representation. 

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Conway said. “I’m frugal when it comes to spending but the sooner the better when it comes to representation.”

The special election will likely not be certified until a week or so before the June 7 primary and then it could be another 30 days for the representative to be seated at Capitol Hall. The winner would likely only be present for 10 days in June and 12 in July before Congress recesses for the month of August, according to the House’s legislative calendar. If there is a runoff in the June 7 primary between the top two vote getters from the special election, that could mean the new representative wouldn’t arrive in Washington until Congress returns in September, with just four months left in the term. The veteran official said she would spend the rest of this year working the federal level to keep the Veterans Affairs clinic in Tulare. 

The good news for Tulare County is that the exorbitant cost of the special election will not hurt the county’s bottom line. In his presentation to the Board of Supervisors, Britt said the cost of the election would be covered by a surplus of state and local sales tax revenue. The county is transferring $1 million of the nearly $11 million surplus to the Elections Office specifically for the April 5 election.

Outside of Conway, there are no candidates with legislative experience in a condensed term where experience may matter more than anything else. Republican and Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig withdrew from the race to run for the newly redrawn District 5 and Democrat Phil Arballo, who came within 8.5 points of catching Nunes in 2020, withdrew to run in the newly formed District 13. This is the first time Republican Michael Maher and Democrat Lourin Hubbard have run for office or even run a campaign. Hubbard has a political science degree but works as an operations manager for the California Department of Water Resources. Hubbard did not return calls of press time for this article. 

Maher is a Tulare native who’s federal accomplishments read like a presidential resume, but no actual political experience, making him an interesting choice. He enlisted in the Navy after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and shortly thereafter was injured in a submarine and was medically retired four years later. He then graduated from Quantico and served as special agent with the FBI. He followed that by serving as CEO of a luxury air charter company before starting his own aviation company. 

The Republican candidate is pro business and pro environment and said wants to use his time in Congress to bring high paying aviation jobs to the Valley, especially in the advancement of electric powered flight, sustainable jet fuels using dairy waste, according to his website. Maher was unavailable to speak in time for this article.

Self-proclaimed tech rebel Elizabeth Heng is Ivy League-educated and spent six-and-a-half years on the Hill as a staffer for Congressman Ed Royce. The Republican also ran against Congressman Jim Costa in 2018. Unlike Nunes, she is not necessarily pro-Trump and says he wants to make a “new path” for conservatives, rather than side with the Liz Cheneys and Kevin McCarthys of the Republican party.

Garcia also experienced the federal government from the inside after joining the Marines when he was just 17 years old. He served two tours in Iraq under both a Democratic and Republican president. He originally ran as no party preference against Nunes in 2020 to avoid the tribalism of the last four years but found out there is no political infrastructure for independents. After the Jan. 6, 2021  insurrection of the Capitol, Garcia chose to run as a Democrat because their party “didn’t try to overthrow the government.”

If elected, Garcia plans to use the remaining months of Nunes’ term to extend the child tax credit which has helped lift thousands of children in the Tulare and Fresno counties out of hunger and poverty. Short of that, Garcia said he hopes to raise awareness among his Congressional peers about the issues affecting the South Valley, such as water contamination, something he said Nunes did little to address even when he became a national figure. Garcia said even after his exit from public service, it appears Nunes is taking more than he has given to his constituents. 

“He’s taking away those [election] funds which could have been used for something else,” Garcia said. “That’s not something I would have done.”

Start typing and press Enter to search