After Indictment, Is Rep. Duncan Hunter's Seat In Play?
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Congressman Duncan Hunter has represented parts of San Diego County since 2009. This week, though, Hunter was indicted on charges of misusing up to $250,000 in campaign funds. Charges in the indictment released Tuesday accuse Hunter and his wife of using those campaign funds for a variety of things - dental work, a family vacation to Italy and a flight for their pet rabbit. Bill Wells is the mayor of El Cajon, a city in the district, and he ran against Hunter in the GOP primary. Mayor Wells, thanks so much for being with us.
BILL WELLS: Hey. Good morning.
MARTIN: Why did you run against Congressman Hunter in the primary? I mean, he's a known quantity there for a long time, a popular Republican. Did you see him as vulnerable?
WELLS: It really wasn't a matter of seeing him as vulnerable. We felt - and when I say we, myself and many of the other elected officials in the area, we felt that the district was in danger. We felt that people weren't taking the allegations against Congressman Hunter very seriously, and that we saw a scenario where the Justice Department could bring forth an indictment right about this time and put the district in a situation where a very conservative district - we're about 15 points leaning towards a conservative - would end up becoming a Democrat seat because he would become indicted and not be able to be elected.
MARTIN: So you knew about these charges before they were made public this week?
WELLS: Yeah. We've been talking about this and hearing about this for several years now. But really, the drumbeat has really ramped up over the last year, especially with the Politico article that came out in February of this year, which really brought most of these allegations to light.
MARTIN: When you talk to people in El Cajon or in the broader congressional district, what's their reaction to this?
WELLS: Well, a lot of people are surprised. You know, even though this was in the newspapers and all over the Internet, a lot of people weren't paying attention. They didn't realize that this had gotten as bad as it was. A lot of people believe that this is some kind of extension of the troubles that the president is having and feel that it's kind of a deep state witch hunt.
MARTIN: And we should say that's the position Duncan Hunter himself is taking.
WELLS: Yeah. Well, that is true. It's kind of hard to see how that could be the case if you really look at the allegations. But my main concern was that we would end up with a Democrat representative in this very conservative district, and I wanted to make sure that didn't happen. So I ran hoping that if an indictment came, it would come during the primary, but it didn't. And I was narrowly edged out of the second-place spot. So I couldn't be on the ballot now even if I wanted to be.
MARTIN: In the charges listed, the Hunters are accused of covering up their spending by writing them off as charitable donations, sometimes - in one particular case, at least, to support wounded warriors and veterans. Congressman Hunter is a veteran himself. I mean, what do you make of this?
WELLS: Well, look, if those allegations are true, that's very troubling and pretty serious. My own son fought in Special Forces in Afghanistan, and I would be very disappointed if that were the case.
MARTIN: So what now? I mean, you say you can't be on the ballot again. Duncan Hunter's name will be on the ballot, though. Can someone else stage a write-in campaign, someone else in the GOP?
WELLS: No. Actually, the rules in California make it so that not - anybody that didn't finish first or second in the primary can be on the ballot at all, even if they are in a write-in situation. So the only two names that can be on the ballot are Duncan Hunter and Campa-Najjar, the Democrat representative. And so it's going to be one of those two that gets elected, either way.
MARTIN: Bill Wells is the mayor of El Cajon, Calif. Thanks so much for talking with us.
WELLS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.