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Quite a few political figures have bowed out of the fray in 2019 — some announcing they won’t be running again in 2020, some outright resigning, and some, sadly, due to poor health or death. I initially thought I’d provide a comprehensive list of these notable departures. Then I discovered Russell Berman over at The Atlantic has already done a fine job of just that — and the last thing I want to be is derivative!
Instead, dear readers, I’ll treat you to a shorter, sweeter list: The Top 5 Political Flame-Outs of 2019. Certainly, there are more than five, but here are the ones who stood out to me:
Number 5: St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger
Taking a chance here and running local for my first entry. Stenger, a Democrat, was elected in 2014, following the departure of Charlie Dooley who held the office for 12 years. Stenger was an attorney and had served on the St. Louis County Council for six years preceding that. Stenger’s downfall was a “pay-to-play” scheme which unfolded early this year and ultimately resulted in his resignation — and a federal prison term. As detailed by the Post Dispatch:
Steve Stenger sentenced to 46 months for criminal conduct prosecutor calls ‘breathtaking in its scope’
ST. LOUIS — Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger was sentenced to 46 months in prison and fined $250,000 on Friday for using county staff and resources to do the bidding of his campaign donors.
“It’s a very sad day for democracy,” U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry told Stenger. “This kind of corruption causes the public to lose faith in our system of government.”
In court, [U.S. Attorney Hal] Goldsmith said Stenger’s crimes had caused “a profound, adverse effect” on the county and the entire region. He said Stenger sought to punish his enemies and caused an “erosion of public trust in the government.”He also highlighted Stenger’s comments when he announced he was running for office in October 2013, when he claimed that former County Executive Charlie Dooley was awarding jobs to cronies and that “the scandals wither away at public confidence.”
A year later, Stenger was promising to steer county business to a donor who’d been complaining about donating to politicians and getting nothing in return. That donor, John Rallo, would go on to win the sham consulting contract. Stenger also directed others to ensure that Rallo and partners won the bidding for two properties in Wellston for millions of dollars less than the county had paid to clean them up and prepare them for sale.
He “repeatedly lied to the public to conceal his scheme and directed others to do the same,” Goldsmith said.“This defendant’s criminal conduct was breathtaking in its scope,” he said.
Slay, the former St. Louis mayor who’s now a lawyer at Spencer Fane LLP, said in an email Wednesday, “My messages and records were never subpoenaed by law enforcement authorities.”
Dooley, Stenger’s predecessor as county executive, said in an interview, “As far as I know, while I was county executive, I was never subpoenaed for anything. I was never a target for anything.”
Stenger reported to a “federal prison camp” in South Dakota in mid-September.
Number 4: U.S. Representative Duncan D. Hunter
Just in case anyone thinks I’m giving a one-sided rundown, I’m including Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) on this ignominious list. Hunter was elected to the House out of California’s 52nd District in 2008, which became the 50th District in 2013. He’s the son of Duncan L. Hunter, who served in Congress from 1981 to 2009. And…he, too, is resigning (and likely heading to prison) amid ethics and campaign-finance complaints.
The FEC began investigating him in 2016 and the Office of Congressional Ethics recommended a full investigation later that year. His campaign offices were raided by the FBI in 2017. Hunter (along with his wife) was indicted on multiple counts of wire fraud, campaign finance violations, falsifying records, and conspiracy in August 2018. They both pleaded not guilty initially, and Hunter insisted his wife was the one in charge of their finances. Margaret Hunter ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of corruption and entered a plea agreement in which she agreed to testify.
In June of this year, court filings revealed the extent of Hunter’s alleged misdeeds:
WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors alleged late Monday that Rep. Duncan Hunter illegally used campaign funds to carry on extramarital affairs with three lobbyists, a congressional aide and one of his staffers.
Hunter, R-Calif., was indicted in 2018 on charges that he improperly used tens of thousands of dollars from his campaign’s treasury to fund his personal lifestyle, charging the campaign for luxury vacations and groceries. Hunter, who was re-elected later that year, has denied the allegations, and said the charges against him were “politically motivated.”
Prosecutors offered new details about how Hunter had used campaign funds in court filings late Monday in preparation for Hunter’s trial. They described his relationships with unnamed women in Washington and said Hunter used campaign money to pay for hotel stays and late-night Uber rides after visiting their homes.
Hunter initially resisted calls to resign, though he was stripped of committee assignments. However, earlier this month, Hunter pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds. Per the LA Times:
The Alpine congressman, who once said the investigation of his campaign finances was fueled by a “fake news” campaign by the media and a “deep state” plot in the federal government, on Monday said he decided to plead guilty and face prison time in an effort to protect his wife and their three children.
“Whatever my time in custody will be, I will take that hit,” he told San Diego‘s KUSI-TV (Channel 51). “My only hope is that the judge does not sentence my wife to jail. I think my kids need a mom in the home.”
Number 3: U.S. Senator Kamala Harris
Though Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) won’t be leaving the Senate, nor heading to prison anytime soon, she did abandon her quest for the White House in 2019 — to the surprise of many. I know I wasn’t alone in speculating early on that Harris would be a strong contender for the Democratic nomination. As Politico reported following the announcement of her candidacy:
Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign raised $1.5 million in its first 24 hours, her campaign aides told POLITICO, a massive haul for the first-term senator from California that tied Bernie Sanders’ one-day total from his 2016 presidential campaign.
Small-dollar donations are an early litmus test in what is anticipated to be a crowded Democratic field. Others who have opened exploratory committees, including fellow Sens. Elizabeth Warren, on New Year’s Eve, and Kirsten Gillibrand, last week, have yet to make public any of their campaign fundraising numbers.
However, after a strong start, Harris stumbled (thank you, Tulsi) and never really seemed to regain her footing. (READ: Kamala Harris Got Wrecked Last Night at the Dem Debate.)
Earlier this month, Harris announced she was suspending her campaign:
On Tuesday, Senator Kamala Harris announced that she had suspended her presidential campaign.“I’ve taken stock and looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life,” she wrote in a Medium post. “My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue.”
AUSTIN – In deep-red Texas, a state that President Trump carried by nine percentage points in 2016 and where a Democrat hasn’t won statewide elected office since 1994, Beto O’Rourke needed an edge beyond his polished television spots and enthusiastic crowds. He found one in Facebook.
Thousands tune in as O’Rourke live streams behind the wheel while high-tailing across Texas, air drumming in the drive-through lane to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and skateboarding in the Whataburger parking lot after the debate with Republican rival Ted Cruz. Comment after comment from Facebook supporters scroll alongside videos even when he’s just knocking on doors in between loads of dirty clothes at a laundry mat, speaking fluent Spanish to residents and asking week-old mewing kittens in McAllen, Texas: “Cats, can we count on your vote?”
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, raised $38.1 million for his U.S. Senate campaign in the third quarter, a new record for the largest fundraising quarter ever in a U.S. Senate race, according to his campaign.
The haul more than tripled Republican incumbent Ted Cruz’s fundraising for the past three months, which Cruz has said was over $12 million. O’Rourke has consistently raised more than Cruz in the race, but this is the widest gap yet. The $38.1 million is by far the largest amount raised in a quarter by a Senate candidate, surpassing Republican Rick Lazio’s record of $22 million in 2000 for his bid against Democrat Hillary Clinton in New York.
Though his quest to oust Cruz ultimately failed (Cruz won 50.9% to 48.3%), his announcement of a 2020 White House bid surprised virtually no one. And yet, O’Rourke never gained traction in the crowded sea of Democratic hopefuls. Ultimately, in November, O’Rourke announced that he was dropping out of the race.
Our campaign has been about seeing clearly, speaking honestly and acting decisively in the best interests of America.Though it is difficult to accept, it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully. My service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee. Acknowledging this now is in the best interests of those in the campaign; it is in the best interests of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee; and it is in the best interests of the country.
(Cue sad trombone.)
I’m biased, I know, but it seemed to me that the more the country got to know Beto, the less endearing they found him. (Familiarity breeds contempt?) And what has become of Beto post-campaign?
Smdh the blatant spread of misinformation here. He’s watching the Great British Bakeoff with his cat and his dog. pic.twitter.com/VuQN28PJi6
— Rob (@RobjByers) December 24, 2019
Number 1: (Former) U.S. Representative Katie Hill
It almost feels like this one should need no explanation. Katie Hill (D-CA) was part of the new Democratic crew who rolled into Congress at the beginning of this year by unseating Republicans. She was young, attractive, edgy (openly bi-sexual), and reported to be one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s favorites. She scored plum committee assignments (Armed Services, Oversight & Reform, Science, Space, & Technology).
It might have behooved Hill to be a bit more mindful on the “oversight and reform” front. As RedState’s own Jen Van Laar broke in October, Hill was involved in a “throuple” relationship with her husband and a female campaign staffer. There was photographic evidence of the affair and Hill acknowledged the relationship.
However, her real undoing was the allegation that she was also having an affair with a (male) Congressional staffer – a strict no-no under House Ethics Rules. Per Van Laar’s reporting at the time:
The House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday evening that they will investigate allegations that freshman Rep. Katie Hill, (D-CA) had a sexual relationship with a staffer, according to The Hill.
— The Hill (@thehill) October 23, 2019
Their statement read:
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Katie Hill may have engaged in a sexual relationship with an individual on her congressional staff, in violation of House Rule XXIII, clause 18 (a).”
Hill announced her resignation four days later.
And has been playing the victim card ever since. Kira Davis did an excellent rejoinder on that front earlier this month:
Hill is spinning her misconduct into what is essentially a job interview for a career in media or activism. I don’t blame her at all. A girl’s gotta eat. She can say and do what she wants now. She is a private citizen thanks to her own actions and the stellar reporting of our journalist. However, her false narrative of victimhood cannot go unchallenged publicly. Hill’s scandal was of her own making. I’m sorry that it had to end so embarrassingly for her, but she’s very young and she’s learning a lesson we’ve all had to learn, though few of us must face the nightmare of learning it so publicly and that is: your actions have consequences and adulthood means bearing those consequences, however painful.
Hill can spin all she wants, but she knows what she did and that’s exactly why she’s writing op-eds in The New York Times instead of sitting in Congress right now.
Don’t worry, though — I’m sure we’ve not seen the last of her.
So, there you have it, folks. My Top 5 Flame-Outs for 2019. (Is it purely coincidence that 3 of the 5 are from California?) Who would you add to (or remove from) the list? Let me know in the Comments!