Republicans are confident they can ensure the name of Rep. Chris Collins is not on the November general election ballot, Erie County Chairman Nick Langworthy said Tuesday night after a closed-door meeting of the eight GOP chairs in the NY-27 at Batavia Downs.
He didn't say, however, how the might get the task done. He went no further than promising that Collins, in the midst of fighting federal allegations that he engaged in insider stock trading, will cooperate with whatever method the party tries to implement.
"We have communicated back and forth through his team but I have not directly personally spoken to him," Langworthy said. "We are confident there are mechanisms in place where his name can be removed from the ballot and we can nominate a new candidate."
Collins didn't face a challenger in the June 26 primary for the NY-27 but he committed to the race at an even earlier date. Once petitions were gathered, he had until April 16 to decline the nomination and the party had until April 24 to fill the vacancy.
Three Methods to Remove Name from Ballot
That leaves three methods to remove his name from the November ballot: Disqualification by means of accepting another office, moving out of state, or death.
Collins reportedly has residential property in Florida he could declare his legal domicile and there are potentially town-level offices in Erie County with a vacancy he could fill.
Either move will almost certainly be challenged in court by the Democrats.
“The GOP chairs are in a very bad position," said Todd Aldinger, an Albany-based attorney who has researched the relevant law and served as chairman of the Erie County Charter Revision Commission and was Senator Patrick Gallivan’s legislative director.
"They will either have to rely on constitutionally dubious means to remove Collins from the ballot or will have to utilize provisions of the election law to circumvent the normal nomination procedure by nominating Collins for a manufactured vacancy, which a court may find to be void against public policy.”
In favor of the GOP effort to remove Collins is a 2008 case in the NY-26 race, which at the time included Genesee County. In the Matter of Kryzan v New York State Bd. of Elections, Jon Powers had won the Working Families Party line and Alice Kryzan was the Democratic nominee. Powers then moved out of state and after the ballot certification deadline Powers sought to have his name removed from the ballot and the WFP wanted to replace his name with Kryzan. A court ruled Power's name could be removed from the ballot and replaced by Kryzan.
That decision was later overturned because absentee voting had already started.A federal court ruled those voters who already received their ballots would be disenfranchised if Kryzan's name replaced Powers on the ballot.
The November ballot won't be certified until Sept. 13. Military ballots will go out in the mail Sept. 21. The GOP will, presumably, have until then to win any legal battle with the Democrats or they lose the fight and potentially the war.
To counter any GOP maneuver -- declaring Collins a resident of another state or appointing him to a dog catcher position in Erie County -- the Democrats might be able to counter that such a move has been made in bad faith or to circumvent the normal nomination process.
The relevant case law, however, isn't on point with this set of circumstances and has apparently not been tested before.
"We are very confident, consulting with what are some of the best election lawyers in the State of New York, that there are mechanisms in place to remove Congressman Collins from the ballot," Langworthy said.
Even before Langworthy met with the press outside of Batavia Downs, Michael Plitt, chairman of the Genesee County Democratic Committee, was texting The Batavian to decry the GOP chairman's efforts to remove Collins from the ballot.
"The GOP already picked their candidate, Chris Collins," Plitt said. "There are no do-overs. Petitions are in. Collins will be on the ballot. The GOP knew Collins had an ethics investigation."
That's a similar line of attack the Democratic nominee, Nate McMurray, is taking in tweets and news interviews.
Democrats Call for Accountability
"I think these guys should be held accountable," McMurray told The Hill. "They shouldn't be able to hit reset or take a mulligan. If they try to get him to run for another office, I will call it out for what it is: a fraud upon the United States."
While the statutory feathers fly, the eight GOP chairs of the NY-27 are moving ahead with the process of handpicking a new candidate. At one point, at least 15 people had expressed an interest in the seat but Tuesday night, Langworthy indicated the winnowing process has already begun. He said he expects there will be some more informal interviews to help determine who gets a chance to sit down with all eight county chairs and lobby for the nomination.
Those interviews will take place next week.
"We were handed the extraordinary situation that you know we're not happy to find ourselves in, but we have to work through it," Langworthy said. "We have to work together. We have to work collaboratively and we need to nominate a candidate that can succeed in all eight counties to deliver a victory in November."
The public won't be part of the committee process and voting will be weighted, which means Langworthy, representing Erie County, will have the biggest say in who potentially could appear on the R line in November.
It's a momentous selection.
Michael Caputo, a GOP political consultant, and nationally known Trump ally, told The Batavian just before news broke that Collins was withdrawing from the race, that the very future of the presidency may hinge on what happens in the NY-27.
"It may boil down to one or two seats," Caputo said. "If we lose control of the house, there will be impeachment proceedings, no doubt about it."
Erie County GOP's Questionable Candidates
Erie County, however, doesn't have a strong track record when it comes to picking representatives for the GLOW region.
Rep. Bill Paxon's career ended after he helped lead a failed attempt to oust Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House. Rep. Tom Reynolds didn't run for reelection after his name was linked to a couple of scandals in the House. Rep. Chris Lee posted a bare-chested picture of himself on Craigslist. Assemblywoman Jane Corwin lost a race generally thought to be hers to lose.
And now Chris Collins, federally indicted on counts of securities fraud, wire fraud, and lying to the FBI. Collins was allegedly the tip of a tipping tree where he provided the crucial tidbit of bad news that caused his son, and eight other associates, to dump millions of shares of Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited before the Australia-based company publicly announced its only product, a drug to treat secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, had failed its critical medical trial.
Collins said he's not guilty.
Langworthy said none of the GOP chairs have expressed any dissatisfaction with the process that has led to this string of questionable GOP candidates being foisted on GLOW.
"I think it's a matter of the party rules," Langworthy said. "I think we work collaboratively. We're working together. Many of the candidates now hail from the GLOW region, so I didn't hear any sort of problems from any of the chairs here tonight about them."
Whoever gets the pick will instantly become the front-runner in a district that tilts +22 for Republicans, and barring the winner getting caught with his shirt off or making ill-advised stock trades, he is likely being appointed to the seat for life. The Batavian asked Langworthy if a process of eight men in a room, denying both candidates and voters the normal primary process to fill a vacancy, is the right process to follow.
"I'm going to ask you, do you think we want to be in the situation right now?" Langworthy said.
The Batavian asked, "is it fair?"
"I think it's a bush league question you asked," Langworthy said.
"So you don't want to answer it."
Langworthy: 'We Don't Want to Be Here.'
Langworthy responded, "I've already addressed this. We find ourselves in an extraordinary situation. We don't want to be here. This is a sad and unfortunate time for us. We are doing the best we can with the election law as it exists at this late date."
The choice for the chairs includes inexperienced candidates, candidates who have run a race but not won, or a slate of current office holders who would be forced to vacate a ballot line creating a new legal challenge for the party.
"I'll let you all decide who you think the front-runners are," Langworthy told the gaggle of assembled reporters from throughout the region. "We have a process to maintain. We have to continue to work together.
"You know there are candidates from throughout this district that represent different portions of this district. We're all dedicated the same thing, which is finding a conservative Republican candidate that can win this district and help President Trump achieve his agenda.
A bit later Langworthy said: "We need we need a candidate that we can all get behind in eight counties (who) can be out there meeting the voters, talking about the important issues. I mean it's a very geographically diverse district.
"I mean, you have cities, you have suburban towns, you also have a lot of rural and agricultural areas, so you have a lot of different types of people who (need to) get up to speed on federal issues. Even if they're a state official, they might not understand the federal ramifications. Those are things that we have to hit the ground running on very, very quickly."
It will be such a difficult race in such a compressed time frame that Langworthy doesn't think it's the place for novices to enter.
"I personally think that this is probably not the time for a completely new candidate, someone that doesn't understand the political process or maybe hasn't been a part of an election before in a big league level," Langworthy said. "I don't think there's a lot of time for a learning curve for a first-timer that hasn't been through the process."
White House Weighs in on Selection
Langworthy also revealed that the White House is weighing in on the selection process.
"We're in consultation," Langworthy said. "Yesterday I had a meeting with the White House political director to discuss this race. We have been in discussions with the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. They are very concerned about the future of the seat. They want to make sure it stays in Republican hands."
Whoever gets the nod from the eight chairs, Langworthy said he hopes to attract Trump to WNY to campaign for the candidate.
"I came from Utica yesterday where I saw President Trump come in for a Congresswoman Tenny," Langworthy said. "It's a very hot seat and I know they raised an awful lot of funds in a short window. It was only a one week lead-up to the event and there were hundreds and hundreds of people there showing their support and writing checks to support the congresswoman. I would love to see that sort of enthusiasm with a presidential visit."