Ed covered the breaking news of the arrest of New York Congressman Chris Collins (R-27) this morning, but we may as well take a brief look at how he wound up in this mess and what it means for the midterm race in his district.
I should just get the disclosure out of the way first. While I am not a personal friend of Congressman Collins, I have gone out on the campaign trail with him in the past and gotten to know him a bit. (I was working on a different race, but we were in adjoining districts up until the lines were redrawn after the 2010 census.) I always found him to be a good guy, very smart and a hard worker. I sincerely hope that the charges against him are not true.
But with that said, it would be rather remarkable if they weren’t. More than a year ago, Tim Carney had a piece at the Washington Examiner looking at Collins’ history of being very successful in business and investments, particularly when such matters involved the pharmaceutical lobby. The details of the stock trading taking place involving Innate Immunotherapeutics look fairly damning to say the least. Collins has already released a statement reminding everyone that he never sold his shares and actually lost millions of dollars, but the District Attorney already addressed that in the indictment. The fact that his son sold millions of shares in the few days between when the company washed out of their drug trials and when it was announced publicly asks us to believe in one heck of a coincidence. And I’ve never been a fan of extraordinary coincidences when it comes to politics.
In terms of how well his colleagues in the House are taking the news, Speaker Paul Ryan released the following statement earlier today:
“While his guilt or innocence is a question for the courts to settle, the allegations against Rep. Collins demand a prompt and thorough investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Insider trading is a clear violation of the public trust. Until this matter is settled, Rep. Collins will no longer be serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.”
So what happens to the race for that Congressional seat? It’s as close to a “safe GOP” seat as you get in New York under normal circumstances, but we’re no longer in normal times. If Collins was going to resign he’d need to act quickly. The first question is whether or not it could be a special election. It can’t. In New York, the seat would have to be vacated prior to July 1st for the Governor to call a special election. He’d be unlikely to do it in the first place, but the deadline has passed anyway.
That means the seat will be decided at the general election. The deadline to get on the ballot is only a few days away on July 12th. There have been cases where extensions have been granted under extraordinary circumstances and this could certainly qualify, but if he’s going to resign he’d still need to move fast so the party could get the ball rolling. So that’s one option.
But Collins is already proclaiming his innocence, saying he will fight to clear his name and prevail in court. Doesn’t sound like he’s planning to step down to me. (Though I’m guessing people are lining up to get him on the phone for a private word and push him in that direction.) That means he can continue to campaign and run to keep the seat, promising his constituents that he’s innocent and asking for another term. Could he win while fighting off these charges and facing a very serious trial? The 27th is a red district, but it’s not that red. Collins won in 2014 and 2016 with 71 and 67 percent respectively, but the Democrats weren’t really trying. If they were, this is more of a ten to twelve point spread race and these charges could give the Democrats a chance. But I wouldn’t write off Collins winning anyway. Then, if he winds up being convicted and is forced to resign or is ejected by his peers, a special election could be called next year. The catch is that the special is only called at the governor’s discretion and then scheduled 70 to 80 days after the proclamation. But being a GOP seat, Andrew Cuomo could keep that seat empty for quite a while.
The final option, of course, is that he could simply lose the election and we turn the seat over to the Democrats for two years. And that’s supposed to be one our safe seats. Yeesh.