He’s charged with election fraud — and he wants to be SLO County’s next state senator

If you need any further proof that politics can be wackadoodle, here it is:

One candidate running for the state Senate seat now held by Bill Monning — who terms out next year — is facing felony election fraud charges stemming from his 2018 run for state Assembly.

Another has a dubious past that includes accusations of harassment, violating restraining orders and an Election Code violation — and he’s been permanently banned from every Starbucks in the world, according to Monterey County Now.

Does either stand a chance?

Nope — but they add some color to an otherwise ho-hum race that veteran politician John Laird, a Democrat in a heavily Democratic district, is favored to win.

john laird photo
John Laird, who served as the head of the California Natural Resources Agency under former Gov. Jerry Brown, is running to replace Bill Monning in the state Senate. Courtesy photo

Laird, 69, who was natural resources secretary under Gov. Jerry Brown and served three terms in the state Assembly, has a huge head start:

As of June 30, he had raised $323,446; racked up a slew of endorsements, including the entire San Luis Obispo City Council and five of the seven mayors in SLO County (all except Atascadero and Pismo Beach); and has been crisscrossing District 17, which includes all of San Luis Obispo County and Santa Cruz counties and parts of Monterey and Santa Clara counties.

He plans to continue going full tilt.

“I am taking nothing for granted,” he told us.

Now for the other candidates:

Republican Neil Kitchens finished a strong second in a race for state Assembly last year — but has since been charged with felony election fraud.

The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office alleges Kitchens was ineligible to run for state Assembly because he didn’t actually live in the district when he ran for office. It claims he changed his address from his residence in Prunedale — where he actually lived — to one in Salinas, which Kitchens owned but rented out to tenants.

(His current residence is in the Senate district, so Kitchens is OK on that front.)

Kitchens faces five felony counts — two counts of voter registration fraud and three of filing false documents, according to the Salinas Californian. He’s scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Aug. 15.

This would be a good place to point out that Kitchens is innocent until proven guilty. So for now, we’ll give Kitchens the benefit of the doubt, though we would advise any would-be donors to be cautious, should Kitchens remain in the race.

That goes quadruple for supporters of Kevin Saunders, a former candidate for mayor of the city of Marina.

Some highlights of his career:

Saunders pleaded no contest in 2014 to violating a restraining order, making harassing phone calls and violating the Elections Code, according to the Monterey Herald. In order to get on the Marina mayoral ballot, the Herald reporters said, Saunders submitted a false voter registration that listed a Marina address as his residence, even though he did not live there. (Do you see a pattern here?)

Saunders also is banned from Starbucks worldwide, apparently because he was involved in some kind of dust-up at the Marina Starbucks.

Monterey County media also reported on an anti-Semitic rant Saunders made in 2016, during one of his mayoral campaigns. The rant targeted the editor of the Monterey County Weekly.

In other words, Kevin’s candidacy is a joke.

There is one more candidate without all that troublesome baggage.

Republican Vicki Nohrden, who describes herself on Facebook as a solution-based strategist, a CASA advocate for children and a public speaker, is in the running. She ran for state Assembly in 2018 in the 29th District, but lost badly to Democrat Mark Stone, 72 percent to 28 percent.

Oh, and in case you’re interested, there’s still plenty of time to enter the race. The filing deadline is Dec. 6.

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