Jim Nielsen’s hot potato

Eventually somebody is going to have to decide whether he broke the law

When it comes to political hot potatoes, the spud du jour is the matter of District 2 Republican Assembly candidate Jim Nielsen’s residency. Does he live in the district or not? And if he doesn’t, can he run for the office and, if elected, be seated?

So far, the two state agencies best able to answer these questions have tossed the spud. In response to a complaint brought by freelance journalist Barry Clausen, the secretary of state’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit recently examined the charges and then referred the matter for prosecution to the Office of the Attorney General. That office, in turn, sent it back to the secretary of state, Debra Bowen, with a recommendation that it be referred to the Tehama County registrar of voters.

Tehama County Clerk Bev Ross told the CN&R this week that she had heard nothing from Bowen’s office and had no legal authority anyway. Presumably, when she does get the file, she will pass it on to county District Attorney Gregg Cohen.

Cohen could toss it in the garbage, of course, but that wouldn’t look good, since he was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Nielsen. He’d be wise to refer it back to the AG’s office for prosecution.

Nobody is questioning Nielsen’s other qualifications or familiarity with the district. After all, he served as a state senator from 1978 to ‘90. The problem is that he lied about his residency—twice, once when he registered to vote and again when he filed his candidacy papers. And he’s done it before: In 1986, following reapportionment that changed his senate district’s lines, he claimed to live in a Rohnert Park condo when in fact he lived in Woodland, again outside his district. The man’s a scofflaw.

If this issue isn’t resolved, it will dog Nielsen—and Cohen if he buries it—for a long time. Charlie Schaupp, the man Nielsen defeated in the primary, is determined to get justice, and there are just enough disaffected Republicans like him in the district to make sure the issue doesn’t go away.