Hatch Act comes into play in race for House District 47
August 12, 2020
It likely goes without saying that the primary race for House District 47 has been unlike any previous race for the district in the past eight years. This year, incumbent Representative Jerry Paxton has faced three Republican challengers in Joey Correnti IV, Julie McCallister and Dee Garrison.
With only a week until the primary election, it appears that the intensity of the race has taken a turn that few expected as Garrison and McCallister are claiming that Correnti had threatened Garrison and demanded she withdraw from the race. These are accusations that Correnti denies.
The situation revolves around the Hatch Act of 1939, a federal law that restricts political activity of federal and postal service employees while on duty, on government property, wearing an official uniform or using a government vehicle.
On August 3, just prior to a forum in Wamsutter, Correnti presented a document to Garrison that listed the Hatch Act and included notes from Correnti.
At the bottom of the document, a handwritten note read “I won’t bring this up tonight but you need to be aware and make a choice ASAP (as soon as possible).”
“I didn’t create this. From the place that she works, I produced it and added some notes of concern,” said Correnti. “Some things she might want to look at.”
Garrison, prior to running for House District 47, was an employee of the United States Postal Service. According to Garrison, who lives in Bairoil, she worked on an “as needed” basis for the postal office there. This was confirmed to the Saratoga Sun by Bairoil Postmaster Debbie McCormack. According to Correnti, he was unaware that Garrison worked for the postal service until they were both involved in a group conversation during the election forum held at the Beartrap Cafe and Bar in Riverside on July 29.
“That gave me some concern. Not necessarily because of the Hatch Act, but because you now have a candidate for an office that has access to the ballots for that election,” Correnti said. “Going out as absentee ballots blank and coming back as filled and that’s the reason why certain laws exist.”
A month before the filing date, May 29, Garrison had submitted a letter to her postmaster. The letter, dated April 30, read, “I am informing you that I am running for the House District 47 as House Representative. I am informing you so that we can do whatever needs to be done to prevent me from being in violation of the Federal Hatch Act, whether it be my turning in my 2 weeks notice or requesting a furlough.”
A hardcopy of that letter provided to the Sun did not bear a signature from either Garrison or McCormack nor did it have a stamp from the postmaster. A photo of the original letter, sent to the Sun did have both signatures and a stamp. The former document was provided to candidates and the public during a forum on August 4 in Farson-Eden.
“My notification wouldn’t have been done on the postal header because I don’t have that at home,” said Garrison. “I don’t have access to that, so mine was done on plain paper from my home computer.”
While Correnti insists that the document he provided to Garrison was not intended as a threat, Garrison disagrees. The Saratoga-based candidate for House District 47 points to his note on the document.
“There’s no threat there. It starts with ‘I won’t bring this up tonight.’ I didn’t want to give it to her and make her worry that Joey’s going to drop this hammer on her but it also said I need her to be aware so that she can make a decision as soon as possible,” Correnti said. “It doesn’t say ‘You have to quit the race tonight.’ It doesn’t offer a list of options. I’m not going to give an adult a list of things I think they can do. She can come up with that list on her own. I’m also not going to confine her to saying, ‘You do one of these things or else’ because that is a threat.”
According to Garrison, following the Wamsutter forum, Correnti followed her out of the Rocking H Grill and insisted she withdraw from the race or he would announce his findings during the Farson-Eden forum.
McCallister stated that Correnti had approached her following the same forum, asking if she had seen what he had given Garrison. According to McCallister, when she had confirmed she had glanced at the document, Correnti stated that it was federal law and he would be giving Garrison 24 hours to withdraw from the race.
“I didn’t tell Dee she had to quit. When I say ‘a choice needs to be made’ the list of choices I didn’t include were; I didn’t say quit the race, I didn’t say quit your job, I didn’t imply she should do either, I didn’t say get a lawyer, I didn’t say I was going to bring it up publicly. There’s other things she could have done,” said Correnti. “She could have gone public and said ‘Listen, I work for the United States Postal Service. There is this law. I’ve gone on furlough’. If you’ve actually made the effort to go on furlough 30 days before you even filed, wouldn’t that be a boon to your campaign?”
Following the conversation with Correnti, McCallister reached out to Garrison and requested a copy of the document given to her by Correnti. Additionally, she requested the letter he gave to McCormack and asked to defend Garrison during the forum in Farson-Eden. In her opening statement that night, McCallister called out Correnti for actions that were “vile, unethical and disgraceful to the Republican Party.”
“It is clear to me that Mr. Correnti is using bully tactics to influence this election,” continued McCallister’s statement. “I cannot encourage all of you strongly enough to verify everything a candidate says to you and to not allow unprofessional instigation of an opponent participating in the election process.”
“My concern is now, with the candidates themselves. You have one candidate that says she wants to stand up and fight for you in the legislature, who can’t bring this themselves, has to go to another candidate and turn it into an emotional one-sided boisterous complaint that is unfounded,” Correnti said. “How is she going to stand up for us if she can’t stand up for herself on a little technical issue?”
Garrison, however, stated that she had intentions of bringing up her employment with the United States Postal Service and being on furlough.
“I had all my documentation and I knew at the next meeting Joey was going to announce his findings, as vague as they were,” said Garrison. “I had my documentation with me and my intent was, in public, after he made the announcement—which he had threatened to do—that I was going to present my documentation and call him out on it and explain to the people that if he did complete research he would have found that what I was doing was legal.”
In an email provided to the Sun by Garrison, the candidate had reached out to Eric Johnson, an attorney in the Hatch Act Unit for the United States Office of Special Counsel. In that email, Johnson informed Garrison that, due to her irregular employment status with the postal service, she was only subject to the Hatch Act when on duty.
This was confirmed by Professor Michael Duff of the University of Wyoming who, prior to his time at the university, was an attorney and union official in the federal government for a decade. According to Duff, “An employee working on an irregular basis is subject to the Act’s restrictions only when engaged in government business. So, a furloughed employee who was irregular in the first place is likely not subject to the Act’s restrictions.”
Despite the furlough, Correnti repeatedly expressed concern throughout an interview with the Sun about the potential of a candidate who was also an employee of the United States Postal Service.
“There’s maybe 70 votes that are going to come out of Bairoil. All of those votes matter and they cannot be seen as suspect. So, what is the additional check or balance to make sure that a candidate has never had access regardless of how often they work there? If you’re a part-time employee and you’re only doing two hours every other Saturday, that’s four hours a month. It takes 15 seconds to rob a bank. It’s still wrong, it still has an impact,” said Correnti.
Garrison, however, insists that since she began her run for House District 47 she has not worked at the post office due to being on furlough. Additionally, according to Garrison, the postal service keeps logs of all political mail that comes through.
“I did my research. I knew I was in the right and I knew there would be no election fraud because the post office is very diligent on this,” said Garrison. “When all the other political mail for (House) District 47 came in, I was not working. I’ve been on vacation and then I went on a furlough.”
With a week until the primary election and a number of voters having already cast their ballot through the absentee process, it is unclear how much of an impact this will have on the race of House District 47. All that remains is to wait until August 19.