The last time people witnessed the determination of Jennifer Nutting, she stood in the well of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors chambers as her husband, embattled Supervisor Ray Nutting, wiped away tears.
The board voted to ask a judge whether Nutting must be kicked out of office for official misconduct as a result of misdemeanor convictions for improperly raising bail money from two county employees and a major contractor doing business with the county. In an emotionally charged speech, Jennifer Nutting hailed her “hero” and lit into those who “maliciously prosecuted my husband.”
Now Jennifer Nutting says she is running for her husband’s seat, which was declared vacant by Superior Court Judge Timothy S. Buckley at Nutting’s sentencing June 6. Six candidates have now opened campaign committees or officially announced that they will run in the Sept. 9 special election to replace him.
Jennifer Nutting’s entry into the race to serve out the last 21/2 years of her husband’s term adds yet more flair to a long political and legal drama that has raged in El Dorado County. Jennifer Nutting, who owns a Pollock Pines hair salon, registered a campaign committee Tuesday called “People for Clean Government, Jennifer Nutting for Supervisor.”
“I just wanted to let everyone know that after a lot of thought and consideration I have decided to run (for) the District 2 Supervisor in the special election,” she announced in a Facebook post.
Jennifer Nutting, who still must file official candidate papers, said in the post, “I feel I am truly doing this for the right reasons.” She added: “I look forward to hearing from you and cleaning up OUR Government.”
A jury acquitted Ray Nutting of felony malfeasance charges for failing to properly disclose more than $70,000 in state income for brush clearing on his family’s 340-acre ranch in Somerset. But he was thrown out of office on misdemeanor offenses as a result of his efforts to raise bail in the frenetic moments after he was ordered to surrender at the El Dorado County jail on May 28, 2013.
On Monday, Nutting’s attorney David Weiner filed legal papers declaring Nutting’s intention to appeal his criminal conviction. Weiner said Nutting is seeking a new trial on the misdemeanor counts and will challenge the judge’s order forcing his removal from office.
Reached Wednesday, Ray Nutting said his wife’s decision to run was her own.
“Jennifer is her own person. That decision was hers,” he said. “She asked me what I thought. And I said I will support what is in your heart. And that is your decision to make. It is not my decision. I’m going down this legal path. She’s going down the campaign path.”
Political wives have long filled their husbands’ seats, often benefiting from name recognition and voter sympathy. Former General Motors executive Debbie Dingell, 60, is now running for the Michigan congressional seat her husband, John Dingell, 87, has held for more than 58 years.
In many cases, such a campaign follows a death in office. U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, ran for Congress after husband Robert Matsui died of a rare stem cell disorder in 2005. Former Rep. Mary Bono, R-Palm Springs, took over in 1998 after the skiing-accident death of husband Sonny Bono. Former Sacramento City Council member Bonnie Pannell ran to replace her husband, Sam Pannell, who died in 1992.
Now, in El Dorado County, a Jennifer Nutting victory could offer her husband and family political vindication.
Jennifer Nutting, who didn’t respond Wednesday to requests for comment beyond her Facebook post, delivered a stirring moment May 20 when her husband’s board colleagues debated what to do after his misdemeanor convictions.
“I’m not somebody to give you a sad story or ask you for pity,” she declared to the board. “I’m here to say I give thanks to my hero, my warrior, my husband. … I battle every day to forgive the people who maliciously prosecuted my husband because he did not fit their mold.”
Special election candidate Dave Pratt, a Fairplay winery owner and veteran planning commissioner appointed by Nutting, said that Jennifer Nutting’s entry deepens the emotional context of the special election in a district where many residents have rallied around their troubled supervisor.
“We’re friends. But I’ll move on to do what I need to do to win this election and sway some people,” said Pratt, who said he had hoped to get Ray Nutting’s endorsement before Jennifer Nutting let him know she was thinking of running. “Our mutual friend (Ray Nutting) is in a hard spot. I think everyone is just going to have to make an individual decision. I have no idea on the outcome of this. It’s a tough one.”
Another special election candidate, George Turnboo, lost to Nutting in 2012. Prosecutors subpoenaed Turnboo to testify in the supervisor’s trial on whether Nutting’s failure to disclose state grant income could have affected the race Nutting won handily.
On the witness stand, he told jurors of a heated conversation with Nutting. He testified that the supervisor had warned him against making a campaign issue out of the fact that Nutting, a property-rights and small-government advocate, had taken state grants for fire protection work on his ranch.
Turnboo, owner of an auto repair shop in the town of El Dorado, didn’t bring up Nutting’s state earnings in the campaign. He said he testified that such information could have been useful to voters “tired of politicians using their position for political gain.”
Turnboo said he was surprised that the judge ordered Nutting’s removal. “I do feel for Ray and his wife,” Turnboo said. “It’s really a touchy situation with this whole thing.”
Special election candidate Shiva Frentzen, a member of the Cameron Park Community Services Board, said voters shouldn’t give Jennifer Nutting special consideration because of her marriage. “If your husband is a pilot, it doesn’t automatically give you the experience to fly an airplane,” she said.
Frentzen, owner of an Internet services consulting company, added: “We want to have someone as a supervisor who has a track record, a clean history and has stood up for the district.”
Janet Saitman, a Latrobe school board trustee and co-owner of an El Dorado Hills property management firm, declined to weigh in on Jennifer Nutting’s candidacy. She said she is running because she wants to bring “integrity and stability back to the Board of Supervisors.”
Another candidate in the race is Claire McNeal, a small-business owner who lives in Somerset. The last date for candidates to enter the special election is July 18.
Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.