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House special election winner Conway OK with being short-timer

GOP ex-legislator fills Nunes vacancy for a few months in changing California district

Former Tulare County supervisor and State Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway won Tuesday's special election runoff to represent the 22nd District until January.
Former Tulare County supervisor and State Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway won Tuesday's special election runoff to represent the 22nd District until January. (Photo courtesy of Conway for Congress)

Connie Conway, a former Tulare County supervisor and Republican leader in the state Assembly, won Tuesday’s special election runoff in California’s 22nd District for the remainder of former GOP Rep. Devin Nunes’ term.

She beat Democrat Lourin Hubbard, a state water department operations manager. Conway had nearly 60 percent of the vote to Hubbard’s 40 percent. The Associated Press called the race at 1:03 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday.

Conway comes to Congress with a varied business background as well as a substantial resume in government. She served in the state Assembly for six years, then ran a consulting business focused on strategic planning, business development and government relations services.

She has spent time in the health care industry as a hospital wellness coordinator, a medical equipment marketing director and a district manager at a health care management company. She also served as state director of the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency.

Conway decided from the start that her time in Congress would be short-lived. After Nunes vacated his seat in January to run former President Donald Trump’s media company, Conway said she felt it was the right time for her to step up, if only temporarily.

Conway was elected to serve the remainder of Nunes’ term representing the 22nd District as it was configured in 2020 as a Republican stronghold. For the next Congress, the district’s voters have been parceled out among other districts, and the new 22nd will be one President Joe Biden would have carried by 13 points. Conway chose not to run for a full term.

“I’m term-limiting myself right from the start,” she said.

Conway is a well-known local politician with strong Republican roots — and experience in a chamber controlled by Democrats. She said that as minority leader in the state legislature, she told her fellow GOP lawmakers to work across the political aisle.

Deep roots in local government

“When I became leader in Sacramento, I’d preach to the caucus: ‘Hey, if you love your bill, and it’s a good idea, give it away. Because you are a minority player here, and it’s not happening,’” she said. “We want good legislation, but find another teammate to joint-author with you, someone across the aisle, because otherwise it’s probably not going to happen.”

She has known Nunes since he was a child through family connections, she said, watching him go from precocious 4-year-old to the U.S. Capitol. It proved to be a useful connection, leading to her 2019 appointment as the California executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. She helped distribute funding to farmers through mechanisms like disaster relief and conservation programs, but her tenure there was brief, as she was replaced after Biden took office.

Conway is a product of California’s Central Valley. Born in Bakersfield, she moved to Fresno and graduated from San Joaquin Memorial High School, a private Catholic school located in the city, and went on to study at California State University at Fresno. Although she attended for four years, she did not earn enough credits in one area of study to obtain a degree.

She now calls Tulare home and lives there with her husband, Craig Vejvoda, and their dog, Jake. She previously represented her area as a county supervisor, from 2000 to 2008.

“I learned a lot while serving on the Board of Supervisors,” she said. “It’s a great job. Some days I wish I was still there.”

Local government is a family business. Her father, John Conway, was a Tulare County supervisor from 1981 until 1991, when he died. Vejvoda served for 12 years on the Tulare City Council, including a stint as the city’s mayor.

After her time as a county supervisor, Conway went on to serve in the state Assembly from 2008 to 2014. She was also the minority leader for her last four years in office.

Her path to minority leader was paved with some intrigue. The Visalia Times-Delta reported in 2010 that rumors circulated of Conway attempting a “coup” to oust Martin Garrick, the Assembly’s minority leader at the time. Conway was then the second-in-command as Republican caucus chair. Garrick replaced her after Conway’s purported rebellion, but not for long. The next month, she was elected as the Assembly’s new GOP minority leader, succeeding Garrick.

More than 10 years later, Conway waved off the reported rumors in a June interview, saying she was merely being truthful with a reporter when she was asked if she had considered running for minority leader.

“This was the big quote: ‘Anybody that says they haven’t thought about it is not telling the truth. Because we all think about it.’ And that got turned into a headline: ‘Conway thinking about seeking leadership,’” she said. “But, you know, I get it. You guys, you got to sell those stories.”

Conway fended off coup attempts of her own and remained minority leader until her last term. Her rule: “If you’re going to shoot at the queen, you better kill the queen.”

“I learned a lot in other leadership roles,” she said. “It’s a little theory I call ‘lining up your soldiers.’ I never want to go into battle without having my soldiers with me. … A leader is nothing without her troops. And so I had a group that was very loyal to me and protected me and stuck with me, so every time there was a little uprising, we quelled it.”

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