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Doing what’s best for the 22nd District

11 months 16 days ago |1773 Views | | | Email | Print

“I want to do what’s best for the citizens of the Twenty-second District.”


That was the response I kept receiving Thursday evening from Wendy Elswick, as she made a continued effort to avoid answering any questions regarding her candidacy to replace Josh Stowers in the state legislature.


Initially, Elswick was responding to the same question I asked the other candidates: you just said you support the state AND national Democrat platforms. The national Democrat platform has a plank in favor of gay rights. So I assume you support gay rights?


At least, with the exception of Chris Fleming who nearly had a heart attack when I asked him, candidates Josh Barker and Gary McCallister responded to the question. Both denied being for gay rights, so at least McCallister’s answer to the Democrat committee was incorrect, if not openly misleading.


When committee member Dan Cook asked each candidate about supporting the state and national platforms, McCallister enthusiastically answered that he did. Barker was smoother in his response, assuring Cook that he is a “Democrat through and through.” My notes do not indicate he ever flatly said he supported the platforms.


Be that as it may, Elswick might have thought about what was “best” for the citizen of the district before offering herself as a candidate. She, no doubt, knows about the ethics violation charges pending against her at the Supreme Court. She also knows that state newspapers, including my buddies at The Charleston Gazette, have written extensively about the charges. The bar association’s Office of Disciplinary Council issued a scathing report about her activities, which appear to include some sort of unethical relationship with a death row inmate in Texas.


According to the ODC, Elswick corresponded with the inmate and told him personal details of her life while he responded with “rape fantasies” and made reference to her breasts. That doesn’t really seem like the relationship an attorney should be carrying on with anyone, much less a potential witness against a client she represented as a public defender.


Apparently, Elswick and her political guru husband, Family Court Judge Scott Elswick, felt they could slip one past the good people of the Twenty-second District. Because the committee chair, former State Senator Tracy Dempsey, and state executive Director Jake Winowich would not permit me or any member of the press to ask questions prior to the vote Thursday evening, Elswick’s legal troubles escaped the notice of committee members. So much for openness and honesty during a Democrat party gathering.


* * * * * *


The evening began with Scott Elswick sitting in the presiding position on “his” bench. The county commission meeting room, where the district executive committee met, is also the family courtroom in Lincoln. As I walked in for the executive committee meeting, Elswick was seated on the bench. I quickly asked him if I was inadvertently walking in on a family court proceeding. He assured me that I was not.


Then I asked Scott Elswick about his role in trying to secure a delegate nomination for his wife. I told him several readers had called to complain that he, a sitting judge, was openly campaigning committee members for his wife’s nomination when the committee met earlier in the week.


Astonishingly, Scott Elswick told me that judge’s code of ethics is “relaxed when it comes to family members.” I have spoken with several attorneys who were surprised to learn that. They unanimously thought ethics rules applied at ALL times to ALL people. The entire situation was sordid and sad and a further indication of Lincoln County politics at its old-time worst.


* * * * * *


Had Dempsey and Winowich allowed the meeting, which had been billed as a public meeting with a specific invitation to the press to attend, to flow properly, the embarrassment to the committee and party could have been spared. I have no reason to think either Scott or Wendy Elswick feel any embarrassment, so I will exclude them from this discussion.


But, if the floor had been open for the press to ask questions of the candidates, I would have proceeded then and there to ask Elswick about her problems. Then the committee, in an open, public forum, could have considered her candidacy. Again, I’m confident the Elswicks did not want the committee to know of the allegations and felt they could sweep them under the rug for purposes of gaining a house seat. I will be generous and say I assume Dempsey and Winowich did not know of the allegations as they conspired with Elswick to keep questions from being asked.


Since the ethics rules are “relaxed” for husband and wife, one can assume that Scott Elswick would have been at the capitol instructing his wife in how to vote on key issues if she assumed Stowers’s spot. So, the judge would have become a legislator. Pretty neat.


* * * * * *


For my part, I take no pleasure in publicizing anyone’s troubles. Goodness knows I have enough of my own to fill several books. But when someone intentionally hides their record from the public for purposes of election, I don’t think I as a journalist have any choice but to reveal the truth.


* * * * * *


I challenged Dempsey’s decision not to allow questions from the press and he was immediately and forcefully supported by Winowich. One wonders if either of them learned anything from the experience.


* * * * * *


Lincoln County voters can thank former Delegate Greg Butcher and his co-conspirators if they end up losing one of their house seats in the Twenty-second. It was Butcher who primarily engineered the redistricting gerrymander that created a two-member house district in place of the old four-member Nineteenth District. While Lincoln Countian Jeff Eldridge continues to represent the Twenty-second, the law does not require that any of the delegates come from Lincoln. When the Nineteenth existed, it was required that one delegate come from Lincoln County. Lincoln Countians should send Butcher a word of thanks for what he’s done to them.


Since Republican Michel Moffatt came within two percent of defeating Eldridge in 2012, it is now possible that Barker, if nominated, and Moffatt might take the two district seats, giving one to Putnam County and the other to Boone.


Again, thanks to Butcher, Lincoln County.


* * * * * *


To their credit, State Senators Ron Stollings and Art Kirkendoll appeared to remain neutral in the battle to replace Stollings. That is how it should be. Stowers, himself, was making the rounds at the statehouse Tuesday and I asked him how he could be supporting “four candidates for your old job.” We shared a laugh about that.


* * * * * *


It was amazing how unoccupied the governor’s office was Friday during all the uproar about Elswick. Nobody even answered the phone in the press office after I managed to make an initial inquiry Friday morning. The Friday a.m. call elicited the response that I would “hear back from us soon.” The silence has been overwhelming ever since. Winowich also did not answer his cell phone Friday afternoon and calls to the Democrat state offices went unanswered. So much for leadership in a clutch situation.


* * * * * *


Hopefully, the appointment will be made and we can move on to better things next week. In the meantime, I remain available by email or cell phone (304-533-5185). If you choose to email, please indicate that you are addressing this column in your subject line. I do not open “junk” emails for fear of being hacked.

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