Representive candidate in special election has residency challenged
A Northern Kentucky GOP candidate was accused of lying about where she lives to get on the ballot for the February special election.
James Cole, a Southgate resident and Campbell County Democrat, claimed that House District 67 Republican candidate Mary Jo Wedding doesn’t live in the district that she hoped to represent, according to court documents. In fact, the complaint alleged Wedding lives in Pendleton County, not Bellevue like her campaign filings said.
Cole claimed Wedding hadn't lived in the district for a full year, as required by law. Instead, based on her husband's out-of-district address and her June 2019 voter registration, Cole claimed Wedding lied on her candidacy filing and that she had been living in Pendleton County, which is not in the district.
The district includes Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, Wilder, Highland Heights, Silver Grove, Melbourne, Woodlawn and portions of Southgate.
Wedding's voter registration listed a Newport address, which Cole pointed out did not match the Bellevue one she used for her candidacy paperwork. The mismatched addresses made Cole believe Wedding had lied about where she currently lives, although both cities are in the district. State law doesn't require candidates to live at the same address for a year before filing to run.
The Republican Party of Campbell County defended its candidate and said Wedding moved to the Newport address with her father in 2018 and is a current resident of Bellevue.
The Pendleton County residency claim is rooted in the addresses associated with the candidate's husband, Gary Wedding. Gary Wedding has his address listed at a Florence apartment and at their farm in Pendleton; neither are in the district, the complaint argued.
"While Mary Jo enjoys spending time on her father’s farm in Pendleton County, she does not own real estate there, and it has not been her residence for the past two years," Campbell County Republican Party Chairwoman Sarah Cameron said in an email to The Enquirer. "This is a weak claim meant to distract voters from the real issues that matter to the citizens of the 67th District."
Wedding is set to vie for the seat against Democratic candidate Rachel Roberts. The district was launched into special election mode when former Rep. Dennis Keene joined Gov. Andy Beshear's administration.
Cole's attorney filed the motion to disqualify paperwork Wednesday in the Campbell County Circuit Court.
"I think this is being done strategically," said Ryan Salzman, an associate professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University. Salzman described Cole as a longtime Campbell County Democrat and added that others in the Campbell County Democratic party have challenged the Republican candidate's residency before.
During the 2016 race for the same seat, the Republican candidate's residency was challenged by former Campbell County Democratic Chair Paul Whalen, according to a previous report from The Enquirer. The candidate, Matt Teaford, withdrew from the race but said the decision stemmed from issues with party leadership. He also ran as an Independent for Cincinnati City Council in 2017.
"If this motion gets serious consideration, then the Republican Party of Campbell County has a lot of explaining to do," Salzman said. "Because that would be two times in the past three races where their candidate was disqualified on the most basic criteria, which is where you live."
Wedding did not return The Enquirer's phone call.
“Baseless claims like this are why good people do not want to enter politics. This complaint is a weak political attack attempting to throw mud across the aisle," said the Wedding campaign's Political Affairs Manager Sebastian Torres in a release. "The evidence that will be presented in court will show how frivolous this dirty campaign tactic is."
Cole's challenge relied on four addresses to argue that Wedding has not lived the district for at least a year before the election, which the Kentucky Constitution requires of all candidates.
If Wedding is disqualified, the Republican party could be out of a candidate for the election. In 2016, Teaford's name still appeared on the ballot even though he withdrew from the race, which left the Democratic candidate unopposed on election day.
The deadline to submit a GOP candidate for the special election passed. The Campbell County Republican Party had until Jan. 7 to pick its candidate and send the paperwork to Frankfort.
Ultimately, Wedding's candidacy fate will be decided in a Campbell County courtroom.
A hearing will be scheduled in about two or three weeks, said Cole's Frankfort-based attorney Anna Whites. There, witnesses and evidence will be presented just like any other court case. A judge could make a decision a few days after the trial, which Wedding can appeal which could send the dispute all the way up to the Supreme Court of Kentucky.
"There's always glitches, so it's it fairly common to see these suits," Whites said.
The entire process usually takes about a month, Whites said, which is how far away the Feb. 25 special election is.
"This complaint will be quickly defeated and the Republican Party will stay focused on educating the voters on the issues," Cameron said.