Griffis not endorsing in March primary

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis poses for a photo Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, at the Ector County Fleet/Equipment Services Yard. (Odessa American File Photo)

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis is not endorsing in the hotly-contested March primaries for county GOP party chair or any of the contested precinct chair seats.

A Facebook post Sunday stated Griffis and Odessa Fire and Rescue Chief Jason Cotton were endorsing Odessa City Councilwoman Denise Swanner who is seeking to be precinct chair of Precinct 206.

The Facebook page later cited a “misunderstanding” about the Griffis endorsement and then later removed Cotton’s endorsement with no explanation and then later deleted the entire post.

Fake news sites on social media and fake Facebook profiles have played a part in this year’s Republican primary with 16 mostly newcomers challenging a group of mostly appointed precinct chairs along with a contested Ector County party chair seat, two county commissioner seats and a justice of the peace slot.

The two groups essentially line up with those supporting incumbent GOP Chair Tisha Crow and those who support her challenger Donna Kelm.

The fake Facebook accounts have attacked Kelm and her supporters in recent weeks including Swanner’s opponent Worthen who said the fake Facebook account Josiah Vargas has repeatedly attacked her. Swanner is listed as a friend on the fake account and has posted replies to the account.

Swanner is facing longtime Odessan Brenda Worthen.

The nastiness on Facebook is something that has affected many of the Kelm candidates, Traci Gregston said. Gregston supports Kelm and is running in Precinct 202 for precinct chair against appointed incumbent Brandon Pugh.

A lifelong Republican and Odessan, Gregston said she hates the tone of this year’s Primary campaign especially since “we are all Republicans.”

She said tactics being used by the Crow group includes “spinning and demeaning.”

“They (the Crow group) are the ones acting like Democrats,” Gregston said. “We are good people…there is nothing wrong with us and we actually want to do the job.”

Gregston said she was offended by a recent letter a number of precinct chair candidates supported by Crow sent out and a note from Crow at the bottom of the letter urging voters not to fall for “Trans Republicans.”

“She will call me a Democrat or a Trans Republican? Really? We don’t want to sit around and bash people we just want to do the job.”

Gregston said the job is not currently being done in her precinct as she had trouble finding where to vote when some voting locations were changed several years ago. “I would have (as precinct chair) sent out information to my precinct that voting locations were changing. That is part of the job.”

Gregston has also been attacked on Facebook and so has her daughter. She said the bullying “is off the charts.”

The recent fake news of endorsements is not the first.

Crow in December posted (along with fake news sites) State Sen. Kevin Sparks had endorsed her candidacy.

Sparks, however, said he was not endorsing in this or any other local race. He texted “both candidates have been very active in Ector County for many years. The community needs to make their election without undue influence.”

He said he is not endorsing either candidate and does not intend to endorse in local races ever.

Kelm has said her hope is to get the Ector County GOP back on track. She said that means an end to Crow’s time as the head of the Party.

Kelm said she is against the tactics being used including endorsing one Republican over another in local races and the use of fake social media accounts to attack Odessans who question the local GOP.

Kelm herself was treated harshly at the ECRP Headquarters after she refused to “block walk” for candidates she did not know. Kelm wants to create an environment where candidates feel free to run without being intimidated and will speak out against Executive Board members who lash out and bully candidates they oppose.

Kelm worked for more than a month to secure three signatures from current Ector County Precinct Chairs so she could get a spot on the ballot to challenge longtime leader Crow.

The signatures were required under Texas legislation that originally passed to keep Democrats from grabbing powerful seats by running for local party chair spots. Crow and her supporters have long said it is “the law” and challengers must get 10 percent of the local party chairs to sign to even get on the ballot.

However, the statute also details that counties under a certain population may opt out of the required 10 percent in signatures. Midland County has done just that, but Crow and her precinct chairs have not. Many of the current precinct chairs were appointed by Crow or have never faced an opponent.

That changes this March as local businessman Ronnie Lewis gathered a number of Odessans to challenge the sitting precinct chairs for control of the party. Crow and her people have sought to paint him as a “Democratic operative,” but Lewis said he is a Republican and just wants civility back and for the bullying of Odessans by top leadership of the local GOP to stop.

He cites how fake Facebook accounts are used to intimidate and bully anyone who doesn’t agree with everything they are doing. Earlier this year several fake profiles were used to disparage Lewis and his wife.

The fake profiles Finnigan Lane, Josiah Vargas, Mitt Harvey, Joshua Benjamin, and others routinely denigrate Lewis and others.

Lewis will face Carmen Wilhite in the primary. She was appointed to her precinct chair late last year.

Early voting begins Feb. 20 and election day is March 5.