Kelm, new faces sworn in Tuesday

New GOP faces mostly emptied bank account

ECRP County Chair Donna Kelm, right, is sworn in Tuesday, July 2, 2024, by District Judge Lori Ruiz-Crutcher. In addition to Kelm, new precinct chairs were sworn in as well Tuesday. Kelm pledges a positive and welcoming attitude for the local GOP. (Jennifer Guerrero|Odessa American)

The takeover of the Ector County Republican Party was sealed Tuesday night when a newly-elected party chair was sworn in along with a host of new precinct chairs.

ECRP County Chair Donna Kelm is now official after being sworn in by District Judge Lori Ruiz-Crutcher. Kelm said earlier Tuesday she looks forward to a positive future for the group.

“First and foremost I hope we all get along,” Kelm said, detailing the precinct chairs include a mix of mostly those who supported her and some who supported ousted Chair Tisha Crow.

Kelm plans free educational events that are open to anyone in Ector County.

A voter registrar class is scheduled at 6 p.m. July 25 and will take about an hour. She also plans an Aug. 19-20 class along with Midland County’s GOP and Midland Republican Women’s Club to detail what the jobs of a precinct and county chair are. “It is very important to include people and to help them understand what the duties are of these elected positions,” Kelm said.

ECRP County Chair Donna Kelm, right, is sworn in Tuesday, July 2, 2024, by District Judge Lori Ruiz-Crutcher. (Jennifer Guerrero|Odessa American)

Kelm also detailed the last day to file for a spot on the ballot for upcoming city municipal elections is July 22.

She said it is not the job of the local GOP to endorse municipal candidates, but said she plans to offer all candidates the chance to be heard. She said as a group the ECRP will not endorse but added all precinct chairs are free to support any candidates they wish. She added she will not endorse any candidates but her husband will endorse/support whomever he wishes.

“The party itself cannot endorse…that is what I ran on…I’m tired of the bickering and the drama and the being mean behind the scenes…we have all had enough of that.”

It was a rough election that led to Kelm’s win over Crow.

Both women took a slate of candidates to the polls with them.

Almost all of Kelm’s candidates defeated Crow’s group, which included Mayor Javier Joven, who lost for a second time to Odessan Richard Pierce for precinct chair and Odessa City Councilwoman Denise Swanner, who lost to Brenda Worthen.

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf speaks with Derek Kelm and Senator Kevin Sparks and wife Jill Sparks Tuesday, July 2, 2024, at the Ector County Republican Party swearing in ceremony. (Jennifer Guerrero|Odessa American)

Local fake news sites led by failed precinct chair candidate Jeff Russell and the Crow faction posted almost daily misinformation online and tempers flared during early voting with both sides handing out cards with a slate of candidates each dubbed Republicans. Russell lost to Billy Dubose in Precinct 312 for the chair position.

Kelm and failed precinct chair candidate Carmen Wilhite (who lost to Ronnie Lewis, who helped lead the Kelm faction) had a dust-up during early voting that ended with each accusing the other of assault. Kelm has said she touched Wilhite who then grabbed Kelm’s hair. A witness verified Kelm’s recounting of the event and Kelm ended up at the doctor. Wilhite has never responded to requests for her side of what happened.

An Odessa Police Department report detailed Kelm was not the aggressor.

OPD Officer Bobby Pietropollo’s report states witness Linda Hall said Kelm “did gently touch Carmen on the arm before Carmen pulled away. Linda states that Donna did not appear to be threatening or aggressive towards Carmen.”

The report states Kelm, 66, told officers “she gently touched Carmen’s arm in a non-aggressive way so she can simply request Carmen to not accuse her to being a Democrat (sic). She stated when Carmen, 62, flung her arm back she had grabbed Donna by the back of her hair and yanked on it, causing her pain and believing she may have pulled some hair out of her head.

Ector County DA Dusty Gallivan said Tuesday no decision has been made on the cases.

Ronnie Lewis and the other ECRP precinct chairs are sworn in Tuesday, July 2, 2024, by District Judge Lori Ruiz-Crutcher. (Jennifer Guerrero|Odessa American)

Lewis overwhelmingly defeated Wilhite. Lewis, like Kelm, bore the brunt of the online harassment from the Crow faction during the campaign.

Kelm vowed to run a local GOP that is open and welcoming to Odessans and not secretive with closed and often locked doors to keep Odessans out. Kelm has said she wants unity, transparency, leadership and honesty and she hoped for a smooth transfer of leadership.

Kelm said Tuesday she meets with bank officials this week to gain control of what many have said is an almost empty bank account. She said insurance on the party headquarters on Jefferson was allowed to lapse and both toilets were out of order requiring a plumber. A hole is also in the back of the building. The lapsed insurance was through Crow’s insurance agency.

Kelm said during the recent GOP county convention that Crow announced hardship funds were available for anyone who planned to attend the state convention. Kelm said Crow told the group to “give your reasons for why you need a hardship and as a board we will decide who gets it.”

Those checks, Kelm said, were mostly in the $500 range and one went to Joven’s wife and another went to Swanner.

Kelm said during a recent open house at the GOP headquarters that Swanner handed her a personal check for more than $500 to return the funds after cashing the GOP “hardship/scholarship” check.

Betsy Rhodes (treasurer) and Rinah Lewis (daughter of Ronnie Lewis) present money raised to help fund repairs for Ector County Republican Party headquarters Tuesday, July 2, 2024, at the ECRP swearing in ceremony. The fundraiser has raised about $6,092. (Jennifer Guerrero|Odessa American)

Swanner returned the money about a week after the news broke that the local GOP was almost bankrupt and after Ronnie Lewis’ 10-year-old daughter started raising funds $10 at a time to help the GOP. That fundraiser has raised about $6,092. Some of the funds have already been used to repair the plumbing and other issues in the building.

Kelm said she doesn’t have full access to all the banking and books yet but did discover the local GOP last year paid $12,000 to a group that held what the Crow faction called an “intense two-day security training” and “training to recognize and identify potential terror threats in the Permian Basin.”

The meeting was led by Allied Special Intelligence Group, which has a website that promises to educate and train citizens, cops, churches and government leaders on how to “lawfully and legally delay, disrupt, dismantle and remove Communists/Marxists and Terrorists from our communities.”

One of those in attendance was Pierce, who said the trainers claimed to be former members of the CIA and FBI and they “believe in weeding out the communists and exposing organizations that may be supporting LGBT groups and people they call RINOS.”

They used PowerPoints to train attendees on how to operate as a “clandestine group” and brainstormed how to finance their efforts, Pierce said.

They trained the group how to check social media accounts, websites and other resources without being caught, he said. They also trained them on how to make fake social media accounts.

“They said we would need to go buy a used computer at a pawn shop, use a strong VPN for the computer and to never do any of the work from our own home or our own business. Go to places like Starbucks, Burger King, anyplace that had free WiFi and that way you could do your investigating over the Internet without it being traced back you personally,” Pierce said at the time.

Kelm has planned to audit the GOP books since being elected and said the $12,000 payment for the training is just one more reason to do so.

Newly-elected Precinct Chair Dallas Kennedy posted recently about the near $0 balance of the GOP.

Mark Matta, a precinct chair and an Odessa city councilmember, replied to that post with: “You forgot to mention that the outgoing Chair left the current party members with a 100% paid for building, all bills paid, new flooring, alarm system and working plumbing. We just ended an election and the money was spent towards the election and furthering the reach of the ECRP. A full audit would be a great idea for any new incoming chair.”

Several people disputed Matta’s post by detailing that the building was paid for years ago and questioning Matta on whether the GOP money was spent wisely.

Those who were opposed and won in March include: Lewis, Dubose, Pierce, Linda Hall, Gary Don McCain, Dallas Kennedy, Freda Daniels, Jill Miller, Traci Gregston, Charles Pierce, Brenda Worthen, Jet Brown, Christina (Chris) Bryson, Gary S Johnson, Jaime Mendoza and Luis Galvan.