Voting underway, more fake endorsements

Early voting opened Tuesday in Ector County and brought with it more drama locally over fake endorsements.

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, who is unopposed for his seat in the Republican primary, took to Facebook to clear up what he called “confusion” by some in the race for local GOP Precinct Chair in 202, which has incumbent Brandon Pugh facing longtime Odessan Traci Gregston.

Pugh, along with others running for various local offices, sent out mass text messages over the weekend to voters.

Landgraf is not endorsing Pugh. Landgraf, on Facebook, wrote:

Traci Gregston

“Some of my constituents in Ector County’s Precinct 202 have reached out to me asking if I have endorsed Brandon Pugh for precinct chair after they received this text from him. To avoid further confusion, I want to be very clear: I do not—and will not—endorse Brandon Pugh in his race against Traci Gregston.

Mr. Pugh did not notify me that he would be using my name in this paid political advertisement, and his unauthorized use of my name in his ad has understandably confused voters by appearing to some to imply my endorsement or support.

Additionally, there are important facts that he omitted from his text message: Brandon Pugh actively and enthusiastically supported my most recent opponents and was even on one’s payroll.

I grew up in Precinct 202 and went to elementary school there. I don’t want the Republican voters in my old neighborhood to be misled by this spam text.

Lastly, before posting this, I contacted Mr. Pugh man-to-man to work this out without having to do this publicly. I give him credit for having a conversation with me. I asked him to send another text to the same voters clarifying the record, and Mr. Pugh told me that he would see what he could do.

As of the time of this post, no clarifying text message has been sent to the voters.”

Some pushed back in the comments, including Tim Harry, a candidate for precinct chair in Precinct 110, who is facing Odessa veteran and special ed teacher Dallas Kennedy. Harry wrote: “No endorsement is mentioned. It simply said that at one time he worked for your campaign.”

Landgraf, who was brutalized last election cycle online by Harry, wasn’t having it and responded: “Tim Harry agreed. But voters in 202 have been approaching me asking. His use of my name has caused confusion among voters. I gave him an opportunity to clarify without me getting involved. He said that he couldn’t, so I did.

“I was completely uninvolved in the race until he brought me into it by using my name in a paid political advertisement.

“You are also someone who has spent your time and treasure supporting my opponents. However, I don’t think you would have the audacity to use my name in an attempt to get votes (and cause unnecessary confusion among voters in the process).

“Good luck in your race.”

Harry, an appointed member of several city boards, was issued a “cease and desist” letter for remarks he has posted on Facebook in 2023.

Lewis hired local attorney Gaven Norris to send Harry the letter after Harry alleged Lewis is a drug dealer during a March 5 discussion on the Odessa Accountability Project’s Facebook page.

The OAP posted a Midland Reporter Telegram editorial written by Mayor Javier Joven that Harry commented on. Lewis tagged him and asked him if he’d “silence your precinct or will you let voters in your precinct have a choice for Ector County Republican Party Chair?”

Harry responded with the following: “I wouldn’t sign your petition to run for dog catcher. I’m not a fan of drug dealers.”

In the cease and desist letter sent to Harry on Lewis’ behalf, Norris demanded Harry stop publishing “false and defamatory statements on social media regarding Lewis.

In the cease and desist letter sent to Harry on Lewis’ behalf, Norris demanded Harry stop publishing “false and defamatory statements on social media regarding Lewis.”

Norris noted Lewis is not and has never been a drug dealer.

Norris further accused Harry of intentionally publishing “libel statements on the public social media forum are statements intended to injury Ronnie Lewis’ reputation and thereby expose Ronnie Lewis to public hatred or contempt or ridicule, or financial injury or to impeach Ronnie Lewis’ honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation.”

Norris sent Harry another cease and desist letter last year on his own behalf. He, too, asked for a retraction within 30 days.

Shortly after the Odessa City Council voted to fire City Manager Michael Marrero and City Attorney Natasha Brooks, there were several Facebook exchanges between Odessa Development Corporation Chairman Kris Crow, Norris, a person going by the name of Josiah Vargas and Harry about the lawsuit Norris filed claiming Joven violated open meetings laws.

On Jan. 4, Harry wrote the following statement about Norris on Facebook: “He has also left clients in a lurch with no representation in the courtroom after being held in contempt over his temper.”

Norris said that wasn’t true and sent Harry the “cease and desist letter” and Harry responded by filing a bar complaint against Norris on Feb. 7.

Harry wrote Norris was using the legal system “as a threat and intimidation in his quest to silence his political foes.”

The bar sided with Norris and ruled on Feb. 28 that the allegations do not “demonstrate professional misconduct or a disability.”

More fakes

This fake endorsement is not the first in this year’s primary. A recent Facebook post by the Odessa Accountability Project stated Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis and Odessa Fire and Rescue Chief Jason Cotton were endorsing Odessa City Councilwoman Denise Swanner, who hopes to be Precinct 206 chair. She will be up for re-election to the Odessa City Council in November.

The Facebook post later cited a “misunderstanding” about the Griffis endorsement. Cotton’s endorsement was later removed with no explanation before the entire post was deleted. Griffis has said he told all candidates who asked for an endorsement he was not endorsing anyone weeks before the false 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 Republican Party chair seat, two county commissioner seats and a justice of the peace slot.

The two groups essentially line up with those supporting incumbent Ector County 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, longtime Odessan Brenda 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 Vargas account.

Swanner has previously denied knowing the account was fake but also posted at one point that Vargas had “bought her lunch.” When questioned about it last year she said she “never pays for her own lunch” and doesn’t research to see what profiles are real or fake.

Prior to the recent Griffis phony endorsements, Crow in December said State Sen. Kevin Sparks had endorsed her. Sparks’ office, however, said he was not endorsing in that or any other local race. Sparks himself reiterated his non-endorsement policy to the OA.

He texted: “Both candidates have been very active in Ector County for many years. The community needs to make their election without undue influence.”

Kelm worked for more than a month to secure three signatures (10 percent) from current Ector County precinct chairs so she could get a spot on the ballot to challenge Crow.

The signatures were required under Texas legislation 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 allows counties under a certain population to opt out of the required 10 percent. 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 in a primary.

That changes in March, as local businessman Ronnie Lewis gathered a number of Odessans to challenge 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.

What you need to know:

Early voting started Tuesday and ends March 1. Election Day is March 5.

Visit the Ector County election page for a listing of times and places to vote: