Ladies and gentlemen, we have a contender for nastiest primary race of the cycle.
On Thursday, incumbent state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, sued challenger Elizabeth Ames Jones, a former railroad commissioner, alleging libel and slander. Emergency room doctor Donna Campbell is also running, but is not a part of this particular squabble.
At issue is a new radio ad aired by the Jones campaign that says, “Records indicate Wentworth has billed both the state of Texas and his campaign fund for the same travel expenses — including gasoline to fuel his Lexus, which he leases with campaign money.”
Wentworth takes issue with the implication that he has engaged in criminal behavior and insists that no fraudulent activity or double-billing has taken place. “To be falsely accused of committing a crime is over the line of political discourse and has forced me into filing this defamation suit against Jones,” he said in a statement. “I filed this lawsuit to defend my honor and the integrity of our democracy.”
At a press conference in San Antonio, Wentworth said that if he prevailed in his suit, he would donate any monetary damages awarded to a charity organization dedicated to educating Texans about the state’s political process.
Jones responded to the press conference with a statement doubling down on the allegations. “Sen. Wentworth’s double-billing for gas and airfare is the latest breach of public trust in his long and well-documented record of ethical problems,” she said, contending that there are more than 200 instances of Wentworth billing both the state and his campaign for fuel as well as similar issues with expenses on air travel.
Wentworth’s lawsuit counters with this explanation for his expenses: “The procedure followed is that the expenses are advanced in the form of a loan from [Wentworth's] official campaign account. Upon receipt of the reimbursement from the state of Texas pursuant to the sworn expense report, the funds are then repaid to the campaign account.”
You can see why the Express News declined to endorse in this primary. All I can say is that I hope someone asks Ames Jones what the capital of Texas is during depositions. Seems like there’s been a fair number of lawsuits among candidates in recent years, but offhand the only successful one I can think of was Chris Bell against Rick Perry. I suspect this one will come to nothing, but it will provide us some entertainment in the meantime. Ames Jones has joined the fun with a counterclaim:
On Thursday afternoon, Jones said in a statement, “I will be filing a counterclaim in Bexar County District Court tomorrow because truth is an absolute defense, and my television ads are true.” She also called on Wentworth to produce copies of the reimbursement checks for the expenditures in question.
You can see a copy of Wentworth’s lawsuit here. He’s also this year’s example of why public officials should register their names as domains before someone else does. In case you’re curious, there is a Democratic candidate for this seat as well. The TM Daily Post has more.