By AYA ELAMROUSSI and JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia House delegate has resigned after homophobic messages attributed to him were circulated online, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said.
John Mandt Jr.’s resignation from the state House of Delegates was effective the end of Saturday, Hanshaw said in a statement. Mandt, a Republican from Cabell County, was running for reelection in District 16. Hanshaw said it is the “best course of action” for Mandt’s family and business.
Mandt did not respond to requests for comment by telephone and by email on Sunday, but he denied making such statements in a now-deleted Facebook post.
Screenshots of what appears to be a Facebook group chat called The “Right” Stuff were posted on Twitter, showing homophobic comments and anti-gay slurs. Jeffrey Ward, who is running for Huntington City Council District 4, told the Herald-Dispatch he was invited to join the group and said Mandt made the comments.
But Mandt has denied their authenticity and said they’re fabricated.
“Everything electronic can be fabricated. It’s by design, my family, my business are being attacked,” Mandt wrote in the deleted Facebook post, in which he said he received threats.
In a statement issued by the House of Delegates on Saturday night, Mandt said that after talking with Hanshaw, “Right now, my focus and priority needs to be on my family and business, and feel it is best at this time to terminate my campaign and make room (for) other individuals to serve the state.”
The group message thread shows bigoted comments against gay people and Muslims. At one point, Mandt allegedly used a homophobic slur. According to the civil rights advocacy group Fairness West Virginia, Mandt also disparaged other Republican state lawmakers who supported LGBTQ legislation.
Hanshaw, a Republican from Clay, said in the House statement that he saw the posts circulating on social media and that he spoke with Mandt, who denied the comments.
“I want to be very clear: I strongly condemn these comments and this type of rhetoric,” Hanshaw said. “I don’t care who said it — it’s wrong and I want everyone to know there is no place for hatred or bigotry in our state, our political discourse or the West Virginia House of Delegates.”
Under West Virginia law, the party of the preceding delegate submits three suggested people to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates, and the governor appoints one to fill the position.
The 16th District of the House has three seats. One Democrat and one Republican occupy the other two seats. There are five candidates seeking the three seats in November: three Democrats and two Republicans.
Mandt’s decision raises the prospect that Democrats could benefit, though it’s uncertain whether his name will remain on the ballot or can be replaced. The State Election Commission must approve any withdrawals from the race.
Elamroussi reported from Bayonne, New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @aya_elamroussi.