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WV Democratic Executive Committee withdraws challenge against Preston Co. candidate

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The West Virginia Democratic Executive Committee has withdrawn its challenge to a candidate for the 52nd district seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates, but the political wrangling is far from over.

Democratic leaders had filed suit in July to keep newly registered Republican Melissa Lewis off the November general election ballot in northern Preston County.

Lewis had filed on the GOP ticket just five days after declaring herself a Republican, sparking concern among Democrats that she could not meet residency requirements and that she had violated a state law requiring a 60-day wait between switching parties and running for office.

Earlier today, however, Kingwood attorney Mark Gaydos said the petition was voluntarily dismissed after additional information about Lewis' residency as well as her political allegiance came to light.

Gaydos said he was able to confirm Lewis' name was on the lease to a house in Reedsville and that she had been dropped from the electoral rolls for not participating in two consecutive presidential elections, so she had no political affiliation when she registered as a Republican and filed for office.

Responding to the dismissal, State GOP Party Chair Conrad Lucas called the original complaint “baseless, embarrassing and frivolous” and a “pathetic attempt to halt democracy.”

“They lost. West Virginia wins,” Lucas said. “We look forward to a battle of ideas this fall between our candidate's commitment to coal, fighting the EPA, and being 100-percent Pro-Life” and the Democratic incumbent, Larry Williams.

But Gaydos, a Republican himself, took issue with GOP leaders characterizing the complaint as “frivolous.”

“It was not frivolous by any stretch of the imagination,” Gaydos said. “The information we had (early on) said she was a Democrat who had registered as a Republican just a few days before filing her candidacy papers. What it turned out to be was that, unbeknownst to anyone, only after checking the voter registration list for non-participation in two straight presidential elections. Therefore, she was not affiliated with Democratic party” when she filed on the Republican ticket.

Gaydos said state Democratic leaders “wanted to makes sure that the people that people running against their candidates complied with the rules."

“The other thing was if you went on the Internet, her registration for vehicles, drivers license, everything that was acquirable public record, all of her addresses were in Morgantown. The only thing we could find up here was that she was in the midst of a lease dispute with a landlord in Preston County, and that lease was signed Jan. 1.”

And Belinda Biafore, vice chair of the West Virginia State Democratic Executive Committee, fired off a statement Tuesday afternoon pointing out Lewis had changed residencies several times, making it “nearly impossible to pinpoint where she lived and where she resides now.”

Biafore also claims Lewis faces prosecution in Preston County, so the party decided “to let the criminal justice process run its course and drop our civil suit” against Lewis. A clerk in the Preston County magistrate's office refused comment and would not confirm whether or not Lewis is facing other charges.

“We would not have been able to delve into what would be needed for the civil suit while (it) is ongoing,” Biafore said.

Biafore also contends a "Republican operative" tried to coerce Williams into switching parties, and when he refused recruited Lewis who, she said, “is clearly not in a place to where she can put West Virginians first.”
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