Facing controversy over a domestic violence conviction involving his ex-wife during his successful 2009 bid for vice chair of the North Carolina Republican Party, then-Buncombe GOP Chair Tim Johnson produced a statement, supposedly from her, supporting his candidacy. Now, she says she never wrote that endorsement or had any knowledge of it until after his election.
“I absolutely did not say that,” Ofelia Felix-Johnson, now living in Nebraska, tells Xpress. “This was not done with my consent, and I didn’t even know about it. I didn’t appreciate him putting my name out there when I had nothing to do with it.”
Felix-Johnson says a family friend from Tuscon was trying to find contact info for her, and Googled her name; that person then alerted her family members that Johnson was making that claim about the letter from her. This was after Johnson had won his campaign.
The statement was released by Johnson in June 2009 after news that he pled guilty in 1996 to aggravated assault in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, broke in the midst of his campaign for state vice chair. He was given an 18-months suspended sentence, and ordered to move to Toledo and undergo domestic-violence counseling.
Purportedly from Felix-Johnson, the endorsement declared:
I have been made aware that my ex-husband is a candidate for the job of Vice Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party which I whole heartedly support and were I a resident of that state I would vote for him. It has also come to my attention that people in the Republican party are trying to use potential issues from our marriage in an attempt to smear Tim’s reputation and chances to win the race. When we took our marriage vows, we like so many including President Reagan, former speaker Newt Gingrich or even John McCain hoped that the union would last. Differences sometimes occur and words and actions may happen which require a separation; however, the love and regard for the people involved doesn’t change. My ex-husband has met his obligations to me and our children, our relationship is cordial and I support whatever positive endeavors Latessa and Tim may choose to engage in.
“He wrote it — or someone else did — saying it was me speaking, but it wasn’t me,” Felix-Johnson asserts. She adds that she’s contacted state GOP Chair Tom Fetzer over the issue, but hasn’t received any response. Johnson won the vice chair race handily, subsequently resigned his role as county party chair and moved to Durham. He also chairs the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a conservative African-American policy group.
Johnson, contacted by Xpress, declined to make a statement when asked about the authorship of Felix-Johnson’s supposed endorsement.
“I’ll have to talk to her, I have no idea about this statement,” he tells Xpress.
Asked again if Felix-Johnson wrote the endorsement, Johnson said “the statement in and of itself, I’m not going to answer that. I’m confused as to why this coming up again right now. There’s a primary race taking place, and I don’t know why anyone’s concerned about a statement from my ex-wife.” He expressed doubt that Felix-Johnson had spoken with Xpress.
Asked if he could produce an e-mail or similar document confirming that Felix-Johnson had written the endorsement, he refused.
“I’m not showing that,” he replied. “I’m not going through that. I’m the vice chair, and I don’t have to explain anything that has to do with my relationship with my ex-wife. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Advised that this was concerning the truth of a public statement supposedly made by her, Johnson said “OK, then that’s what she’s saying. I’ve had reporters communicate with her and that’s as much as I’m going to involve my ex-wife at this point.”
— David Forbes, senior reporter, with reporting by Jon Elliston, former managing editor