During Tim Johnson's ultimately successful 2009 bid for vice chair of the North Carolina Republican Party, controversy arose over a domestic-violence conviction involving his ex-wife. Johnson, who was then the Buncombe County GOP chair, produced a statement purportedly from his ex supporting his candidacy. Now, however, Ofelia Felix-Johnson says she never made that endorsement and didn't find out about it until after his election.
"I absolutely did not say that," Felix-Johnson maintains. "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, who now lives in Nebraska, says a family friend who was trying to find contact info for her Googled her name and then alerted family members about her ex-husband's claim.
Johnson released the statement last June after the news broke — in the midst of his campaign for state vice chair — that he'd pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1996. He was given an 18-month suspended sentence and ordered to move to Toledo and undergo domestic-violence counseling.
The statement, allegedly from Felix-Johnson, read as follows:
"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.
But Felix-Johnson now asserts, "He wrote it — or someone else did — saying it was me speaking, but it wasn't me." She also says she's contacted state GOP Chair Tom Fetzer about the matter but has gotten no response.
Felix-Johnson first contacted Xpress some months ago, initially requesting that all articles with her name linked to Johnson be removed. After further questioning, Felix-Johnson explained that she wanted the articles removed because she hadn't written or even had any knowledge of her alleged endorsement of Johnson's campaign, and she agreed to go public with this information. Felix-Johnson made these statements (on more than one occasion, more than a month apart) both to this reporter and to then Managing Editor Jon Elliston, both of whom questioned her at length.
After winning the state vice-chair race handily, Johnson resigned as Buncombe County chair and moved to Durham.
Asked on April 30 about the authorship of Felix-Johnson's supposed endorsement, Johnson declined to comment. "I'll have to talk to her; I have no idea about this statement," he told Xpress.
Asked again if Felix-Johnson had written the endorsement, Johnson said: "The statement, in and of itself, I'm not going to answer that. I'm confused as to why this is 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 in fact spoken with Xpress.
Asked if he could produce an e-mail or similar document confirming that his ex-wife had written the disputed statement, Johnson replied: "I'm not showing that; 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 the issue is the validity of a public statement he'd ascribed to 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."
After news of Felix-Johnson's claims was first published on the Xpress Web site April 30, a comment made in Tim Johnson's name said, "I just spoke with my ex-wife and she tells me that she did not make this statement." The commenter also demanded that Xpress retract the story, threatening legal action. At press time, calls to both of them had not been returned. Felix-Johnson had not contacted Xpress to retract her statements, nor had Johnson verified that the Web comment had, in fact, come from him.