Police report filed, candidates spar over ads in hot Ohio House race

Marc Kovac
 
| The Columbus Dispatch

A Republican candidate for the Ohio House filed a police report this week alleging telecommunications harassment by the spouse of the Democratic incumbent in a closely watched race for a district representing northwestern Franklin County.

Mehek Cooke, an attorney who worked in former Gov. John Kasich’s administration and who is running in her first election, said she informed Columbus Police on Monday that she received multiple messages — she perceived at least one to be threatening — from state Rep. Beth Liston’s husband, Denver.

“It is unprecedented and inappropriate for my opponent’s husband to contact me and my team 10 times with emails, social media messages and calls after I repeatedly asked him to stop,” Cooke said. “His harassment started last week and each time he contacted me his aggressiveness escalated.”

But Liston called the allegations a political stunt for publicity. And in a statement to The Dispatch, Denver Liston said his wife “has been attacked viciously in a series of lying, deceptive ads … I wish (Cooke) would do the decent, honorable thing and pull down these lying ads immediately. That’s what I asked her to do for my family and for my children.”

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The back-and-forth is illustrative of just how heated the race for the 21st House District seat has become, with Republicans attempting to retake a seat flipped by Democrats two years ago. Voters in the district have received mailed and other attack ads from both sides.

The Listons take issue with statements made in campaign ads alleging the lawmaker wants to “defund or disarm the police.” One ad notes that that Liston signed a pledge with a national group that included support to “improve public safety by reinvesting policing savings in community based prevention programs … Communities are safest when all residents have access to education, jobs and opportunities to build their lives — higher education and employment levels are associated with lower crime rates. Police funding, on the other hand, has been shown to have no connection to crime rates.”

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Ads also reference a letter from Ohio House Democrats in June urging Gov. Mike DeWine to ban the use of tear gas by police departments.

Liston said she’s not advocating for defunding law enforcement: “We need to invest in people and education and public health. It has nothing to do with defunding the police.”

She added, “Tear gas has been shown to increase respiratory problems and cause adverse health outcomes. When you’re talking about an uncontrolled respiratory pandemic, it’s dangerous for people.”

In messages to Cooke and her campaign, Denver Liston wrote that the ads were putting his family in danger. He added that his wife “does not want to defund or disarm the police. You are making that up. How do you sleep at night? Maybe you are one of those folks that thinks she eats babies.”

In separate posts to the executive chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party , he wrote, “I am assuming you are not a coward. What’s your address?” and “Do you think people should be accountable to their lies? Are you brave enough to reply?”

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Cooke said she asked Denver Liston multiple times to discontinue the messages, writing in response to one email, “I consider your most recent email to me to be a threat. Please stop contacting me.”

Cooke said she is not yet pursuing criminal charges. She said of the police report on the matter, “Given the political violence we see today we have to take harassment and implied threats seriously. This is harassment plain and simple … I just want Denver Liston to stop, and he should issue an apology to me and my team.”

mkovac@dispatch.com

@OhioCapitalBlog

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