Tom O’Dell Smith, the Republican candidate for the 86th district state representative, made a Facebook post on Wednesday in response to our “You Asked” article that was published Tuesday detailing the issue of his felony conviction and eligibility for public office.
Smith posted an official government document that exonerated him from his felony and thus makes him eligible to run for office.
The Times-Tribune had earlier requested the document – a Governor’s civil rights restoration proclamation — from the Secretary of State’s Office as well as other state and federal departments, and all reported no such documentation could be found.
In an attempt to give Smith the opportunity to respond to the question, a reporter had also reached out to Smith and a member of his campaign team multiple times, noting that we wanted to talk about the 1990 case.
In Smith’s Facebook post he said he gave The Times-Tribune an interview before the election and “the writer decided not to print it, but instead printed about a 30-year old event in my life that I went through.”
He later added that “after what took place in their first article, I have no plans on any further communication.”
The Times-Tribune did print the article he is referring to, in the June 16 edition of the newspaper - “Tom O’Dell Smith feels he could hit the ground running with his years of experience”.
That article was Smith’s responses to a standard set of questions that we asked each candidate.
We wanted to give Smith a fair opportunity to address his platform and qualifications, as we did each candidate, without mention of his past if he didn’t want to address it.
Smith’s previous felony conviction, though, needed to be addressed.
We wanted to do an article about individuals convicted of crimes and restoration of their voting rights and/or their eligibility to run for office.
The article was going to mention other candidates running for office who currently have charges against them.
Since those candidates have not been convicted, their court proceedings are still occurring, and neither were on the primary ballot, we focused on the candidate that had been convicted: Smith.
The Times-Tribune reached out to Smith telling him that we wanted to talk about the case in the 1990s, to which we never received a response.
After we printed that article “State rep. candidate was previously charged with extortion while in office” on June 20, which was the second article we had written about Smith, our readers asked us how he was able to run for office after his conviction. We started our search for the answer.
“You Asked” documented the offices and departments we contacted trying to search for the answer, which included the Secretary of State’s Office. Eventually, that office was able to locate the civil rights proclamation after The Times-Tribune provided a copy of the document Smith shared on his Facebook page.
When I saw Smith’s Facebook post on Thursday, I commented on his page and included the link to the first story we ran on June 16 — the one that Smith said we did not print — in hopes that we could address the miscommunication.
His daughter, Ashlee Valentine, said they did see the first story online, but not in the print newspaper. I explained it had run in the June 16 edition.
She described our second article was a “hit” piece. Again we had reached out to Smith to give him a chance to respond to questions about the case prior to running that second article, but he did not respond.
In the midst of communicating with Valentine in the comment section of Smith’s Facebook post, my comment was deleted. I reposted another comment with the link to the first article again and was blocked from his Facebook page after that so I can no longer see the post or where it was shared.
The Times-Tribune has now posted a story with the civil rights proclamation information after we were able to confirm it Thursday.
We have been transparent in our ongoing coverage of this story. I hope that Smith will address his soon-to-be constituents through our newspaper and will respond to our attempts to communicate in the future.