LANSING — Two typos in petition language aiming to recall an embattled state lawmaker prompted the state Bureau of Elections to deal a blow to the recall campaign’s efforts.
The bureau ruled Friday that the petitions to recall Rep. Larry Inman, R-Williamsburg, are invalid, said recall campaign Manager Kaitlin Flynn.
“We are deeply disappointed and shocked at this news,” she said.
Petition language cited the federal charges Inman faces, including solicitation of a bribe — his trial begins Tuesday, said Chris Cooke, Inman’s attorney.
Petitions also cited the “diminished capacity” defense Inman asserted, and the more than 80 votes he missed after his indictment.
But petition language differed from the reasons for recall the state Board of Canvassers approved in August, according to a release from the recall campaign. The word, “Right,” was missing from one of the federal charges listed in the petition, and “diminished” was misspelled. Campaign officials blamed a printer error for the difference.
The recall campaign learned of the misspelling during the signature drive and found out about the missing word on Wednesday, according to the release. They were optimistic the typos didn’t change the substance or meaning of the petition language, nor did they result in different reasons than what the Board of Canvassers approved.
But the Bureau of Elections ruled otherwise.
That means rejection of all 13,991 signatures the recall campaign collected, Flynn said.
Gathering those signatures took more than 150 volunteers thousands of hours starting in July 22, and the effort cost the campaign more than $60,000, as previously reported.
The bureau’s ruling is good news for Inman, Cooke said. He argued all along that the recall language was inappropriate and violated Inman’s constitutional right to a presumption of innocence.
“So although the reason they were rejected wasn’t what we argued, we’re happy with the results,” Cooke said.
Flynn said the recall campaign is evaluating its options, although the Bureau of Elections noted in its letter that the deadline to certify ballot language is Jan. 10, 2020.
Inman is accused of seeking campaign contributions in exchange for a “no” vote on a repeal of the state's prevailing wage law, then lying to investigators. Both he and Cooke previously denied the charge argued the texts federal prosecutors cited in evidence are taken out of context.
The lawmaker previously said his “diminished capacity” defense stems from a prescription painkiller addiction that prompted him to seek treatment after his indictment, as previously reported.
State House leaders stripped Inman of his committee assignments and excluded him from Republican caucus meetings. Other lawmakers have repeatedly called on him to resign, but he returned to work in September after missing dozens of votes and despite being barred from his own office.
A judge recently ordered state House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, to testify in Inman’s trial. Chatfield isn’t accused of any wrongdoing and fought the subpoena, but U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker ruled his testimony will be important for the jury’s evaluation.
Cooke said he’s hoping for a “fair hearing and a fair trial” for Inman.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated because of incorrect information provided to the Record-Eagle to correct the name of the state agency that rejected the petitions. The state Bureau of Elections made the call. It has also been updated to correct a reporter's error misidentifying the legislation for which Inman allegedly sought contributions in exchange for a "no" vote. The legislation repealed the state's prevailing wage law. Dec. 2, 2019