COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A woman with whom an Ohio state lawmaker exchanged sexual text messages has launched a campaign to unseat him and threatened to release more details about their relationship if he doesn’t resign.
The unusual faceoff between Republican Rep. Rick Perales, of Beavercreek, and nurse Jocelyn Smith, of Fairfield, has exploded out of nowhere just weeks before a May 8 primary.
Perales acknowledges exchanging texts with Smith in 2015 that he describes as "flirtatious." He has said they included topless photos of Smith and sexually-tinged messages. The two met when Smith came to Perales as his constituent with an idea for a license plate to raise money for cancer research.
Campaign spokesman Daniel Palmer said Perales previously informed his wife and GOP House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger about the texts. Perales’ campaign says the sexting went on over three months.
Smith has since escalated her claims, alleging that Perales forcibly kissed and choked her as they were leaving their first meeting in public. Perales denies having any physical contact with Smith, including kissing.
Rosenberger’s spokesman Brad Miller said the kissing and choking allegations were new and that Rosenberger is investigating.
Smith’s campaign and claims come as lawmakers across the country face allegations of sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement continues to raise awareness. Some state legislatures, including Ohio’s, have strengthened policies on sexual harassment scandals, including one that prompted an Ohio state senator to resign last year.
Smith’s campaign spokesman, Ralph Wunder, acknowledges that Smith sees her tie-in to the national movements as a way to gain traction against Perales.
"Quite truthfully, running against a guy is a heck of a good way to bring up a grievance about why somebody shouldn’t hold office," he said.
During a news conference earlier this week, ostensibly to launch her campaign, Smith began by kicking out members of the public and then laying out her conservative political platform.
Smith then immediately pivoted to prepared remarks about Perales. She likened him to former President Bill Clinton, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, 1988 presidential candidate Gary Hart and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, politicians who all initially denied inappropriate relationships.
"Professional politicians don’t exactly have the best record for telling the truth when it comes to being confronted with sexual scandals," she said. "The simple fact is Rep. Perales initiated both sexting and physical contact with me that involved kissing, forceful behavior and other behavior."
Smith then threatened to release further details against Perales if he didn’t resign.
Palmer said Perales won’t succumb to Smith’s threats.
"Representative Perales does not want to get involved in this gutter-level politics," he said. "He has served his constituents in an outstanding way. The threatening that she’s going to release text messages is nothing but Jerry Springer-like politics."
Palmer also questioned Smith’s timing.
"This was over three years ago, and the campaign finds it very ironic that it comes out 40 days before the primary election," he said.
Smith offered to take a lie detector test — but only if Perales would. Perales has declined.