Government & Politics

After emotional abuse allegations, Dems pull support from deaf Kansas House candidate

Three women are accusing a Democratic candidate for the Kansas House of emotional abuse, with one woman alleging the candidate once threatened to burn down a tent with her young child sleeping inside.

Democrats have pulled their support for Chris Haulmark because of the allegations. Haulmark, who is seeking to be the first deaf person elected as a state legislator, is running for a seat traditionally held by Republicans in Olathe.

Haulmark has posted responses to social media acknowledging mistakes in prior relationships, and has said he has gone to therapy. But, in a response to The Star on Tuesday, he denied many of the accusations and blamed organized opposition to his campaign for some of the complaints.

Both the state party and the Kansas House Democrats said in a joint statement to The Star that the allegations are “deeply troubling.”

“This pattern of behavior disqualifies Haulmark from being a standard bearer for the Democratic Party,” the statement said.

The Democrats added that voters in House district 15 “should take these reports into consideration when voting this November.”

If Haulmark wins, he would be the first deaf legislator — at the state or national level — in U.S. history, according to the National Association of the Deaf.

Even if he wished to be removed, under state law Haulmark must remain on the ballot, where he is challenging Republican John Toplikar.

After weeks of allegations circulating on Facebook, often through sign language videos, Haulmark appeared to vaguely respond to the concerns in a social media post Friday.

Haulmark said he is “far from perfect.”

And he admits in the post that “I haven’t always been the best boyfriend, husband, co-worker, or friend. Some of the voices that are now public helped me realize this. In turn, I chose to go to therapy for many years and work on those things to make me a better friend, boyfriend, co-worker, and possibly future husband.”

“I’ve made mistakes, I’ve said things I regret, I’ve done some things that I am not proud of... Some might say that would disqualify me from running for office. I say it makes me a better representative to those in my district.”

The Star contacted three of the woman alleging abuse and received their permission to share their stories. The women had earlier posted videos to Facebook in sign language. Other women also have publicly shared complaints and concerns.

In a statement to The Star on Tuesday, Haulmark challenged many of the allegations.

One woman, Tonia Jimmerson, detailed the alleged abuse in a lengthy video posted to Facebook. She said she dated Haulmark for three years, from 2013 to 2015.

“During this time, I experienced financial abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse,” Jimmerson said in sign language on the video, which included a written transcript.

On one occasion, Jimmerson remembers Haulmark threatening to leave her and her children “abandoned at a campground in Glacier National Park in Montana.”

“I tried valiantly to rescue my SUV from him and was almost run over in the process,” Jimmerson said. “He then threatened to burn down the tent that my youngest daughter was sleeping in, all while the other four kids were watching.”

Haulmark said he recalled an argument with Jimmerson where he said “I will just throw the tent into the fire then,” although he contends it was not a threat made at any children or a threat to harm anyone.

“This was simply an exaggerated comment to end an argument,” Haulmark said.

Jimmerson also alleged Haulmark threatened her with a gun at a different time.

“While we were arguing, I knew he never would, but I feared making him so upset that he actually one day would use it,” Jimmerson said. “I feared for my safety as well as that of my kids.”

Haulmark responded, “I am not aware of any situation where I threatened anyone with a gun.”

On Tuesday, Haulmark also pointed out that Jimmerson had endorsed him for Congress in September 2017. She responded Tuesday that she has changed her mind and no longer endorses him for public office.

Another woman, Candy Villesca, said she was roommates with Haulmark in 2011 and 2013. She said she was emotionally and mentally abused by him. She said he was manipulative, and even convinced her that she had mental problems. She went to a mental hospital and was told there was nothing wrong with her.

“At that point I realized that he had brainwashed me to think that all of our situations were my fault,” Villesca said in a sign language video that was translated for The Star.

“Chris should not be in the kind of role he’s running for, with those type of habits of hurting women.”

Another accusation pertains to a financial transaction in 2017. Haulmark had a $1,100 loan from his ex-roommate Jennifer Carlino in Olathe to pay for his congressional campaign candidate filing fee.

He did not pay her back and she sued him in June 2018 in small claims court in Johnson County. He repaid her through mediation and the case was dismissed on Aug. 27.

In an interview with The Star, through a translator, Carlino said Haulmark was a tenant and roommate in her home from April 2017 through January 2018. She said he borrowed the money from her in May 2017 and she finally had to sue him in June 2018 to get paid back.

She said Haulmark was also controlling and manipulative while he lived in her home and he finally moved out Jan. 31, 2018.

“He has threatened me into silence if I ever said something,” Carlino said in a sign language video posted on Facebook that included a written transcript. “He even confessed to me that he is very capable of taking revenge on people if he didn’t get what he wanted.”

Haulmark responded that Carlino had given him until July 1 to pay her back and that he sent a certified check with full payment, which she received June 13, one day after she had filed her small claims complaint. He said he was “dumbfounded” by the allegation of financial abuse, and noted that Carlino had offered to let him stay longer in the house, but he chose to move out.

When they denounced Haulmark, the Democrats said they will not be investing any resources in the race.

Haulmark said the Democrats had not reached out to him or his campaign before their decision, which he said was “reached prematurely and without merit.”

“Given the political climate, it’s understandable that entities like them want to distance themselves from a ‘scandal,’ however, it’s still disappointing,” he said. “After talking with several constituents in the district, we feel that I am still the stronger and better candidate to represent them. Their support has been very uplifting.”

In his remarks to The Star, Haulmark did briefly detail that he was arrested in 2010.

“I believe the allegation was assault,” Haulmark said. “I didn’t assault anyone. There were no Sign Language interpreters present during the arrest or the police station. I was told the accusations were false and then dropped by the prosecution.”

After The Star first posted this story online Tuesday, Haulmark responded on Facebook and told his supporters he was earlier diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

“Given the Republican opponent I am facing and how I feel he would be a detriment to our district, I am staying the course and fighting for your vote,” Haulmark said.

He has been endorsed by MainPAC, the political arm of the MainStream Coalition, and the progressive group Run For Something.

Haulmark accused his critics of orchestrating their opposition with the Republicans, but those who shared information with The Star denied they were cooperating or working in conjunction with the Republicans.

Haulmark, who had earlier abandoned a run for the 3rd congressional district U.S. House seat, ran unopposed in the August Democratic primary. He endorsed Democrat Sharice Davids in her run for Congress when he left the race. His endorsement of Davids was the first announced by her campaign, according to a March statement.

“Chris is such a passionate and effective activist for his community,” Davids said in the March statement. “I am honored that he would trust me to represent his voice in Congress and I am so proud to have his endorsement.”

The Davids campaign said Tuesday she no longer supports Haulmark’s campaign.

“We are deeply disappointed to learn of disturbing allegations regarding Chris Haulmark,” Davids spokeswoman Allison Teixeira Sulier said in an email. “We support the victims in coming forward and believe they should be heard. This behavior has no place in our society and our elected officials and candidates must be held accountable for their actions.”

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