Long time Democratic State Representative Harold Dutton was forced into a runoff Tuesday night, but a ghost candidate may have helped make that happen.
Dutton, who has long represented House District 142 in northeast Houston, already faced a formidable challenger in Houston City Council Member Jerry Davis. However, the only female name on the ballot is what’s raising eyebrows.
“When you’re leading, you’re never at a disadvantage,” said Dutton, “But I think there are a lot of questions about what happened in this election.
According to the Harris County Clerk’s election records, the third place finisher in the race is a woman named Natasha D. Ruiz. She received 2,597 votes, or just 20% of the votes. Dutton finished first with 45% and Davis made it into the runoff with 25%.
“We have never seen them, we never talked to them, they never showed up, they never had a sign. They don’t seem to be a real person,” said Dutton.
Davis didn’t disagree with Dutton’s assessment.
“I ran my race, I saw her name, Ms. Natasha Ruiz,” said Davis. “I have not had an opportunity to meet her, or see her at any of the events. No signs in the yard, nothing.”
ABC13 found a campaign treasurer filing document with the Texas Ethics Commission. On the document, the candidate’s name was listed as Natasha Demming Ruiz. The campaign treasurer is listed as Hector Riveria.
Riveria’s phone number went unanswered. However, when we called Ruiz, a woman picked up. Identifying herself as Natasha Demming, she told us she lives in Colorado and is a truck driver.
Demming said she has not lived in Houston for years. She is registered to vote at her elderly mother’s home. Demming said she has no idea why anyone would sign her up to run for office.
Dutton, who said he has already hired a private investigator to look into Ruiz’s candidacy issue, told the Tribune that questions about it were first brought to his attention a few weeks ago, when an anonymous letter sent to his law office pointed out discrepancies between Ruiz and a “Natasha Nicole Demming.”
A copy of Demming’s voter registration record with Harris County was attached and included her address and phone number, which matched the paperwork Ruiz filed with the Harris County Democratic Party in December, though Ruiz wrote on the candidate filing that her full name was “Natasha Demming Ruiz” and her ballot name was “Natasha Ruiz.” Ruiz also listed her occupation as a teacher.
The address and phone number used by Ruiz on her candidate filing also matched a campaign treasurer appointment form filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. The phone number for Ruiz’s campaign treasurer had been disconnected when called Thursday.
Ruiz’s candidate filing paperwork, which was reviewed by the Tribune, was notarized by Marc Malacoff, who works for the local party. DJ Ybarra, executive director for the Harris County Democratic Party, said that Ruiz showed a Texas driver’s license with an expiration date as her form of photo ID when submitting that paperwork.
So either someone used a fake ID to impersonate this Natasha Demming Ruiz person, or it was her and she’s not being truthful about it now. Both are crazy, and deserve some kind of investigation to find out what happened. Candidates who file for an office and then basically disappear are hardly unheard of – I feel like nearly all of the multi-candidate City Council races last year featured at least one such person, and anyone who’s been a Democrat in Texas for more than five minutes has been saying “Yeah, like Gene Kelly” since I started typing this sentence – but this is next level. I would certainly like to know what the real explanation is here. The Chron has more.