W.Va. lawmaker who resigned over slurs returns to statehouse

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker in West Virginia who resigned after posting an anti-gay slur is set to elude political consequences now that he has won back his seat in the Statehouse.

John Mandt stepped down as a House delegate in the heat of his reelection campaign last October after screenshots emerged of him using the slur in a Facebook Messenger group. It had been the latest in a series of discriminatory remarks the state delegate had made about gay people and Muslims.

Then the conservative small business owner reversed his decision to bow out of the race, going on to win re-election to represent Cabell County. The November election produced a supermajority for Republicans in the legislature after several upset victories over Democrats. Lawmakers open a 60-day session on Feb. 10.

The Republican House speaker, Roger Hanshaw, has changed his stance on Mandt. In October, he had declared bigotry has no place in the state and said Mandt had taken the “the best course of action” in resigning.

Now that Mandt is back, Hanshaw picked him to be vice chair of the committee on small businesses and economic development. He did not say Mandt would face any repercussions.

“I don’t know what I can say, beyond Delegate Mandt does have committee assignments,” Hanshaw said Wednesday.

Mandt also will serve on committees that deal with energy and manufacturing, substance abuse, and senior, children, and family issues.

The owner of a hot dog vendor popular in Huntington, Mandt had a first term marked by controversies.

In 2019, he took to Facebook to attack a vigil honoring the victims of a mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand. “Anything Muslim is going to be associated with Democrats. It’s better to stay away than be associated with them,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Hundreds denounced his comments in a petition calling on Marshall University to cut ties with the restaurant Mandt owns, Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs. The university’s food contractor soon after dropped his business.

“When people get badgered or you are called a bigot, racist or a hater, I am none of those things but those things are said to try and discourage you from what you are doing,” he told WV Metro News at the time.

Screenshots of Mandt using a gay slur in a Facebook Messenger group chat in early October prompted his resignation. He first claimed his comments were fabricated, then said he meant them as a joke.

“I do apologize if anything was put out there that hurt any of you watching this right now,” Mandt told news channel WSAZ at the time. But he said his social media posts shouldn’t preclude him from serving if he won. He finished third among six candidates in a contest that gave the top three vote-getters seats in the 16th District.

He did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Mandt has described himself as “Pro-God.” And he has tangled with advocates for the LGBT community.

He has opposed a measure to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and in the public sphere. Similar protections exist in 22 states and the District of Columbia.

But the proposal, known as the Fairness Act, has picked up more support since Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo co-introduced it in 2019. Republican Gov. Jim Justice said in a candidates’ debate last year that he would sign the bill if it passes.

A delegate, Joshua Higginbotham, announced on Twitter last week he would be the lead sponsor of the legislation.

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This version corrects the final paragraph to show that Joshua Higginbotham is not a freshman delegate.

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