KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The race between Republican incumbent Sen. Ryan Silvey and Democratic challenger J. Ranen Bechthold has taken a few interesting turns this election cycle.
Even though Bechthold successfully fended off a lawsuit filed by Silvey, which challenged Bechthold’s residency in Clay County, he still trails by most other metrics like polling, name recognition, party support and fundraising. He has a paltry $1,073 in cash on hand while Silvey has nearly $575,000. Bechthold is also one of only two Democrats in the state thus far this year to take a donation from anti-union megadonor David Humphries, owing to Silvey’s opposition to Right-to-Work legislation.
These might be regular foibles or points of interest in an otherwise normal campaign fight. However, the past few months have been far from ordinary for any political campaign – one that Silvey has called the weirdest election he has ever been a part of in his 11-year history of running for office – as more light has been shed on Bechthold’s history.
The restraining order
In July of 2004, a restraining order was filed against Bechthold by a college ex-girlfriend during his time as a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Bechthold‘s ex-girlfriend, whose name is not released on Case.net, wrote in her initial petition for an order of protection that Bechthold had in April of that year sent her harassing emails, attempted to physically harm her and had stalked her.
She detailed that he had “[broken] into my apartment by force, stole property (checks), papers” and had sent her “harassing statements threatening me about paying for breaking up with him.” She added that he had stalked her on campus, followed her to her car, and driven by her apartment on separate occasions for the better part of seven months.
“That’s an old relationship, a girlfriend that cheated on me back when I was 22, it was one of those college relationships,” Bechthold said. “I was making threatening statements to her, she made allegations, many of them are untrue, but that’s something long ago in the past. Based on my anger over being a cheated on, I made all sorts of outrageous statements to her, which naturally made her feel fearful.”
Bechthold was asked about the incident on KCUR’s Statehouse Blend Missouri program, released online Sunday. He responded that he had been in the wrong against his ex-girlfriend, that she was right to have gotten a restraining order, and urged other men to learn not to treat women poorly.
“Now that I’m older, I think about the way, and we see this with Donald Trump with the way he talks about women, but even myself at that young age, because it’s our culture we say things that are demeaning and disparaging to women, we even feel comfortable making threats,” Bechthold said. “Most men will never act on those threats, but it’s not a proper way to talk to women.
“All men have to wake up and kick off the misogyny that’s been present in our society,” he continued.
The full episode, which features interviews with Bechthold and Silvey can be accessed here.
Silvey was dismayed that the local party had given their support to someone who had displayed this kind of behavior in the past.
“As someone who has a long record of trying to support victims of domestic violence in the Legislature, it’s troubling to me that the Clay County Democratic Party would rally around someone who a judge determined was a threat to an ex-girlfriend,” Silvey said. “These Democratic women who have helped him, who contributed to his campaign, have escorted him in the Gladstone parade… I hope it’s because they don’t know and not because they don’t care.”
The Facebook posts
Bechthold, a U.S. Army veteran who has served since 2010, made several questionable Facebook posts on July 14 that were sexual in nature. Among these were descriptions of the historical diagnosis of hysteria for women, Vlad the Impaler’s torture practices, and a story about President Lyndon B. Johnson exposing himself during an interview, among others.
Bechthold’s current facebook profile has been made private, but The Missouri Times has obtained screenshots of some of the controversial posts. Reader discretion is advised, as these are likely for mature audiences for their content.
Another Facebook post by Bechthold dating Oct. 21, 2015 questioned whether a woman’s sexual consent truly meant consent.
Bechthold said the purpose of these messages was to hold private conversations between friends on historical matters or current hot topics of national debate. He also said that he had privacy settings on his personal Facebook account to ensure that anything of explicit nature stayed on his personal profile page.
“They are explicit matters, but there are explicit things in history,” he said.
Most politicians or seekers of a political office use social media, even their personal pages, as a way to stay in touch with voters or promote their campaigns in a politically correct fashion. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has often attracted criticism for his use of social media with inflammatory statements, though part of his success has also come from his fervor to fight political correctness.
The house call
But perhaps the oddest of the events begins with a series of private Facebook messages that Bechthold sent to Silvey during the appeals process of their lawsuit. Bechthold had reached out to Silvey in the courthouse where the two were litigating and requested to speak with Silvey as a constituent after the trial had ended. Silvey says he was always welcome to speaking with constituents, and Bechthold asked to meet with him on Facebook starting in August. However, Silvey told The Missouri Times that he did not return those initial messages under advisement from his lawyer because the two were parties in litigation.
After Silvey did not return the messages, Bechthold then showed up at Silvey’s residence unannounced Sept. 8.
“So when I didn’t respond, he showed up at my house in person when I was out of town,” Silvey said. “[He] basically stood on my front porch and demanded to see me face-to-face with my wife who had to ask him three times to leave.”
Bechthold said in a post on his official campaign page that he was just knocking doors in the neighborhood.
He added on Statehouse Blend Missouri in a follow-up interview that he did not feel any tension from Silvey’s wife. Silvey said his wife did not see him carrying any campaign literature and that he left the neighborhood without contacting anyone else in the neighborhood.
“That type of behavior is just not appropriate,” Silvey said.
Silvey says this incident gave him a fair bit of trepidation about debating his opponent on Statehouse Blend Missouri. Initially, the program had wanted them to do a dual interview, debate-style show as opposed to the two one-on-one interview format they chose instead for that episode (the same episode linked above in which they asked Bechthold about his restraining order). Silvey said he backed out of the debate format after initially agreeing to do it.
“The fact that he had the restraining order for stalking, the fact that I didn’t respond to him in a private message he just shows up to my house unannounced, and the fact that my wife had asked him three times to leave, I just said, ‘You know what, I don’t feel comfortable sitting down with this guy,’” Silvey said.
Bechthold said he does not believe that Silvey truly felt threatened given that they conversed over Facebook that same day.
“I am aware he said he felt threatened that I came to his door, but I’ve got messages from him that don’t seem to indicate that because the nature of the messages we’re talking about between him and me are about the lawsuit,” Bechthold told The Missouri Times.
Those messages can be read at an accompanying story here.
Silvey did return his messages then after conferring with his lawyers. Silvey requested that they speak in a conference room at Axiom Strategies or another location and that he would have a witness and that Bechthold could have a witness as well. However, Bechthold turned the conversation away from litigation and politics, and toward religion and the nature of public service.
Bechthold shared the messages with the Missouri Times to show that Silvey had messaged him, and Silvey also released the messages after Bechtold did to verify their content had not been edited. Silvey believed that the private conversations should stay private.
Negotiations to meet fell through.