A Middletown man's outdoor video security system revealed the theft of campaign literature over the weekend.
State Rep. Kevin Hensley (R-District 9) was out door knocking on Sunday, October 22, 2018, as part of re-election bid. He's running against Democrat Monique Johns.
Hensley told WDEL he hit hundreds of homes Sunday.
"I'm out every day, he said.
Video, provided by Randy Smith, showed Hensley knock on his door and leave a piece of campaign literature. Hensley confirmed it was in fact him in the security footage.
Smith, who wasn't home Sunday, said he never received the literature. That same day, the video at the 0:37 second mark shows a woman in pink, wearing a Monique Johns button, removing a campaign flier from Smith's door and placing another piece of campaign literature within the door frame.
WDEL could not independently confirm it was Johns in the security footage, but the Delaware Democratic Party said it was her in a statement.
"With the Arlo system I can kind of zoom in, it's pretty clear as day," said Smith. "I did talk to a few people in our community, and they did say that they had interactions with [Johns] that day, I mean you can't say 100 percent, it's hard to tell if that is her, but it's sure does look pretty close to her."
When Smith arrived home, he said he only found a Monique Johns pamphlet addressed to his wife, in his door, but admittedly, it was windy that day.
"There was no other pamphlets in the door; I even checked some bushes, the surrounding area, it was kind of windy," he said.
"This is the risk of doing something like this, but there shouldn't need to be a consequence, there shouldn't need to be the chance of being caught, sort of, red-handed to dissuade someone from engaging in these tactics; we know it's wrong, it goes against everything our democracy should be about, and for those reasons alone, our candidate should not be engaging in it," said Jesse Chadderdon, Executive Director of the Delaware Democratic Party, in an interview with WDEL.
Hensley said he became aware of the theft via social media and confirms he did knock on Smith's door Sunday.
"The race overall, really, frankly has been very positive; I pride myself on running a positive campaign; I have every campaign I've run, focusing on the issues, engaging with the voters, hearing what's on their mind, and how I can best effectively represent them in Dover," he said.
The video prompted outrage on social media, garnering hundreds of comments and thousand of shares.
"I wouldn’t vote for number just on principle if your gonna do someone dirty when you don’t think your being watched you can’t be trusted , sad,"
one person commented.
"Definitely not state representative worthy!," said another commenter.
"She’s on her page claiming people steal HER signs 😂. She’s a joke," said another person.
The incumbent said this is the first instance of any kind of theft he's been made aware of in this race, and video of the theft surprised him.
"It's unfortunate, I was quite shocked when I saw the video," he said. "I think a lot of us Delawareans pride ourselves on the 'Delaware Way,' where we tend to not get involved in the degree of negativity that we see in other parts of the country, and I'm surely hopeful that we're going to be able to continue to be positive and focus on the issues that rare important to Delawareans."
Johns didn't return multiple requests for comment, including by telephone, email, text, and Facebook message. Her voicemail was full.
Shortly after WDEL's story was published, through the DelawareDems, Johns issued a statement, admitting her mistake.
"I removed the literature of my opponent's campaign from the door of a voter. It was wrong and I should never have done it," she said in a written statement distributed by the party. "This was a lapse of judgment that I humbly regret. Please forgive me. I won't make any excuses for this action. I have apologized to my opponent, my supporters, and now I apologize to the voters of the 9th Representative District. I work hard to live up to the standards I set for myself and I am disappointed that I fell short in this instance. But I intend to move forward in running a positive campaign that's focused on talking to voters about the real issues facing MOT and Delaware."
Johns has lodged her own complaints on her social media channels about sign theft in the state representative's race.
The same day she was caught on video stealing campaign literature, she posted on social media about sign theft:
She made a similar posts on Sept. 9 on Twitter and Instagram.
They vandalize, tore my billboard down on Rte 301. An individual would have to climb up and tare it down. Bent another road sign. You cannot erased my name from the hearts of the people.☹️ https://t.co/DQHFAtDpMD— @Monique Johns (@MrsDelaware) September 9, 2018
Smith said he's not really involved in politics and has never volunteered or worked on any political campaigns.
"Sorry to say, I'm not very in tune with politics, I lead a busy life with my two soon-to-be three kids, my wife and I have a successful business...I'm not really into politics. I had no idea who the Democrat was and who the Republican was--it really doesn't matter to me--as I watched the video I recognized that somebody was doing something inappropriate. I watched it with my 5-year-old sitting beside me, and that's kind of a hard lesson to teach a 5-year-old at that point in time," he said.
In a statement, Delaware Democratic Party Chairman Erik Raser-Schramm said voters deserve better.
"Without equivocation, we reject these tactics and call on Ms. Johns to join us in apologizing to Rep. Hensley and the voters of the 9th District, and to recommit herself to running the kind of campaign the Delaware Democratic Party demands from its candidates," he said. "Campaigns are auditions for leadership positions, not win-at-all-cost prank wars. Tampering with the signs or campaign materials of an opponent isn't just a bad election strategy - it's bad for our democracy."
Chadderdon reiterated that point.
"We don't condone this behavior whatsoever, and certainly call on all campaigns on both sides of the aisle to knock if off, particularly at this point, with two weeks to go until the election," he said.
The theft of campaign signs and literature happens nearly every election cycle--more than it should--Chadderdon notes, and he said the party takes it seriously.
"We have made this a very significant part of our candidate training; we talk about this with candidates when they in the race about how serious this is, about how we, as a party, will reject it as a tactic at all costs, and how we will not stand and defend anyone who is caught doing it. Unfortunately, that message does not appear to have hit home for everyone, but it is something we prioritize."
"I think it's very clear that this happens sporadically from both sides," he said. "We've seen complaints, we've seen signs gone missing of our candidates and there's an open question on how this happened...it's certainly happens more than I think both parties would care for it to, and it doesn't reflect well on any of us."
While Smith doesn't plan to contact police about the theft, he said he felt the removal of his campaign literature was an invasion of his privacy.
"I felt a little violated, honestly, watching the video," he said. "Just thinking about somebody who just felt the need to come onto my property, completely try to derail what somebody else was attempting to do...without anyone's eyes or watching--or knowing that they were watching--one of the candidates chose to hold a pamphlet and replace it with her own."