Accusations of “ugly politics” crossed between the campaigns of two candidates for the state Senate's District 35 office last week after one of them was arrested on a five-year-old bench warrant.
Stewart Cathey Jr. of Monroe turned himself in to authorities on Thursday, Sept. 24, on a warrant for an unpaid seat belt ticket issued by Monroe police in September 2009. Cathey said he had forgotten about the ticket since he was deployed with the U.S. Army to Afghanistan a little more than week after first receiving the ticket. On Thursday, a Monroe City Court judge informed Cathey he needed to turn himself in and bond out instead of simply paying the fines.
Cathey and state Rep. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro are both running for the Senate seat. Both are Republicans. The Senate district is currently represented by Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe. Kostelka is term-limited and cannot run again, contrary to other media reports.
While Cathey arranged to pay bond, his campaign issued a statement where he accused Fannin of participating in “cutthroat tactics.” Cathey's campaign also circulated accusations that Kostelka, a former district court judge as well as an appellate court judge, had exerted influence at the city court level to force Cathey's arrest.
“It has become apparent to me that my opponents will stop at nothing to protect their candidates and the good ole boy system, even to the point of abusing the justice system,” Cathey said.
Meanwhile, Fannin's campaign released a statement from Kostelka accusing Cathey of turning his arrest into an attempt to generate publicity for his campaign.
“Remember, Cathey called the media and staged this with supporters in tow,” Kostelka said. “It is ugly politics but orchestrated by Cathey.”
Cathey said he had not received any paperwork notifying him of the warrant in six years and had renewed his driver's license and bought cars without any alerts related to the warrant. He said he was not using his military service as “an excuse or a crutch” for not having paid the ticket though he later described his arrest as the “type of treatment” encountered by “service men and women (who) return home from war.”
“What we're seeing today is the ugly side of politics,” Cathey said. “People ask me all the time why I'd want to get involved in something so nasty and underhanded. Ironically, this situation is exactly why I'm running. The career politicians like Jim Fannin will clearly stop at nothing to get back to the good ole boys club in Baton Rouge. We don't need people who will stoop to such cutthroat tactics.”
Cathey claimed Fannin and “his political supporters and advisors” reminded him of the ticket after qualifying and had made it “an issue in this campaign.”
Later that day, Kostelka challenged Cathey's claims that he and Fannin were responsible for Cathey's arrest.
“Obviously, I have no control over Monroe City Court or Judge Lee,” Kostelka said.
Kostelka's statement suggested other traffic violations possibly committed by Cathey. Kostelka said he had heard that Cathey had tickets from Tennessee and in another jurisdiction in this state, and might be driving with a suspended drivers license.
“But I did not know about a Monroe City ticket,” Kostelka said. “No one attacked this young man and no action was taken because there was nothing to gain from this. I don’t understand why the court wouldn’t give him another court date.”