Election Board allows Panhandle challenger to proceed

  • House District 61
    House District 61
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The June 30 primary ballot for a Panhandle legislative seat will feature a first-term lawmaker vying for re-election against a Republican opponent who lives in Oklahoma but openly admits that he spends most nights in Colorado.

The State Election Board examined in depth the candidacy of Republican Kenneth Robert Tapp, 33, a handyman who lists a rural Boise City address in Cimarron County. He filed against incumbent Republican Rep. Kenton Patzkowsky, 62, a farmer from rural Balko, in Beaver County.

Both are competing to represent state House District 61, which encompasses Cimarron, Texas, Beaver, Ellis and Harper counties plus a portion of Woodward County. The Election Board heard from witnesses in the convoluted case for two hours and 45 minutes, and reviewed several affidavits and other documents, before voting 3-0 to allow Tapp’s candidacy to proceed. 

CHALLENGER CLAIMS HE LIVES IN OKLAHOMA

Tapp lists a Highway Contract Route (HCR) address near Boise City. He provided the State Election Board with photocopies of his Oklahoma driver’s license and an Oklahoma tax return which bear that same address.

Tapp said he works for Paul Wells, a Cimarron County rancher who lives near Boise City; in an affidavit filed with the Election Board, Wells wrote that he is Tapp’s supervisor and employer. In a phone conversation with the Election Board, Wells said Tapp tends to his cows, builds fence, “anything I need him to do.” Wells said Tapp “some- times works for me, sometimes for his dad,” who has a ranch in Cimarron County.

Oklahoma game warden Rusty Menefee and Baca County, Colo., Commissioner Shiloh Freed both testified that so far as they know, Tapp works at the Bluebonnet Café in Boise City. Tapp, though, told the State Election Board, “I haven’t worked at the Bluebonnet in over a year.”

Tapp said he is a “conservative” Republican Party precinct chairman and has been since 2017. He described himself in a Feb. 19 Facebook post as an “OKGOP activist”.

The candidate has been registered to vote in Boise City for 15 years, records show; he provided a photocopy of his Oklahoma voter registration card issued in 2005. In addition, the Cimarron County Election Board confirmed for the Ledger that Tapp has voted in that 

Panhandle county in the past four years.

OTHERS SAY HE LIVES IN RURAL COLORADO

However, Menefee, Freed, and two Cimarron County farmers/ranchers all claimed that Tapp spends most of his time at Campo, in Baca County in southeastern Colorado, where his father rents a house. 

When asked by State Election Board member Heather Cline whether he has ever voted in or filed a tax return in Colorado, Tapp, testifying under oath, replied “no”. The Baca County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, which coordinates elections there, informed the Ledger that Tapp is not a registered voter in that Colorado county.

Menefee, the game warden who has a house in Boise City, told the State Election Board that he knows Tapp because, “I was stationed in Cimarron County for 19 years.” (Menefee currently is assigned to Woodward by the state Department of Wildlife Conservation and lives in Dewey County.)

Although Cimarron County encompasses 1,841 square miles, it had a population of just 2,153 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“When you live in a rural area” like that, Menefee said, “You know everybody.”

Menefee said his duties frequently required him to travel into Colorado, and he often saw Tapp’s pickup parked at the rent house in Campo. “Quite regularly ... I would see his pickup parked there early in the morning and late in the evening.”

Several photos Tapp posted on his Facebook page were taken in Colorado, Menefee said.

One such picture, dated Nov. 1, 2019, showed Tapp wearing a cowboy hat, his right hand resting on the grip of a pistol in a holster buckled around his waist and a rifle slung barrel down over his left shoulder. That photo, introduced as evidence in the Election Board case, has since been removed from Tapp’s Facebook page. 

Menefee told the board that he has “never seen” Tapp hunting or fishing in Oklahoma. If Tapp applied for an in-state Oklahoma hunting license, “I would request investigation of said license and would recommend that he be issued a non-resident hunting license,” Menefee wrote in an affidavit submitted to the Election Board.

Baca County Commissioner Freed, of Springfield, Colo., testified that recently he spoke to the owner of the Campo, Colo., rent house 

“and he said Tapp lives there,” and Freed said talked to several other people who also confirmed that the candidate lives there. Additionally, the house in Campo is “on a road that I have to maintain,” and therefore he considers Tapp to be one of his constituents.

Alan Shields, a farmer/ rancher who lives in rural Boise City, and Ted Embry, who identified himself as a Cimarron County farmer, rancher and contractor, both submitted affidavits in which they asserted that Tapp lives in the house at Campo.

CANDIDATE ADMITS HE SPENDS MOST NIGHTS IN COLORADO

Kenneth Robert Tapp, though, said that although he spends most of his nights there, he does not rent the house in Colorado. Instead, it’s leased by his father, Robert E. Tapp Jr., who owns a ranch in Cimarron County. “Kenny Bob” Tapp said he pays the electric bill at the rent house, because he spends so much time there.

“Our border ranch rents a house just across the state line for our business due to a housing shortage in my area,” Tapp wrote on Facebook after learning of Patzkowsky’s challenge to his candidacy.

However, in their affidavits Shields and Embry asserted that the Colorado house “is used primarily as a residence; any use for business purposes is incidental to its use as a residence.” Furthermore, Shields wrote, “There does not exist a housing shortage in Cimarron County, Oklahoma.” 

A map introduced into evidence in the candidacy challenge shows that the distance between Boise City, Okla., and the house in Campo, Colo., is 23 miles.

At one point Tapp said, “We’re 19 or 20 miles from Boise City,” and also said that the distance between his Boise City residence and the rent house in Campo is “four to five miles.”

Tapp testified that he spends most nights in the Campo house “to get out of my dad’s hair ... to let him have his space.” It was unclear whether the senior Tapp has a house on his ranch or whether he lives in his son’s house.

Kenneth Robert Tapp initially said he sleeps in the Colorado house five nights a week. In response to a question from Ms. Cline, Tapp estimated the percentage of time he stays overnight in Campo at “85% to 90%.”

When Oklahoma City attorney Anthony J. Ferate asked Tapp’s wife, Rachel Watts Tapp, whether she would agree with her husband’s estimate, she replied, “I couldn’t say for sure. I don’t really know.”

Tapp junior said he keeps clothes “at both places” and his guns are kept at both, “but most up at the rent house in Colorado.”

As for living in two houses, rancher Wells said that’s not unusual in the Panhandle. “I live in Texas sometimes and sometimes in Oklahoma,” he said.

But Ferate, representing Patzkowsky, said, “I don’t know many folks who rent two homes.”