State Senate candidate Siobhan Dunnavant’s campaign said Friday that it’s pulling a TV ad that accuses rival Bill Janis of voting to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Virginia colleges.
The decision came after protests from Janis that the ad was unfair.
Dunnavant and Janis are among four Republicans running in a primary Tuesday for the 12th District Senate seat that opened when longtime incumbent Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, announced his retirement.
The controversy stems from a 2003 bill that would have denied in-state rates to those illegally present in the U.S. Janis, a state delegate at the time, supported the measure in a committee but, when the bill came to the floor Jan. 30, he voted against it.
Janis reported to the House clerk that his vote was a mistake, and the House Journal for the following day notes that Janis said his "intent" was to vote for the in-state tuition ban.
Dunnavant began airing a TV ad this week saying "Janis voted to allow illegal students to receive in-state tuition while Virginia students paid more." She also mailed out a flier saying, "Career politician Bill Janis voted with liberals to give in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants."
Janis said he called Dunnavant on Thursday and took issue with the ad.
A spokesman for Dunnavant said the campaign didn’t know before Thursday that Janis had reported his vote was a mistake. "We immediately contacted our media buyer with instructions to take down the ad immediately," Chad Cole, Dunnavant’s campaign manager, said in a written statement to Friday PolitiFact Virginia.
Cole, in an interview, said the ad would be off the air at some point on Friday. The commercial ran repeatedly on late news casts Friday night.
As far as the flier containing the same charge against Janis, Cole said, "They’ve already been sent out, we can’t unsend them."
It’s not unusual for lawmakers to cast mistaken votes by pushing the wrong button on their desks. Delegates are required to report the error to the House clerk before noon the following day to have it officially noted. Since 2007, mistaken votes have been footnoted underneath the original roll call, which can be easily accessed online through the Legislative Information System.
Before 2007, however, it was much harder to learn about mistaken votes. The errors were not listed with the roll call; they were recorded on so-called "gray sheets" in the House Journal that were unavailable online.
Cole said campaign researchers found Janis’ 2003 floor vote online with no qualification attached to it and were unaware that he filed a correction. "Had our researchers seen the gray sheet and brought it to us, which is standard practice when such information is available, we would have decided not to run this particular ad," he said.
Janis said Dunnavant’s campaign should have known to check the House Journal before running the ad. He said it should have been clear that his vote against the in-state tuition ban was an aberration, given that he supported the legislation in committee that year and voted against subsequent amendments by then-Gov. Mark Warner that would have weakened the bill. Warner eventually vetoed the legislation.
Janis also said Dunnavant had access to other votes over the years in which he took a hard line on illegal immigrants. He voted for another bill in 2007 that would have denied them in-state tuition and backed failed measures in 2004, 2008 and 2011 that would have banned them from attending public colleges.
"I’m glad that they’re taking this TV ad down because it’s false and a lie," Janis said. "But I’m disappointed Dr. Dunnavant fails to take responsibility for this ad and blames it on her researchers. At best, her campaign was reckless and irresponsible."
EmaiI and interview with Chad Cole, campaign manager for Dunnavant for Virginia senate, June 4-5, 2015.
Interviews with Bill Janis, state senate candidate, June 4-5, 2015..
Dunnavant for Virginia Senate, TV ad, June 4, 2015.
Dunnavant for Virginia Senate, campaign flier, June 4, 2015.
Interview with Emily Howard, House Journal clerk, June 4, 2015.
Legislative Information System, HB 2339, 2003 session.
LIS, SB 1204, 2007 session.
LIS, HB 156, 2004 session.
LIS, HB 14, 2008 session.
LIS, HB 1465, 2011 session.