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Social media users in southern Indiana’s House District 69 may have noticed their candidates in a heated and ongoing Twitter beef.

Democratic candidate Chad Harmon has posted excerpts of a transcript from the divorce proceedings of his opponent in Tuesday’s election, Rep. Jim Lucas (above), R-Seymour. The transcript shows Lucas pleaded the Fifth—his constitutional right not to incriminate himself—twice and was found in contempt of court and threatened with jail time.

Lucas, whose use of social media has stirred controversy during his 10 years as a state legislator, has used Twitter to question Harmon’s legal residency in the House district, a requirement for candidates to be on the ballot.

The hearing transcript

The night of Sept. 20, Harmon, an engineer and global supply chain professional, according to his campaign website, was sent an anonymous email with images of a transcript from a 2020 hearing in which Lucas testified under oath. (A little over an hour later, the account sent the same email to The Statehouse File.)

Harmon told The Statehouse File he went to the Bartholomew Circuit Court two days later and had the transcript printed for him.

On Sept. 22, Harmon tweeted the following, along with a picture of the transcript:

“Hey, remember that one time … way back in May 2020, when the sitting State Representative for Indiana House District 69 was ordered to serve 15 days in jail?

“Classic Jim Lucas.”

The transcript, which The Statehouse File also obtained, reveals Lucas was found in contempt for “failure to comply with a court order” by not paying utilities for the residence where his estranged wife lived. Lucas, however, was able to “purge that contempt,” as the Bartholomew County Circuit Court judge put it, by reimbursing his estranged wife, who paid the utilities bill. Lucas told The Statehouse File he did so on May 29, the same day.

Lucas did not publicly respond on Twitter to the post. Nor did he respond to another tweet from Harmon that day:

“I got my trusty abacus out counting up the number of times my opponent had to plead the fifth amendment so he wouldn’t confess to illegal activities during his divorce proceedings in 2020-21.

“Model Representative, that one.”

This was in reference to the two times Lucas chose to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment during the divorce proceeding.

The first was when Lucas’ estranged wife’s lawyer, Thomas Lantz, asked Lucas how he paid an office manager whom Lantz didn’t see on his payroll accounts. Lucas replied, “We pay her comp time and some cash.”

After asking Lucas if that’s against the law, Lantz repeated himself: “You pay her cash in violation of federal and state law, do you not?”

The judge, Kelly Benjamin, reminded Lucas he had the right to remain silent, and he pleaded the Fifth.

Lucas chose to remain silent for a second time when Lantz asked if Lucas went to Michigan to buy marijuana.

“It goes to show the kind of person he is,” Harmon said of why he has shared information in the transcript.

But Lucas criticized Harmon’s repeated use of the transcript, asking, “Should that be the foundation of your campaign?”

Prior to Harmon’s acquisition of the transcript, the lone Twitter interaction between him and Lucas seems to have occurred on Sept. 9, when Lucas responded to a Harmon tweet about him by asking, “Do you meet the legal residential requirements of having lived in the district for one year, per IC 3-8-1-14? Why are you intentionally misleading and lying to the public?”

Harmon said he began renting a residence in the district in September 2021 and, in March 2022, moved into his current home.

On Oct. 5, within a four-hour time span, Harmon tweeted about or in response to Lucas over a dozen times, including a reference to Lucas’ adult children.

Lucas, who was less prolific in his number of tweets that day, tweeted that mentioning his kids was “seriously sick and twisted.”

“They grew up with you as a father. They’ll be fine,” Harmon retorted three minutes later.

In an interview with The Statehouse File, Lucas said, “Harmon, again, just being the vile, garbage, despicable human being that he is, has nothing other than just trying to insult me, bringing my family into this, and just giving people talking points without ever revealing any details. He’s not a serious candidate.”

Out from behind the screen

According to Lucas, the two have met in person twice: at an Oct. 6 debate in Seymour and on Oct. 28 when Harmon confronted Lucas at The Awning Guy—Lucas’ business.

On the stage in the Seymour High School auditorium, the two discussed policy in a way they had not on Twitter. The topics ranged from school choice to transgender athletes to the state and national constitutions.

The social media platform still informed some of the debate, however, and at points, the two ways of communicating mirrored each other.

At the debate, in response to a question from Lucas, Harmon justified tweeting about Lucas’ children because he was “standing up for them”—and because a Twitter user posted a selfie from outside Harmon’s house. Harmon claims the user was a supporter of Lucas. The Statehouse File was unable to verify the picture as Harmon didn’t have the photo and said the account was permanently suspended.

Both behind and in front of the screen, Harmon has seemed to be more confrontational—which is typical for the opponent of an incumbent in an election, according to research.

This isn’t to say Lucas doesn’t get in his own shots. Facebook seems to be more of an outlet for him than Twitter, with many of his attacks, including a meme about Harmon’s posture at the debate, originating there.

Lucas’ Facebook posts have also caused controversy in the past. In May 2020, less than three weeks before the divorce proceeding that was transcribed, Lucas posted a meme of Black children dancing with the text, “We gon’ get free money!” It was criticized as racist but Lucas defended the meme at the time, telling The Indianapolis Star, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

This summer, Lucas asked on Facebook, in reference to a mass shooting May 24 at a Texas elementary school, “Was the Uvalde school shooting allowed to happen?” and told The Statehouse File it could have been a false flag operation “to come after our gun rights.”

He also posted a quote regarding the “Big Lie”—a phrase Adolf Hitler used to accuse Jews of “discredit[ing] the Germans’ activities during World War I,” according to the Jewish Virtual Library. The quote is credited to Nazi Joseph Goebbels but is likely misattributed.

(“Big Lie” also has been used to describe former president Donald Trump’s insistence that he won the 2020 election, while Lucas “appeared to be referencing the federal government’s reaction to COVID-19 and vaccines,” according to The Star.)

As noted by WTHR, Harmon tweeted a screenshot of the post, saying Lucas changed his cover photo to a picture of the quote. “This is a sitting Indiana State Representative quoting a Nazi,” the tweet said.

“I think 90% of what I tweet is just his own stuff, or just pointing out this is what he just tweeted,” Harmon told The Statehouse File. “It’s not a whole lot of commentary on my part.”

Their second face-to-face encounter came about because there was a picture posted on a Twitter account—not belonging to Lucas—of children at an event with a person in drag. It was edited to have Harmon’s daughter’s face superimposed on one of the children in the photo.

Harmon asked Lucas, both on social media and in person, to have the picture taken down.

Adding the caveat that Harmon “was the first one to bring children into this campaign,” Lucas tweeted that “children are absolutely off limits.”

Lucas said he told Harmon in person that he had no control over the photo’s existence. The photo has since been deleted.

Moving forward amid reflection

Much research has been done on the negative impact of social media and conversing—or attacking—online.

A 2020 study in Current Opinion in Psychology found two issues with giving opinions through text: It’s harder to evaluate others’ “thoughts and feelings,” and a person presenting what they think through text will be seen as “less mentally capable” than if the person’s opinion was presented verbally.

There’s also research on the potential impact of politicians feuding via social media.

“Exposure to incivility between politicians has been associated with the public’s dissatisfaction with political institutions and negative attitudes toward politicians,” according to The Dynamics of Political Incivility on Twitter.

It may be hard for politicians to hold back, however, considering what’s thrown their way.

“Between 15 and 20% of tweets [directed to members of the U.S. Congress] every day meet our definition of incivility,” said the study.

Nevertheless, Harmon said he regrets some of his actions on Twitter.

“Looking back on it, I just wish I wouldn’t have brought kids into it at all,” Harmon said.

He said there’s other information in the transcript he’s not going to post about, saying, “I’m just kind of tired of all the negative stuff that’s up so, you know, I probably won’t be putting more out.”

Midmorning on Halloween, Harmon told his followers that he had even gone so far as to block Lucas, saying he “is just a distraction.”

This seems to no longer be the case, though. Harmon, two days later, responded to a Lucas tweet saying, “I predict that Liberal policies will prompt the 2nd Coming of Christ!”

Lucas also reflected on his time spent on Twitter.

“You can get your message out there but it’s—unless it changes—it’s not one I’m probably going to continue to use because it is just such a cesspool,” Lucas said. “I recently posted on Facebook that I thought Twitter was the equivalent of a group of strangers knife fighting in a portable toilet, floating down a flaming river of crap.”

“I love being disagreed with, but when people start, you know, getting in the gutter and throwing up personal attacks … I guess one of my biggest weaknesses is that I push back.”

Jack Sells is a reporter at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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