A Vigo County Democratic precinct committeeman plans to petition for the party secretary’s removal after he allegedly supported several party opponents.

Committeeman Chris Gambill said Friday that he intends on petitioning the party for the removal of Mike Ellis, secretary of the county Democrat Central Committee. He alleges that Ellis has worked on behalf of Republican candidates in the past several elections, including mayor-elect Duke Bennett. Ellis wrote a letter to the editor of the Tribune-Star published Wednesday in which he encourages Mayor Kevin Burke, a Democrat, to abandon his challenge to the mayoral race results on the grounds of Bennett’s eligibility for candidacy.

Gambill then wrote a letter published Thursday that states that while Ellis has the right to support and work for any candidate, if he chooses to support the Republican Party he should immediately resign his position with the Democratic Party.

Ellis introduced his letter and signed the correspondence by stating his position with the local Democratic Party. Gambill in his letter calls for Ellis to resign “or be removed by a vote of” Democratic Party officeholders.

“… I guess the straw that broke the camel’s back was his letter to the editor, inferring some sort of authorization from the Democratic Party,” Gambill said Friday.

But Ellis said that he just included his name and his position in his letter.

“Nowhere in the letter does it say I’m speaking on behalf of the Democratic Party,” Ellis said. He said he has no plans to resign.

Gambill’s letter alleges that Ellis worked on behalf of Bennett and Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt, a Republican. But Ellis said Friday that he was not a Democrat who worked on the campaigns of either Bennett or Modesitt, though he did say that he believed they would be respectable people in their respective elected offices.

“I think part of being involved in the party is to try to … be fair with the” opposition, Ellis said, “and I [believe] in this particular instance, their party put up respectable candidates.”

He added that his family members, not himself, put up signs backing the Republican candidates, and that he did not publicly state his opinions regarding the GOP hopefuls.

Joe Etling, chairman of the Vigo County Democratic Party, said that he talked with Ellis to inform him of the pending interest in a petition. During a discussion, Etling said Ellis told him: “‘I busted my ass for Terry Modesitt and I busted my ass for Duke Bennett.’"

“I guess you would have to interpret what ‘busting your ass’ means,” Etling said, “but that would indicate support for Republican candidates and working on their behalf.”

Ellis said Friday that while he did say that to Etling, he meant only that he didn’t work for Burke or former prosecutor candidate Sarah Mullican because he “did not feel either of them was the better candidate in the election.”

Ellis also said that Democratic Party officials have publicly supported Republican candidates in the past, such as Vigo Superior Court Division 1 Judge Mike Eldred.

“They may want to pretend that they did not support Mike Eldred,” Ellis said, “but I’m not going to pretend that.”

But the only time that might have occurred was when Eldred ran unopposed, Gambill said.

“It just doesn’t happen,” Gambill said of Democrats publicly supporting the GOP. “Not if they want to stay a Democrat.”

Modesitt said that Ellis’ family supported him, although Ellis was not as public.

“He pretty much told me that he couldn’t just openly support me,” Modesitt said, “but I felt like he was for me.”

Etling said that a petition would need to be signed by one-third of the committee members or filed by the party chairman. A hearing would then be conducted, Etling said, before the committee members in attendance vote on the removal.

Etling believes a two-thirds vote was needed for someone to be removed from his position.

Ellis said that he was not the only Democratic Party official that shared his opinion of Burke’s situation. He said that he received responses from about a half-dozen party officials who agreed with him.

City Councilwoman Shelva “Butch” Warner, D-5th, call the Tribune-Star Friday and said that Ellis was entitled to his opinion, and she wished “the Democrats would quit fighting here.”

Mayor-elect Bennett defeated Burke by 107 votes, less than 1 percent of all ballots cast in the race earlier this month.

“People’s feelings about [Gambill’s] letter and my letter will probably draw closely to their feelings about the outcome of the election,” Ellis said.

Austin Arceo can be reached at (812) 231-4214 or austin.arceo@tribstar.com.

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