A Fredericksburg-area Republican picked for one of the citizen seats on Virginia’s new redistricting commission previously made vulgar or degrading online comments about President Donald Trump’s detractors, calling Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn a “bimbo” and actress Jane Fonda a “b*tch c**t.”
Before the November election, Jose Feliciano Jr., a 52-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran who listed his current job as an agent in the Federal Communications Commission’s public safety bureau, tweeted a photo of a pro-Trump highway caravan and said the only way the president could lose was a “rigged election.”
Screenshots of the tweets were circulated by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which works to advance Democratic interests in redistricting processes throughout the country.
In a statement, the NDRC said Feliciano’s online activity shows he is “unfit to serve” on the commission and questioned why Republicans in the House of Delegates would nominate him to fill one of the four citizen seats reserved for the GOP.
The Mercury could not independently review Feliciano’s Twitter account because it was taken down after he was appointed to the redistricting commission last week. Feliciano said he took the account down Saturday “as a protest to them suspending President Trump.” In an email to the Mercury, Feliciano verified the tweets were his. He said that, in anger, he “used some language I should not have used,” adding what’s “done is done.”
“Looks like other posts are singled out because I am pro Trump, well I am pro Trump,” he said.
Twitter suspended Trump’s account over the president’s role in inspiring the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week by the president’s supporters, violence Feliciano said he fully condemns.
Feliciano was among the 16 nominees for the commission put forward by House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah.
His application included a letter of recommendation from Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, who recently signed on to a letter asking Vice President Mike Pence to overturn Virginia’s 13 Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden based on unfounded fraud suspicions.
House GOP spokesman Garren Shipley declined to comment on Feliciano’s tweets, saying “we don’t comment on redistricting matters.”
Amigo Wade, a legislative staffer who worked with the judges on the process, said the selection committee “will not comment on its decisions regarding the selection of the citizen members.”
The redistricting process hasn’t started yet. The seats on the 16-member commission, approved by voters in November, were just recently filled, with Gilbert and other General Assembly leaders playing a key role in picking which of the more than than 1,200 Virginians who applied were best equipped for the important work of redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional maps in a fair manner.
The eight citizen members were nominated by political leaders in the General Assembly and selected by a panel of retired judges. The other eight seats are reserved for sitting legislators.
Feliciano wasn’t included on the initial shortlist of finalists chosen by the judges, but they added him after realizing their list had no Hispanic members. In his application, Feliciano listed his race as White and Hispanic as his ethnicity.
With eight seats meant to go to Democrats and eight to Republicans, the commission wasn’t designed to be nonpartisan. However, it was generally understood as a way to avoid hyperpartisanship in redistricting.
One of Feliciano’s tweets was directed at the actor Peter Fonda, who made headlines in 2018 for tweeting that Barron Trump, the president’s youngest son, “should be put in a cage with pedophiles,” an apparent response to the controversy over immigrant children being separated from their parents at the southern border. Fonda later apologized for the remark.
In a June 2018 tweet to Fonda, Feliciano said: “you’re a piece of sh*t mother f**ker no different than you b**ch c**t sister!” His post did not use asterisks.
Fonda’s sister is Jane Fonda, an 83-year-old actress and left-wing activist who has sharply criticized Trump.
During the 2018 Winter Olympics, when Vonn failed to win a gold medal after drawing the ire of Trump supporters for saying she wouldn’t visit the White House, Feliciano tweeted to Vonn: “Congratulations great to see that you fell flat on your face, happy losing you losing bimbo.”
On Jan. 5, the day before Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, Feliciano tweeted a video that he suggested showed a police officer giving a “green light” for counter-protesters to “harass and attack Trump supporters.”
In response to a Jan. 5 Trump tweet touting the Jan. 6 rally that devolved into mayhem, Feliciano responded with a photo calling Trump the “GREATEST PRESIDENT IN MODERN DAY HISTORY.”
Felicano said he condemns the violence at the Capitol, calling the events a “complete disgrace.”
“Those criminals put a stain on all the good that has come from the Trump administration, and I hope each and everyone of them is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Feliciano said.
Though the NDRC attempted to portray Feliciano as a conspiracy theorist, some of the posts the group highlighted seem to be fairly typical of online conservative discourse.
For example, the group flagged a Feliciano tweet in which he said former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was hit with the heaviest campaign finance fine in American history. That $375,000 fine has been widely described by news outlets as one of the largest ever.
During the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, when U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said America didn’t “inherit” racism and slavery but instead “our founders and our government carefully created it,” Feliciano responded with a tweet saying the Atlantic slave trade predated America and began with Portugal. He said Kaine should “take a history class.”
“Explain to me how we own the slave trade,” he wrote.
A spokeswoman for the NDRC said Feliciano’s “tone on Twitter alone is disqualifying to serve on the powerful bipartisan redistricting commission.”
“How is Feliciano going to act as a commissioner working in good faith and in the best interest for all Virginians when he shares lies, misogyny and questions America’s involvement with slavery?” said NDRC spokeswoman Molly Mitchell.
Feliciano called himself a “descendant of slaves” and said he “in no way” questioned America’s role in slavery.
“I was only pointing out the fact of where and how slavery originated who started it and how it ended up on American shores,” he said.
Of Gilbert’s 16 nominees to the commission, all but Feliciano were White and non-Hispanic.
Feliciano said he was honored to be picked for the commission and plans to work for “all the people of the Commonwealth both Democrat and Republican.”
“I used intemperate language on social media, like millions of others have,” he said. “I regret my choice of words but it has no bearing on my ability to do the job.”
In his letter of recommendation, Cole called Feliciano “hard worker, a person of integrity, and honor.”
“I am confident he would be impartial and do a great job,” Cole wrote.
Cole’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The commission, which will begin redrawing maps when new U.S. Census date comes in later this year, is scheduled to hold its first meeting by Feb. 1.
UPDATE: The day after this story was published, the Virginia House Democratic Caucus also called for Feliciano’s removal from the commission.
“Mr. Feliciano must be immediately removed from the Commission and Leader Gilbert and Delegate Cole owe Virginians a full explanation on why they believe an individual who denies the legitimacy of our elections is fit to serve on a Commission so crucial to our democracy,” said House Democratic Caucus Executive Director Jaime Reimers. “Virginians deserve answers in order to restore their trust in the selection process.”