UPDATED: A registered sex offender in North Carolina who was elected as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in Tampa has resigned from the position. The move came an hour after The News & Observer noted his criminal record in a Dome post Thursday morning.
Harvey West Jr., 41, a longtime resident of Plymouth in eastern North Carolina, was nominated by Republicans in the 3rd Congressional District to serve as an alternate. He would have gone to the national convention to formally choose Mitt Romney as the party's nominee if another delegate was unable to attend.
In an email Thursday to N.C. GOP Chairman Robin Hayes, West said he was honored and surprised at being selected as a delegate but was resigning the position due to recent attempts by political opponents to "us(e) him as a weapon." Party spokesman Rob Lockwood said the resignation was accepted.
The state party has limited influence over delegate selection. Republicans in each Congressional district choose their delegates in an independent election.
West pleaded guilty in 2000 to five counts of taking indecent liberties with children. When released from state custody in 2006, he was required to register as a sex offender and will spend at least a decade on North Carolina’s registry.
West is also a volunteer for various campaigns -- including the Secretary of State's race -- and plays an active role in local politics.
One of the campaigns he has helped is Republican Ed Goodwin’s bid for secretary of state against Democrat Elaine Marshall. Goodwin acknowledged West's role in the campaign, saying he has helped with a range of activities on a volunteer basis. Goodwin, a former federal law enforcement officer, said he sees no problem with the arrangement.
“Everyone has made mistakes,” Goodwin said during an interview Wednesday when asked about West's involvement. “He’s paid his debt to society. What else can he do? What good would it do to turn our back and keep him from participating in society at all?”
After West's resignation as an alternate delegate, Goodwin said he stands by his statements the day before: "If I want forgivenes myself, I must be willing to forgive," he said.
Bob Steinburg, a candidate for state House in northeastern District 1, was pictured in a newspaper alongside West as results of May’s primary election were released. Steinburg said West is not a paid or volunteer member of his staff but said he bought shirts from a company run by West’s wife earlier this year and has crossed paths occasionally through politics.
“I didn’t evaluate the facts in the case, but this is one of those things that really grind me,” Steinburg said. “This race, the way it should be, is about me and my opponent."
West was 28 when he pleaded guilty.
In an interview, West said he did not commit the crimes to which he pleaded guilty and only did so to avoid risking decades behind bars.
Officials in Beaufort County, where the crimes were committed, were not able to immediately provide West’s case file and court records because they have been moved into storage. North Carolina law describes the offense of taking indecent liberties with a child as taking or attempting to take “any immoral, improper or indecent liberties” with anyone less than 16 years old – or “lewd or lascivious” acts with a child.
“There’s no way you can defend yourself … this is who I am, and this is what happened to me," West said. "I was given my right to vote back, and I have a right to the political process. When do I get to live my life?”