Home Business Lawsuit Puts New Focus on Eric Hovde's Comments About Older Voters

Lawsuit Puts New Focus on Eric Hovde's Comments About Older Voters

by SuperiorInvest

Eric Hovde, the Republican banking executive challenging Sen. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, may be developing a problem with older voters.

The bank he runs, Utah-based Sunwest, was named last month as a co-defendant in a California lawsuit that accuses a senior living facility partially owned by the bank of abuse, neglect and wrongful death against seniors.

Hovde's campaign called the lawsuit baseless and said it was a travesty to hold a bank's president and CEO responsible for the actions of a company he foreclosed on in a 2021 foreclosure. Whatever its merits, the lawsuit could have been largely irrelevant. to Mr. Hovde's political campaign if he himself had not recently boasted of having gained experience in the nursing home sector as a nursing home lender.

In comments this month suggesting there had been irregularities in the 2020 election, Hovde drew on that experience to say that nursing home residents “have a life expectancy of five or six months” and that “almost no one in a nursing home is at a point to vote.” Those comments were quickly condemned by Wisconsin Democrats and former Milwaukee Bucks star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The recent buildup of trouble is an inauspicious start to a campaign that Republicans hope will help wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. Hovde is one of four wealthy Republicans running to unseat Democratic incumbents in Ohio, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Each of those states leans heavily Republican in the upcoming presidential race or is rated as a tossup, and losing any of those seats could cost Democrats control of the Senate. The deep pockets of candidates like Hovde will ease the GOP's heavy fundraising burden as the party faces the Democrats' early financial advantage.

But Hovde's stumbles point to a difficulty with that self-financing strategy: With wealth and business experience come business problems.

The wrongful death lawsuit is a good example.

In 2021, Sunwest Bank seized ownership of a 68-bed assisted living facility in Claremont, California, after its owners defaulted on a $6 million loan. The following year, Betty Nottoli, a 94-year-old woman with dementia, moved into the renamed Claremont Estate, then owned in part by a newly created subsidiary of Sunwest.

According to a lawsuit filed by her daughter, Patricia Chiuppi, Ms. Nottoli had a series of falls that Chiuppi said were caused by negligence. Court documents state that staff at the facility failed to install cords, pendants, rails or bed alarms, even after a fall in March. Then, on the night of April 4, 2022, another fall broke Ms. Nottoli's hip, “ultimately resulting in her death on June 19, 2022,” court documents say.

Ben Voelkel, a spokesman for Hovde's campaign, said in a statement that there was “no basis for this claim.” He added: “The lawsuit does not identify the circumstances surrounding the incident. Admit that they are strangers.”

Lisa Flint, the attorney representing Ms. Chiuppi, declined to comment at length, saying discovery in the lawsuit was just beginning, with a trial date set for March 25, 2025.

“Documentation from the facility showed bruising, injuries to her arms and head, but there was no real investigation into her falls,” Ms Flint said.

Initially, the lawsuit only named Claremont Hacienda and its parent companies, but on March 25, Ms. Flint amended the lawsuit to name one of the titular defendants: Mr. Hovde's Sunwest Bank, legally identified as one of the “owners”. , officials, administrators, managers and/or members” of the elderly care center.

A Sunwest attorney, Robert S. McWhorter, He said the bank had yet to respond to the lawsuit because Ms. Flint had not yet served him with the documents. She said the lawsuit was frivolous, that Sunwest should not have been named and that the complaint does not allege direct involvement by Sunwest.

Voelkel said in a statement: “Sunwest Bank was a member of an LLC that acquired ownership of the facility through foreclosure. A third party unrelated to Sunwest and LLC managed the facility. The lawsuit is baseless, which may be why the attorney who filed it has not notified Sunwest and has stopped communicating with the bank.”

He also accused Ms. Flint of being a “Democratic donor,” based on a single $5 donation in 2020 to ActBlue, which consolidates political donations to Democratic candidates.

With a trial set to begin four months after the 2024 election, an elder abuse and wrongful death lawsuit in Southern California may have seemed remote to Wisconsin voters.

But Mr Hovde himself has drawn attention to his work in the world of nursing homes. Pressed by a Milwaukee TV host this month about his claims of “trouble” in the 2020 election, Mr. Hovde responded“Look, I make loans to the nursing home community, or I used to.” And it's true: Sunwest has claimed millions of dollars in income from its assisted living properties, including Claremont Hacienda.

Hovde went on to cite allegations of voter fraud, appearing to suggest that residents were not fit to vote: “The average life expectancy in a nursing home is four to five months. How can the sheriff of Racine County find 100 percent of the people voting and, by the way, the children of parents, elderly parents who are dying, and say, 'Who voted for my parents?' Who did that?'”

Days later, Mr. Hovde He pressed a similar point on Guy Benson's political talk show.. “If you're in a nursing home, you only have a life expectancy of five or six months,” she said. “Almost no one in a nursing home is voting, and there were children, adult children, who would show up and say, 'Who voted for my 85- or 90-year-old mother or father?'”

Hovde was referring to an actual 2020 election dispute in Wisconsin. In 2021, the Racine County Sheriff's Office accused the State Election Commission of improperly barring people tasked with assisting with absentee ballots from entering nursing homes to assist elderly voters. The commission had ruled that those “special voting deputies” posed too great a health risk during the Covid-19 pandemic, given the toll the disease had already taken on assisted living facilities.

The dispute has persisted. County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, a Republican, said nearly a year after the 2020 election that his office received a complaint from a woman whose mother was flagged for having cast her vote even though she died before Election Day. . The sheriff's office said turnout was higher in 2020 than usual and that some nursing home residents who voted had not voted since 2016 or 2012.

But overall turnout in Wisconsin was sky-high in 2020, at 72.3 percent, and election audits found no widespread fraud, in nursing homes or elsewhere.

Mr. Hovde's suggestion that “almost no one in a nursing home is in a position to vote” has attracted considerable attention. In Wisconsin, people 65 and older make up 18 percent of the state's population and therefore a significant voting bloc, especially since they have a high propensity to vote.

In recent days, Hovde has attempted to clarify his comments. This week, he reiterated his belief that “a large percentage” of nursing home residents “do not have the mental capacity to” vote. But he added in an interview on Wisconsin radio: “I think older people should vote.”

That might not put an end to the matter, especially since Abdul-Jabbar, known in much of the country as a great player for the Los Angeles Lakers but remembered by Wisconsinites of a certain age as a star for the Milwaukee Bucks, intervened.

“What's troubling here is your desire to take away the rights of people who have spent their entire lives contributing to this country based on one physical attribute: age,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote on his Substack account. He added: “Even if there was some fraud, the goal should be to uncover it, not deny everyone in nursing homes the vote.”

On April 12, the Wisconsin Democratic Party organized a protest against Hovde in Milwaukee with a small group of older voters, senior care workers, and nursing home employees. On a cool, windy day, assisted living residents took turns at a Lucite lectern denouncing the Republican and vowing to vote against him.

“It's clear that Eric Hovde, a California bank owner, doesn't care about seniors or their families,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Arik Wolk.

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