LONGVIEW — J.D. Rossetti is an aspiring 19th Legislative District politician who promotes himself as an advocate for children and families.
In October, Rossetti told an audience of 19th district Democrats that “supporting families” was one of his top priorities.
“We all want our kids to grow up safe, healthy, and graduate with an equal start to a successful life,” Rossetti said.
However, public documents suggest he hasn’t always lived by the values he’s emphasized while trying to win an appointment to Rep. Dean Takko’s seat in the state House of Representatives.
Routine check, surprising findings
The Chinook Observer routinely conducts background investigations of political candidates, with the goal of uncovering any potential conflicts of interest, significant financial or legal problems, ethical breaches or other information that is important for voters to know. In Rossetti’s case, public documents including bankruptcy proceedings, divorce court filings and archived media stories revealed that Rossetti, 34, has a history of infidelity, financial problems, drug use and harassment.
Rossetti’s first marriage fell apart while his former wife, Rebekah Rossetti, was expecting their second child, leading the couple to file for divorce and bankruptcy in 2009.
During divorce and custody proceedings, each parent accused the other of being unfit to parent. Rossetti admitted that he regularly purchased and used marijuana during a period when his young, growing family was dependent upon public assistance. And early on, Rossetti’s behavior led his estranged wife to secure a temporary restraining order against him.
Rebekah Rossetti declined to comment for this story.
J.D. Rossetti did grant an interview, but said he would rather talk about his political views instead.
“I don’t think that that’s relevant myself,” Rossetti said, in response to questions about the divorce court documents.
Hoping for the House
On Oct. 22, the 15 county commissioners from 19th district will appoint a successor to former Sen. Brian Hatfield, who left the Legislature last month. If Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, is appointed to Hatfield’s seat as expected, the commissioners will also choose someone to replace Takko.
In early October, 19th district precinct committee officers nominated three candidates to replace Takko, and ranked them by order of preference. Long Beach businesswoman Tiffany Turner defeated Rossetti, the second-choice pick, with an 11-vote lead.
Historically, commissioners have appointed the PCOs’ first choice, with the support of the second and third-choice candidates. But appointments like this one are coveted, because they’re the easiest way to get into office and stay there. Rossetti, a Longview-based legislative assistant to Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, who has run political campaigns for Blake, Hatfield and Takko, is eager to launch his own state-level political career. He and the third-ranked candidate Jim Sayce have both continued pursuing the appointment.
Public vs. private
Rossetti is unquestionably tenacious, resourceful and driven.
Seven years ago, he was an under-employed food service worker and community college student with overwhelming debt and only limited custody of his children. Since then, he’s graduated from a university, gained a strong foothold in 19th district politics, become a little league coach, re-married, become an actively involved, full-time parent to his children, and earned seats on the Longview school board and the boards for the non-profits, Cowlitz-Wahkiakum United Way and Pathways 2020.
However, public documents suggest that in the past, there have been significant disparities between the values Rossetti applied to his public and private lives.
As a teenager, Rossetti was an Eagle Scout, who, according to a Longview Daily News article, aspired to be the youngest-ever mayor of Rainier, Ore.
In an April 2004 Baptist Press article, Rossetti, who was then a 22-year-old Starbucks employee, said that starting at 16, he “tried hardcore drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine and crystal meth before he started ‘mixing combos.’”
A few months before he graduated from Rainier High School in 2000, Rossetti attended a Christian-themed rave party called the “Rock N Roll Worship Circus” that profoundly affected him. The following day, Rossetti became a born-again Christian.
“I went home and threw away all the drugs and alcohol in my room,” Rossetti said. “I threw away a stack of pornography, and from then on, served God.”
Rossetti married his wife Rebekah in June 2006. Their first son was born about 10 months later. By then, the marriage was already under stress.
In a court statement, Rebekah Rossetti said the couple had acquired “many unpaid debts,” both before and during their marriage. By the time they filed for bankruptcy, they owed about $107,000 to 51 creditors.
In August 2007, when their son was about four months old, J.D. Rossetti confessed to having an affair, and the couple separated. The extent of Rossetti’s infidelity is disputed in court records. In sworn statements, Rebekah Rossetti and her mother alleged that he had three affairs during the course of the couple’s roughly 27-month marriage, but Rossetti only acknowledged one affair, in 2007, and said the other allegations were “unfounded.”
When the couple reunited in December, Rossetti was enrolled in Lower Columbia College, where he served as the student body president. But it was difficult for Rossetti, who had worked mostly at Starbucks to support his family, while his wife stayed at home with their son. Rossetti applied for state aid, and the family was granted cash assistance, food stamps and medical coverage.
Later, Rebekah Rossetti alleged in court documents that her husband obtained pot from a marijuana grower, and sold it to a friend from LCC during 2008. Rossetti denied the dealing allegation, calling it “a lie under oath.” But he confirmed that the drug played a prominent role in their lives.
“Both Rebekah and I have knowingly used marijuana on a daily basis for extended periods of time up to and on the day she told me she was leaving,” Rossetti told the court.
This period of heavy marijuana use also coincides with Rossetti’s successful, but controversial push to ban smoking on the LCC campus for health reasons.
In August 2008, the couple separated for a second time. When Rebekah Rossetti moved with the couple’s 17-month-old son to her mother’s house, things turned ugly.
On two occasions, Rossetti repeatedly made angry, middle-of-the-night calls to his mother-in-law’s home. Rebekah Rossetti and her mother estimated that he called at least 40 times on one occasion and 30 times on the other, alleging that he left messages that “were full of swear words and filth.” The following day, Rebekah Rossetti activated a temporary restraining order that required her husband to stop harassing her.
“I publicly apologize for drunk dialing my son’s residence at 4 a.m.,” Rossetti wrote in a response to one of his wife’s court statements, noting that he had deleted her phone numbers to keep from violating the restraining orders.
In a request to have custody of the children, Rossetti accused his wife of abusing his child and nephew, and endangering his unborn child by consuming drugs and alcohol (she denied drinking anything but an occasional beer and said she had stopped smoking pot). In letters to the court, two of three people who had employed Rebekah Rossetti to provide childcare flatly dismissed the idea that she would ever harm a child.
After separate, confidential proceedings in family court, a judge initially assigned Rebekah Rossetti primary custody. The court recommended JD Rossetti enter chemical dependency treatment. Public documents don’t indicate whether he complied, but the court has since awarded him primary custody.
No substantive answers
If Rossetti’s abuse allegations against his ex-wife were true, they suggest he did not take action to protect his nephew, son and unborn child and possibly other children until the divorce proceedings became heated. If they were untrue, they suggest that Rossetti was willing to make false allegations that had the potential to destroy his ex-wife’s reputation.
When asked several times whether he stood by the allegations of abuse in a phone interview on Oct. 13, Rossetti refused to answer.
“It was all sorted out in family court,” Rossetti repeatedly said.
When pressed for an answer, Rossetti said, “It sounds like you’re looking for some dirty information or something, so it’s really hard to know what to say. I think that you’re just looking for whatever you can to get this thing nasty and that’s unfortunate.”
Rossetti also wouldn’t say whether he had ever done anything to intervene in the alleged abuse.
“It was all sorted out in family court,” Rossetti continued to say, adding, “It would be really nice if we talked about the issues that were relevant to the district.”
Asked whether he thought he was a credible advocate for children and families, Rossetti again said, “I think it was all sorted out during family court.”
He said he felt he had re-built a respectful relationship with his former wife, and grown as a result of the experience.
“It’s not a time I was necessarily proud of. ... We definitely said hateful things toward one another because we were in love and we were stressed beyond belief because of the financial difficulties we were facing. Everything fell apart,” Rossetti said. “After that, I pulled up my bootstraps, so to say, and worked to be a better person all around. Learning and growing — that is the foundation of my platform.”