A local Texas politician who appeared skeptical on social media of mask use and Covid-19 vaccines died this week from complications of the coronavirus, the mayor of his community said Friday.
Dickinson Councilman H. Scott Apley's death was first announced Wednesday on the Texas Republican Party's page, which did not detail the cause, but posts on social media about how he had been hospitalized with Covid have underscored a sharp political divide during the pandemic.
"I was not really aware of his social media presence," said Sean Skipworth, the mayor of Dickinson, a Houston suburb of about 20,000 people. "I don't agree with the views that he espoused and the tones that he espoused them in."
And yet, Skipworth said, when he expressed condolences on social media for his colleague, a Texas Republican Party leader who won his City Council seat in November, he received "hate messages."
"I think it's tragic because he leaves behind a wife and young son. My father died when I was very young," he said. "There has been a lot of vitriol, and I'm disappointed about that. He and I didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things. But this is not a time for a victory lap."
Skipworth initially said on social media Monday that Apley, 45, had been hospitalized and placed on a ventilator after contracting Covid.
Just days earlier, Apley shared someone else's post on Facebook that was critical of vaccines.
Earlier this year, he had responded to a doctor who tweeted about the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine that she was "an absolute enemy of a free people." The next month, he expressed support for a mask-burning party in Ohio.
"I wish I lived in the area!" Apley wrote on Facebook.
Texas has been a hotbed for debate over mask-wearing and vaccine mandates, with Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, sparring with Democratic lawmakers over "vaccine passports" and other Covid-related restrictions.
Apley, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, often posted about politics.
"Please join me in lifting the Apley family up in prayer," Texas Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi said in a statement following Apley's death.
"God remains in control although this is yet another tough one to swallow," the Galveston County Republican Party wrote on Facebook.
Skipworth said he spoke with Apley's wife, and that she was "devastated."
While Apley's death may have been preventable, he said, the almost gleeful reactions on social media have been difficult for those who knew him.
"If you say you don't like the tone of people on social media, and then you're doing the same thing after someone dies, it's disheartening," the mayor added. "I think that's disturbing for American discourse."