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Gregory’s Web – November 20, 2022

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Ron Gregory Political Columnist - WV Statewide News

I pointed out for months after Governor Jim Justice switched his party registration from Democrat to Republican that I couldn’t find a single West Virginia GOP office holder who would say he or she was pleased to welcome the governor into the party.

Many in Republican leadership then were skeptical that Justice only made the party change to cement his personal relationship with President Donald Trump.

Most of those who were willing to elaborate on their theory figured that the opportunistic governor wanted to be on the same political party page with Trump when federal dollars were being allocated.

Trump already had a soft spot (if Trump HAS a soft spot) for the Mountain State. After all, he got nearly 70% of the vote over Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. West Virginia was – and is – Trump Country. He recognized that.

While the state has received truckloads of money from the feds (mostly due to the Covid pandemic) during Justice’s tenure, the suspicion of the supermajority regarding the governor’s  GOP credentials occasionally still raises its head. 

And, to answer your burning question, I have still not had a Republican elected official tell me how delighted he or she is that Justice is in the GOP. It is clear, however, that some are pleased even if they don’t say it.

Even with the skepticism, though, Republican “patriots” were not willing to rein in the governor’s emergency powers during Covid. In fact, they still haven’t slowed him down despite the fact that other states no longer remain under pandemic emergency powers orders.

I often pointed out the irony of hard-nosed “patriotic” Republican legislators who were – and are – willing to let the chief executive restrain and harness individual rights in the name of a dubious “crisis.” 

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But the 2022 election makes at least some of those legislators sound as if they plan to slow down the one-man rule of state government soon.

So we can expect bills to end those extraordinary executive powers now that legislative leaders have decided Justice is a “lame duck” governor. They will come in the next regular session in 2023. 

Why Justice wasn’t such a duck prior to 2022 voting is difficult to comprehend. He could no more run for a third term the day after the 2020 re-election campaign than he can now. Yet, to watch the legislature in action, he was all-powerful until the November vote concluded.

There will also be fights over some type of tax reform. Both the governor and legislators will pat themselves on the back for the budget surpluses that will quickly disappear once they work their tax magic.

Justice has not given up on cutting the personal income tax and Senate President Craig Blair has more or less said voters were too stupid to see the benefits of the tax power-grabbing Amendment 2. That’s the amendment that those same silly voters soundly defeated on November 8. It would have set the stage to end the much-despised motor vehicle tax.

Additionally, GOP lawmakers are still heaven or hell bent (depending on your individual perception) on dividing the humongous Department of Health and Human Resources into two separate entities.

So one of the byproducts of supermajorities is that it splatters into divided groups. Thus, rather than targeting the anemic number of Democrats, Republican legislators have splintered into groups to fight each other – and Justice.

That’s the governor, not the principle.

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Republicans, to sum it up, still don’t trust this governor which will translate into very few major changes at the state level these next two years. Whew, thank goodness.

Still, I would firmly forecast that Justice will find some reasons to travel constantly around the state with Babydog in tow. There surely will be some causes the top man and his pet need to promote or oppose depending on the issue.

It’s fairly obvious that West Virginians still have a soft spot for a governor who reminds them of Mr. Haney from the old “Green Acres” TV show. His “aw shucks” approach to governing clearly sits well with the masses.

Wandering statewide gives Justice the bully pulpit he thrives on and will make his 2024 decision to run for the U.S. Senate even easier.

However you look at it, we enter 2023 expecting political gamesmanship such as has seldom been seen.

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If I was asked to call it today, I’d say Justice will beat Congressman Alex Mooney for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 2024. Then, Justice will lose to Democrat U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.

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Unlike congressional races where Mooney came out of the Eastern Panhandle with enough votes to win districtwide, that won’t be the case in a senate race with Manchin.

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I’ve noted before that my track record shows I’ve underestimated Mooney in past elections. I may be doing it again but I don’t think his solid Eastern Panhandle base will hold nearly as well against Manchin as it has past opponents. 

With redistricting, Mooney had the other incumbent Republican Congressman David McKinley trounced with just that panhandle vote in the May primary.

Generally speaking, the Congressman has come out of the East with such a lopsided margin he has the race already won. Manchin will run well enough in Martinsburg and vicinity that a win for Mooney is not secured up there.

* * * * * *

Speaking of McKinley, most politicos I speak with have heard virtually nothing from him since losing to Mooney in May.

The 75-year-old former state legislator may have genuinely retired.

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West Virginia congressmen have a habit of disappearing from public view once they leave the national capitol.

Although I occasionally have contact with them, I think the state misses Alan Mollohan, Harley “Buckey” Staggers, Nick Joe Rahall and Cleve Benedict. They were all dedicated to serving their constituents and their wisdom regarding current issues is valuable.

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Some readers point out that I specialize in state and local government and, therefore, know little about national politics. I don’t necessarily agree. All politics, it has been said, are local. 

Regardless, I do think I know enough to conclude that Democrats in congress will get nowhere trying to keep former President Trump from even running for president in 2024.

Democrats heard a different speech on January 6, 2021 when they say Trump somehow urged his supporters to launch a full scale riot at the capitol in Washington. Others did not hear him call his followers to armed insurrection. I am one of those who didn’t hear him command the masses to fight. 

Liberals who try to use section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to make Trump ineligible for office will fail.

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I have said it is Trump – not someone like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – who is the Democrats’ biggest nightmare. Trump may well be the only Republican who can win a national election in this greatly-divided country.

One thing is for certain: Trump will carry West Virginia against any opponent. His popularity remains near 70%.

The former President, in 2024, will be leading a Republican ticket that is bound for historic victories.

And Trump did not urge anyone to rebel against law and order.

* * * * * *

Hand it to my readers. 

One, responding to a story about how Kanawha County is ridding itself of abandoned, dilapidated buildings, asked, “is it true they’re tearing down the governor’s mansion because it’s been unoccupied for six years?”

Great question.

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For those with no sense of humor, the answer is no.

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When one considers that the entire board of public works is eyeing the governor’s office in 2024, he or she might consider who positions open up for.

I have said that dozens of legislators might be jumping into statewide races. If State Treasurer, Auditor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and Commissioner of Agriculture are all open seats, it just makes sense that some delegates and/or senators will run statewide.

Secretary of State Mac Warner has been testing the waters for a gubernatorial run in two years. He and his fellow all-Republican board of public works have said they are for limiting terms in office to two.

Although limiting those terms did not pass in the legislature, Warner and others may feel a moral obligation not to.run for third terms in their current offices.

Secretary of State is an ideal office to begin getting one’s statewide feet wet so I can see some legislators in that race if Warner runs for something else. And, mark it down, if the election was today, Warner would run for governor.

Likely the most remembered case of a sitting secretary of state successfully running for a different board of public works job came when Joe Manchin’s uncle, A. James Manchin, flipped. That, you may recall, did not end well for Manchin. 

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Manchin unseated fellow Democrat State Treasurer Larrie Bailey in 1985.

Warner would like to be governor. He’s riding high from two consecutive comfortable wins over former Democrat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (in 2016 and 2020) and his wife, Debbie, recently scored an upset win for the House of Delegates from Monongalia County.

While the odds favor Warner running for governor, so will Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. 

If those were the only two Republicans running it would be fascinating. But Auditor JB McCuskey might run as well as Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt. 

If all of those run, plus a “name” legislator or two, it would be anybody’s guess who might win.

* * * * * *

One strong possibility to replace Warner is Republican Cabell County Delegate Daniel Linville. He’s a bright legislative leader and recently penned an op-ed piece showing his intimate knowledge of the election process.

He’s studious and works tirelessly. Linville would make a great secretary of state.

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Meanwhile, reading the political tea leaves leads to the conclusion that one future Governor will not be in the 2024 race for that job.

State Treasurer Riley Moore, grandson of the late iconic congressman and governor, Arch A. Moore, Jr. has set a noon press conference for Monday in Harpers Ferry.

Moore, the only board of public works member who will not have been elected to two terms in 2024, is planning a “major announcement” of his own future plans.

Mooney’s retirement from the House in 2024 has likely prompted Moore to make the decision that he will run for that seat. It encompasses much of his late grandfather’s old First Congressional District.

While I believe Riley Moore is a future Governor waiting to happen, he’ll apparently arrive at the Governor’s Mansion by the same route his grandfather followed in 1968. Arch Moore was a legendary First District Congressman by the time he filed for governor. He went on to serve two consecutive terms as chief executive before coming back for one more.

Riley Moore is the son of the late Governor and First Lady Shelley Riley Moore’s son, Arch A. Moore, III. His aunt, of course, is U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito. His cousin, Moore Capito, is a member of the state House of Delegates.

Riley Moore will be the favorite to claim Mooney’s old seat.

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Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185; ronjoegregory@gmail.com; or PO Box 20297, Charleston, WV 25362. Confidentiality is guaranteed.

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  • Ron Gregory

    From Mayor of Glenville at age 26 to Assistant Mayor of Charleston, management of various public entities, and countless political races in West Virginia – Ron Gregory is the most noted political correspondent in the state. View all posts

From Mayor of Glenville at age 26 to Assistant Mayor of Charleston, management of various public entities, and countless political races in West Virginia - Ron Gregory is the most noted political correspondent in the state.