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Gregory’s Web – December 11, 2022

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Ron Gregory Political Columnist - WV Statewide News

There’s much to be said for the newspaper man who gives recognition to a philosophical opponent. Suffice it to say the President of H-D Media, Doug Skaff, publisher of The Charleston Gazette-Mail and (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch among other West Virginia papers, raised eyebrows with a recent ⁶podcast. Skaff is also a Kanawha County Democrat House of Delegates member.

The video featured, among others, West Virginia coal baron and multi-millionaire Don Blankenship.

In the rhetoric of longtime Gazette publisher, the late Ned Chilton, it was those like Blankenship upon which The Gazette (before merging with the Charleston Daily Mail) displayed its “sustained outrage.” Evil coal operators nearly always put huge profits ahead of the general population’s health and safety, they maintained.

From about 1950 on, West Virginia politicians have publicly wrestled with balancing the environmental costs of fossil fuel against the need for residents to put food on the table.

If one compares the current size of the Charleston or Huntington papers to their coal-fired glory days, there’s no question the papers have suffered economically for their anti-coal positions. No longer, for example, are dozens of pages filled with car dealer ads. Revenue, adjusted for inflation, is down significantly.

Subscriptions have dropped as thousands move to other out-of-state locations.

Under current management, the papers are clearly left-leaning. In many ways, they continue The Gazette-Chilton traditions. 

But, like legislative Republican leaders who are never quite philosophically pure enough to gain favor with the far religious right, The Gazette-Mail fails to live up to its glorious past in many eyes.

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Skaff’s interview with Blankenship brought plenty of criticism and some see it as indicative of the paper’s weakened liberal position. 

Perhaps not so surprisingly, some Blankenship interview complaints came from Gazette staff members who openly questioned the wisdom of giving Blankenship any air time at all.

Reporter Ryan Quinn, who began his Gazette career as an education reporter, summed up many apparent feelings.

“I’m not gonna even ask 

@dougskaff why he brought failed candidate Don Blankenship onto an HD Media show & let him broadly criticize this paper (which Skaff is pres of) & call climate change ‘a hoax’ without much pushback,” Quinn wrote. “But readers/viewers should. Just let the new host do the show!”

Statehouse reporter Lacie Pierson added, “We understand the need to draw eyes to the website on the business end of news, but stunts like this erode the integrity and credibility of the whole Gazette-Mail. This choice mostly hurts staff writers, who had no say in this decision, or a lot of decisions for that matter.”

Quinn gets in a final whack. “The video ends with (Democratic!) Delegate Skaff asking for Blankenship to plug his book exculpating himself for Upper Big Branch! Skaff says he knows Don’s ‘heart’s in the right place.’”

Quinn goes on to say that, as a reporter, he’s never tried to locate hearts.

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I will reluctantly take my hat off to the brave reporters who stand for integrity. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for Gazette management’s tolerance of publicly-stated opposing viewpoints by its own workers.

Chilton would enjoy the speaking out by the two reporters I mentioned.

* * * * * *

As an aside, social media also recently showed Blankenship and political consultant extraordinaire Greg Thomas standing next to each other in what appears to be downtown Charleston.

Thomas has been identified with the former Massey Energy executive for decades but the photo sparked the question, “was Thomas with Blankenship for the Skaff interview?”

There’s nothing at all wrong with it if he was but it did cause speculation and chatter on the internet.

And we gossip columnists like chatter.

* * *.*.* *

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Yes he can and yes, he likely will.

It’s safe to say former (briefly) West Virginia House of Delegates member Derrick Evans of Wayne is no shrinking violet. 

Never count Evans as so dedicated to the “team” legislative process that he’d allow GOP Governor Jim Justice to get away with anything as long as party unity endured. Evans stands on principle and he stands alone when necessary.

Thus, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Evans has announced his pre-candidacy for West Virginia’s Second Congressional District House seat. That’s the one currently held by Republican Congresswoman Carol Miller.

Miller is expected to run for re-election although Evans says Miller has not told him she’s running.

Anecdotally, without naming names, I’ll point out that southern West Virginia once had a Delegate who pleaded guilty to a felony. As part of his plea, the felon agreed never to serve again.

After spending his jail time and probation, the man filed for his old office and won.

The then-US Attorney ruled that such agreements were not enforceable because the constitution gave the man a right to run.

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We can have all the shade tree lawyers look at it who want. Derrick Evans can file and win. He’s a legitimate candidate for 2024.

* * * * *.* 

While the entire scenario is unlikely (Miller will actually win), there is the remote possibility that the House itself could vote not to seat Evans if he is elected.

* * * * * *

For those actually interested in the status of Evans running, you are referred to U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 2 which sets qualifications to serve in Congress at age, citizenship and residence. 

Any additional exclusion is not allowed by federal or state laws. Being a “convicted felon” is not one of the exclusions.

An expert says it gets fuzzier when primaries are involved as the parties may have requirements that will be up to scrutiny as well but Evans will not be summarily excluded.

There is a Disqualification Clause in Section 3 in Amendment 14 as well that doesn’t appear to be invoked here due to the charge Evans pled to. In other words, Evans committed no crime that eliminates his candidacy.

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As I have pointed out before, Evans enjoys some widespread support because of his far right positions.

He will paint Miller as a non-true-believing conservative RINO (Republican in Name Only).

He likely starts with about 30% of the GOP vote. 

If nothing else, he’ll force Miller to have to campaign and explain some of her votes.

* * * * * *

A wise decision came when Huntington City Council filled the Ninth Ward Council vacancy created by Dale Anderson’s resignation. He recently resigned for personal reasons.

Chosen for the spot is community leader Ally Layman and it was the right choice.

Layman has impressed me these past few years as she works diligently with various community groups to make her area a better place.

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It’s safe to say nobody will work harder for her constituents than Layman.

The ward she represents includes Guyandotte, Altizer and Arlington Park. Her term runs through December 31, 2024, according to city officials.

The ecstatic Layman was sworn into office Saturday afternoon.

She said, “This morning I interviewed along with four others for an open seat on the Huntington City Council. After executive session interviews, I am honored to have been chosen by the Council to represent District 9.”

She continued, “I love our city and community. Every voice deserves to be heard. I am committed to hitting the ground running and beginning the important work of building bridges between the community in District 9 and city.”

Layman has been a candidate for House of Delegates from Cabell County. She barely lost her bid for a House seat a month ago.

Congratulations to a deserving community activist. Huntington is the clear winner.

* * * * * *

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It is safe to say that although new Lincoln County Assessor Jamie Linville is not talking to the press or constituents, he has managed to communicate with some folks since taking over the job after certification of the November 8 election.

Linville, a Republican, was part of a GOP sweep of all Lincoln offices last month.

There was a recent time when no Republicans even bothered to appear on the Lincoln ballot. In January, they will effectively control the courthouse. 

Linville is a former sheriff’s deputy who previously ran unsuccessfully for county office.

Jereme Browning resigned as elected assessor in June after being charged with public intoxication.

That came after Browning’s staff walked off the job earlier that week after Browning was found passed out on an office couch.

Browning was charged with public intoxication and willful disruption of the governmental process. The criminal complaint said he appeared to be in an “altered state” when he was found on the couch. He resigned two days later leading the County Commission to appoint an acting assessor until the results of the November election were certified.

The criminal complaint said Browning told investigators he had taken too much sleeping medication.

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The assessor’s office had to be closed one day when Browning was arrested because workers there walked off their jobs following the incident.

Browning began serving as Lincoln County assessor in 2020.

Linville, the Republican candidate to complete Browning’s term, won the November election which apparently did not sit well with the employees. Because Browning resigned, Linville assumed office with his win. New terms for other courthouse officials begin on January 1, 2023.

A reliable source said, “the office staff wouldn’t cooperate with Jamie when he got there. They wanted the Democrat to win.”

The lack of cooperation led to what one courthouse observer called “an open confrontation.”

Multiple sources said Chief Tax Deputy Connie Dobbs and Linville “simply couldn’t get along. They couldn’t work together.”

Finally, the sources said, Linville confronted Dobbs because she “locked him out. She took his keys and passwords.”

The sources said Linville “terminated Dobbs and closed the office for a while.”

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A phone in the tax office was answered Friday but the lady said Linville was not available. He failed to return a message.

In answer to how Dobbs spells her last name, the employee quickly responded, “she doesn’t work here any more.”

* * * * * *

See why I miss covering Dear Ole Lincoln?

In fairness to Linville, he may not have gotten my message given the ongoing situation.

When the employee transferred me to Linville’s alleged voice mail, the greeting said I had reached “Angel.”

Angel Barclay was acting assessor prior to Linville’s win.

* * * * * *

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In Hamlin, where mayors have often gone out on police investigations (State Code allows it for their class of city), incoming Republican Delegate David “Flimsy” Adkins apparently Intends to continue the doubling down on government service.

“Yes,” was the immediate response of a Lincoln County GOP official when I asked if Adkins intended to serve as both mayor and Delegate.

I assume he’ll remain police chief as well. 

* *.* * *.*

The City of Huntington, in conjunction with Huntington High School, will host a championship celebration at 6 p.m. Monday, December 12, in downtown Huntington to honor the Highlanders for winning the 2022 Class AAA football state championship last Saturday in Wheeling. 

Players, coaches, cheerleaders, majorettes and the Huntington High band will march at 6 p.m. from 7th Street to Pullman Square on 3rd Avenue. A ceremony in the Pullman Square courtyard will take place immediately following their arrival. 

The ceremony will be held, rain or shine, officials said. Show some community pride and make plans to attend.

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

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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.