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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – January 1, 2023

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Ron Gregory Political Columnist - WV Statewide News

Gregory’s Web for 1/1/23

by Ron Gregory

Astute readers and listeners (do I have any others?) have quickly picked up on the time honored traditions of filling leadership roles at the state legislature. 

No sooner did I write the story about the appointments than enlightened comments followed.

Or as the late Clay County Democrat, Delegate Robert Reed, used to say, “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”

That used to be Reed’s entire standard stump speech when running for re-election. And he was elected several times. It might not work as well with modern technology.

Positive networking has always been a valuable tool for legislators, however. The more folks one knows and befriends, the better the chances pf legislative success. I

It’s a fact of human nature that one is more likely to help a friend than an enemy.  

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That’s why the most effective legislators and lobbyists are friendly folks who build relationships easily. This naturally leads to some alliances and working together on worthwhile projects.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with tying legislation to friendship. A legislator comes to trust some lobbyists more than others because their experience tells him or her that the lobbyist is a straight shooter.

It’s how it’s supposed to work. For example, no legislator can read every word of every piece of legislation put before him or her. No matter who says otherwise, that’s a fact. 

That’s where legislators need a trusted lobbyist to summarize the bills. Honest lobbyists are valuable but sometimes hard to find.

In other words, all of the nuances of lobbying and effective legislating makes sense when one studies the process. Naming a leadership team of supporters makes perfect sense.

I say all this as a preface to some explanation of the recently-announced leadership team for the state House of Delegates.

Clay County’s Republican Speaker Roger Hanshaw has been returned for another term and he has put together an impressive leadership team.

It’s safe to say that those in leadership are friends of the Speaker. They definitely aren’t enemies.

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When Hanshaw named his leadership team, experienced hands at the capitol found little surprise.

“Friends were rewarded and enemies punished,” one reader wrote to me.

The reference there was clearly to the most recent Speaker contest. There, Hanshaw defeated Raleigh County’s Brandon Steele. The subsequent designation of leaders illustrates the friend-foe theory.

That means Steele backers ‐- including Steele – were on the outside looking in when Hanshaw named his team last week.

Steele had been chair of the highly-visible and active Government Organization Committee during the previous session. In Hanshaw’s new organizational chart, Chris Phillips of Upshur County assumes that role.

Although caucuses may allegedly be top secret, it’s safe to assume Phillips supported Hanshaw for Speaker.

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Veteran Berkeley County Delegate Eric Householder assumes the role of majority leader. Householder is highly respected and commands a great deal of authority in the capitol hallways and offices.

Geographically, Householder’s team offers a cross-section of the state. That’s a smart move by the Speaker.

With Householder representing the Eastern Panhandle, his assistants hail from other parts of the state.

Assistant David Kelly is from Tyler County; Dean Jeffries is from Kanawha; and Laura Kimble from Harrison.

Householder’s budgetary expertise will remain available. He often develops more sensible budget proposals than the chief executive.

I’ve been mentioning for years that the Eastern Panhandle’s growth compared to the stagnant rest of the state signals more and more clout for the East.

Illustrating that reality, six of the new House major leaders hail from the EP while only two represent the Northern Panhandle.

Kanawha County sat years ago at the top of leadership numbers, but now has just two delegates in these major legislative positions. 

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The fact that Kanawha voters have not followed some of the smaller counties in flocking overwhelmingly to the GOP is another factor, of course.

Long gone are the days when the Speaker (the late Ivor  Boiarsky) presided in the House and just two years later the State Senate President was the late Bill Brotherton. Both leaders represented Kanawha County and each had influence far beyond the capitol corridors.

The increase in EP population with Washington DC folks flocking to the West Virginia suburbs and residents exiting other areas of the state has set up a scenario where the Eastern section will dominate state politics. Perhaps it already does.

Along with Kanawha, Cabell and Putnam no longer are overly representative of state government either. The drift Eastward is no more apparent than in the recent Congressional loss of the Northern Panhandle’s David McKinley to Easterner (or should I say Marylander) Alex Mooney.

Look, too, at the board of public works. While the state constitution requires that they all reside in Charleston during their terms of office, they still have home bases they identify with.

State Treasurer Riley Moore moved his young family to Charleston, as the constitution requires, but he’s running for Congress in 2024 from his home in the Eastern Panhandle. It’s a case of being exactly in the right place at the right time for him.

Mooney is opening up his congressional seat by announcing he will run for the U.S. Senate in 2024.

Everyone knows Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is from Harpers Ferry. So clearly two current statewide executive positions are from the East.

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Morrisey plans to run for Governor since the incumbent Jim Justice is term-limited out. It’s another case where Morrisey might have the race won after the Eastern counties are counted.

With population a major factor, it’s little wonder the EP dominates Hanshaw’s new leadership team.

Sticking with the 2024 governor’s race for a minute, geography would not favor three other prominent elected officials and potential Republican candidates.

Secretary of State Mac Warner, while having Charleston connections, is more identified with Monongalia County as is Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt.

State Auditor J.B. McCuskey and his family have Clarksburg roots.

* * * * * *

That, of course, is my take on the current field of Republican statewide officeholders who may run for Governor in 2024.

If the key remains location, Morrisey is the favorite.

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Newly-elected Harrison County State Senator Ben Queen is set to be sworn in at the Clarksburg courthouse on January 6 at 4:30 p.m.

A reception will follow at the historic Robinson Grand theater building downtown.

The ceremony itself will take place on the courthouse’s fourth floor.

Ben’s beaming papa, Mike Queen, is one proud dad. Mike is well known in Harrison and has been one of Secretary Warner’s right hand men.

Here’s betting the State Senate is not the last stop on Ben Queen’s upward political elevator.

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You can tell the media expects Governor Jim Justice to be on the ballot soon when stories of his debts appear. It’s simply a rehash of what every voter already knows.

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Justice has apparently taken such a liking to elective office that he thinks he can beat U.S. Senator Joe Manchin in two years.

The.Governor is term limited from seeking another four years of what he affectionately refers to as “My Years in the Mansion.” Thus, if he and Babydog are to remain in the limelight, they have to find something new to run for.

Although we’ve been telling you here for months that Justice wants to run against Manchin, some “experts” just read the smoke signals.

That prompted stories about these experts – some identified and some not – predicting a tight race.

Then came the obligatory debt stories. It’s amazing when these reporters feel obligated to tell the world that Justice and his companies don’t pay every bill they owe. It’s a well-established fact. There’s no revelation here.

One of the quoted “experts” put a Justice-Manchin contest down as a “toss-up.” What courage it surely took to make that prediction.

I cling.to my opinion that a Manchin-Justice showdown is no race at all. The Senator.will keep his job.

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Raleigh Delegate Steele mounted his challenge to Hanshaw for Speaker but came up short when Republicans caucused. That led to Hanshaw removing Steele as Chair of the Government Organization Committee.

My guess is that Steele, whose positions are far right, will run for Attorney General in 2024.

Steele is one of the right-leaning legislators much despised by progressive leftists.

In addition to inaccurately portraying Steele as racist when he’s just the opposite, the liberal press blamed him for efforts to make the state’s anti-abortion legislation even more restrictive.

My thought is that by painting Steele as a villain statewide, liberals enhance his chances of becoming AG. By constantly attacking him, the liberal press may make him a true hero for conservatives. 

It’s similar to my earlier comments about a crowded gubernatorial field. The more candidates running, the better the chances a solidly conservative candidate has of winning. This is especially true if five or six moderates are in the GOP primary.

Steele’s popularity is such in Raleigh County that he coasted to re-election unopposed.

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On the subject of the Eastern Panhandle and its influence, the Senate President and Lieutenant Governor Craig Blair is also from there.

Another EP product, Charlie Trump is one of the most powerful representatives in the legislature as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Politics seldom lends itself to trust and confidence. Along those lines, I often quote my old hero, the late Charleston lawyer John Charnock Jr.

Charnock, a lifelong Republican, often lamented the fact that members of the GOP “form a circular firing squad when they get together.”

Additionally, I keep pointing out that nothing lends itself to dissent like success.

If a party is perpetually losing, there’s no “spoils” to reap as a reward. Jealousy is not a big factor for constant losers.

As we all know, Republicans turned around 80-plus years of losing not so long ago.

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I’ve admitted being amazed at the counties electing Republicans where they would have stood no chance 10 years ago. The legislature is home to a GOP supermajority and all statewide elected executive officers are Republicans.

The GOP is in charge of courthouse offices they could not have even contested in 2010.

So that’s all great news, right? What could go wrong for the GOP?

In a word: everything.

The dramatic turnaround in voter registration has led to counties having Republican majorities where they used to hold meetings at a bus stop.

So there are more Republicans in Logan County now than at any time in 100 years. That may not seem problematic but it is.

Every one of those new Republicans has doubts, fears and expectations. Instead of a handful of people with various points of view, there now are hundreds. The job simply got.tougher.

Suffice it to say the GOP will not always have such statewide control.

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My best advice to Republican leaders: enjoy the ride. It won’t last forever.

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I’ve been urged by some to toss a bit of anecdotal history here from time to time.

Probably the best congressional interview I ever did was with Lewisburg Republican Congressman Cleve Benedict. He was in a recreational vehicle at a parade in Gauley Bridge. I was to get on the bus with him and ride all the way to another parade in Clay.

I arrived on time, unusual for me and jumped aboard. We sat across from each other. 

He nodded pleasantly, dropped his head and fell sound asleep. He slept all the way to Telford Chevrolet where the Clay parade started.

He quickly apologized and offered to sit down after that parade ended. 

Luckily, my wife whisked me away in a waiting car. We never did that interview.

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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.