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Gregory’s Web – January 8, 2023

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Ron Gregory Political Columnist - WV Statewide News

Gregory’s Web for January 8, 2023

by Ron Gregory

The evolution of modern society has taken many twists and turns during my 70.years on earth. It seems that very little today is done the same way it was in 1960.

I can remember seeing my.first “bag phone” on Charleston’s Capitol Street. When I saw the lady on the street nearly bent over from the weight while talking into a mouthpiece extended from the box she was carrying, I was puzzled.

“What on earth is that?” I asked as the woman slowly walked in front of us.

“That’s a bag phone,” my assistant responded. “She’s 

talking to somebody on it.”

I was dumbfounded. I’d heard of but never before seen a “bag phone.”

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I offered my opinion as I so often do. “Who would possibly want one of those?” I asked. 

“It’s obviously heavy and

bulky and who would ever want to carry a phone around so other people could aggravate you to death?”

Well fast forward about 40 years and nobody above three years old could possibly function without a cell phone. My grandchildren can operate a cell phone with ease by their second birthdays.

Of course, the phones are no longer heavy and bulky, fitting easily into a pocket.

I’m in constant contact with the outside world and wouldn’t think of laying the phone down for a day. Surely the world would stop turning, wouldn’t it?

Believe me when I say I am not trying to trivialize a tragic situation. Still, in a disastrous Huntington car accident, we have an illustration of why the age of the internet is not much different than gossiping over the neighbor’s backyard fence years ago. 

Back in the fence gossip days,  at least, all the gossip and innuendo was delivered in person. These days, social media “experts” in various fields relay their conclusions about complex situations  electronically. They can quickly reach thousands with their instant analysis when it used to take months to get their opinions out.

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It’s been more than a week since investigators say an off-duty Cabell County Sheriff’s deputy hit and killed 13-year-old Jacquline “Laney” Hudson at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 31st Street in Huntington on Friday, December 30. I use her name because the family identified the child.

The actual news is tragic and devastating enough. Sadly, however, folks can’t stop their commentary while offering condolences to the child’s family and friends. Much more than sympathy is being dispensed.

Premature judgments are constantly being made.

Suddenly, hundreds of Face Bookers become “experts” at crime scene reenactment. These “experts” also claim to understand human nature perfectly.

Without being present when the incident occurred and without any personal knowledge of those involved, these experts can seemingly reconstruct the scene in a matter of minutes.

I know nothing more about the horrible accident than has been reported. Neither will I infer that someone in authority has told me more than they have any of you. We all have the same information.

What we do know for sure is that Cabell County Deputy Jeffrey Racer was off-duty in a deputy cruiser when he apparently struck and killed the victim. 

Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle announced quickly that the State Police would investigate what happened. They will report their impartial findings to a prosecutor. That’s the normal procedure one should expect.

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On Thursday, an out-of-county reconstructionist team traveled to the scene of the crash. Presumably that would have been members of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department, who Zerkle said earlier would investigate to assure his departmental policies were followed.

The Kanawha department was selected by the West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association not by Zerkle, as some critics have claimed.

In other words, State Police are investigating the accident itself while Kanawha deputies analyze the procedures used to handle the incident..

These investigatory decisions do not please the “experts” who have flooded social media with every negative scenario they can dream up.

Although one early report from the agencies involved was that Racer’s blood alcohol level was .00, these “experts” report that those who first arrived on the scene could “smell alcohol” on Racer’s breath. One wonders how close these witnesses were to Racer when they smelled his breath outside on a crisp night. Could they have gotten a whiff of someone else and thought it was the deputy?

There’s also been wild speculation that the deputy ran a red light despite numerous witnesses saying the light was green when he went through.

Additional “findings” on social media include the deputy being preoccupied with a passenger who should not have been in the cruiser.

Although it’s now much too late, critics should sit back and let the facts emerge. And they will come to light.

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Armchair detectives suggest that the State Police can’t be trusted to do an honest job. As noted, they hint at some kind of collusion between Cabell and Kanawha deputies to cover improper procedures.

If the State Police or Kanawha deputies can’t be trusted, I’d wonder who could be. The armchair detectives who think all police are crooked? I think not. Most police officers are honest.

And the choice of Kanawha by the Sheriffs’ Association tells me that’s on the up-and-up as well. First, both departments have impeccable reputations. Second, there’s no more honest man than former Boone County Sheriff Rodney Miller, who heads the association and surely had a role in the recommendation.

* * * * * *

It goes without saying that my heart – like yours – breaks for this child, her family and friends. Undoubtedly the deputy and his family have endured a tragedy as well. 

I am neither exonerating nor charging the deputy with wrongdoing.  

But let’s allow the American system of justice to work. The police agencies will deliver the truth of what happened. They will do their jobs honestly and professionally. Until that process is complete, assessments of guilt or innocence are bound to be unfair and ultimately inaccurate.

* * * * * *

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Things reportedly got a bit heated during the most recent meeting of the Lincoln County Commission.

Lincoln is one of those southern coalfield counties that wouldn’t have dreamed of electing a Republican majority commission six years ago but now has just one Democrat in the three spots.

The commission became a Republican majority on January 1 when Harts Principal Kim Blair assumed the office she won in November.

Joining Blair on the bench is veteran Democrat Phoebe Harless. The third commissioner is former Democrat Josh Stowers.

Stowers recently switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, as have thousands of others. He formerly served as a Democrat in the state legislature and more recently as Assistant State Treasurer when Democrat John Perdue was in office. 

The phenomenal support for Republican President Donald Trump coupled with similar distrust of Democrat President Joe Biden has contributed to party realignment throughout West Virginia.

Where for years state voters elected “anyone with a D beside his or her name,” they are now the most solidly red state in the union.

The huge switch in party affiliation makes it difficult to comprehend local politics on a partisan basis. Lifelong rivalries and alliances have changed.

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In the latest Lincoln County flare-up, it’s two Republican officeholders at the center of an office space controversy.

Six years ago, the Lincoln GOP trend was not as obvious as it is now. It was termed an upset then when in 2016, Republican Gary “Butch” Linville was elected sheriff.

Supporters say Linville’s personality and professionalism won the office for him the first time.

Other courthouse offices remained Democrat and the unanimous Democrat County Commission was accused of withholding funding from Linville as “punishment” for being a Republican. The Commissioners denied those allegations.

By election day 2022, things had changed dramatically and voters unanimously swept Republicans into the other courthouse offices. That came after Sheriff Linville was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2020 based on his job performance.

One of the newly-elected GOP officials is Assessor Jamie Linville.

Apparently for some time, Sheriff Linville has wanted to swap offices with the assessor. This was true even before Jamie Linville was elected, according to friends of the sheriff.

The sheriff has various reasons for wanting to move. Among them is that he has more employees than the assessor but his office is smaller.

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More importantly, perhaps, is that the current assessor space has a door that opens directly onto the rear courthouse parking lot. 

The Sheriff now must march prisoners, witnesses and others all the way down the hall past other courthouse offices and the public to get to his office at the other end of the building.

The Sheriff says the current Assessor office better suits the needs of his office. He says no harm is done to the Assessor by moving him.

Sheriff Linville formally requested the commission approve moving the two offices at their last meeting.

That brought strong opposition from Assessor Linville.

One supporter of the assessor said the request was “only being made so Butch (Gary) can get back at Jamie.”

This source says Sheriff Linville “resents the new Republicans since he’s not the only one any more.”

It’s safe to say election results since 2016 show Sheriff Linville’s popularity. Given his quiet professionalism it’s difficult to believe he “resents” any other officeholder.

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The commission discussed the office space issue and then tabled it until their next meeting. In the meantime, Blair asked that a cost analysis of the proposed move be completed. 

* * * * * *

Speaking of Josh Stowers, he was rumored to be Perdue’s choice to replace him as Treasurer when Perdue retired.

That didn’t work out since Perdue lost re-election to Riley Moore in 2020. But Moore is running for congress in 2024. That might open the door for Stowers to be elected as a Republican for Treasurer.

It’s a natural fit. Stowers is now President of the Bank of Mingo.

* *.* * * *

While mentioning the in-party fighting that seems to occupy most of the Republican state party’s time, I hasten to remind readers that all is not well with state Democrats either.

The recent uproar concerning Democrat Delegate Doug Skaff’s podcast with former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship underscores some of the Democrat division. Skaff is the president of the owners of The Charleston Gazette-Mail as well as being House Minority Leader. 

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I have previously identified what I consider progressive, ultra-liberal Bernie Sanders Dems striving to control the state Democrat party.

A major advance for progressives came when longtime moderate Chair Belinda Biafore did not seek re-election. That permitted the subsequent election of Kanawha Delegate Mike Pushkin as the new Chair.

Pushkin is as liberal as they come. He is joined as Co-chair by Delegate Danielle Walker of Monongalia County. She, too, is liberal to the core.

Although I saw no opinion from either Pushkin or Walker, most Sanders type Democrats sided with Charleston Gazette employees who criticized Skaff for interviewing Blankenship.

Skaff also received rebuke from liberals for telling Blankenship something close to “I know your heart is in the right place.” (The podcast was removed soon after the uproar began so I don’t have the exact quote).

The three Gazette reporters publicly criticized Skaff. Although two of them apparently had plans to leave anyway, Skaff reportedly “fired” all three.

That led ultra liberals like Shane Assadzandi to post a letter on social media directed to the 12 House Democrats. It implored those members not to re-elect Skaff as minority leader. Assadzandi said 44 members of the 90-member state executive committee signed the letter.

Although Assadzandi made much of the letter public, it was subsequently removed and Skaff remained minority leader.

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If far leftists are able to take even more control of the state Democrat party, they may never return to power at the statehouse.

No matter how one views Skaff and/or Blankenship, the far left turn by Democrats is not in step with state voters.

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.

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.