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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – January 22, 2023

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Ron Gregory Political Columnist - WV Statewide News

West Virginia’s U.S. Senate vacancy in 2024 is one of the eight biggest contests for control of the upper legislative body, according to The Hill.

The site points out that the senior Senator, Democrat Joe Manchin, only won in 2018 by three points. His opponent then was Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. That, coupled with some legislative controversies Manchin has been involved in, sets the stage for a tight race.

Morrisey is said to be considering another run in 2024. There’s one obvious major difference: Morrisey would not be able to run for re-election to a third term if he runs against the Senator. Last time, it was in the middle of his AG term so Morrisey remained in office after losing to Manchin.

The same problem exists for Congressman Alex Mooney  and other statewide elected executive Republicans (otherwise known as the board of Public Works). All have to relinquish their present seats to run for Governor or Senator in 2024.

The Hill says nationally, Democrat officials are hoping Manchin runs for re-election because they believe he’s the only Democrat who can hold the seat for them.

Polling done by another outlet found Manchin leading Morrisey or Mooney by 21 points in a hypothetical match-up. However Governor Jim Justice, also considered a potential opponent, only trailed by four percentage points.

Mooney has announced he’s running against Manchin. Morrrisey and Justice say they’ve made no decision on 2024. If Republicans win this seat they could be well on their way to taking a majority in the senate, the article says.

Now, the body is almost equally divided.

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“West Virginia’s conservative political makeup means that even a moderate like Manchin isn’t safe,” according to the site. 

They pointed out how President Donald Trump carried the state in 2020 by nearly 40 points, with Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito winning by 43. The site noted that Manchin hasn’t yet committed to running for another term. 

“If he decides to retire from the Senate, it would almost certainly take the seat out of play for Democrats,” says the article. That means Democrats have no other logical candidate if the Senator retires.

* * * * * *

Last week’s comments about Manchin’s support of Republican Governor Cecil Underwood in 1996 brought several comments from those who recall that campaign.

Manchin did endorse Underwood over Democrat nominee Charlotte Pritt that year. Of course he had lost to Pritt in the Democrat primary.

More recently, Manchin raised some eyebrows when he supported GOP Congressman David McKinley in the 2022 primary.

It may seem reasonable that Manchin would support McKinley given that his primary opponent was Congressman Mooney. The same Mooney who.announced he is running against Manchin less than two weeks later.

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Manchin praised McKinley for his vote in favor of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill. Trump endorsed Mooney, giving the infrastructure  vote as one of his reasons to oppose Mooney.

Trump and Mooney also criticized McKinley for supporting a commission to investigate the January 6, 2021 rally at the U.S. capitol.

Despite Manchin doing a commercial spot for McKinley, Mooney won easily.

Manchin said his personal friendship with McKinley also figured into the endorsement. 

If endorsements translate into a recognized number of votes, it appears Trump is more influential in Mooney’s district than Manchin.

* * * * * *

A rumor making the rounds at the statehouse has political strategist supreme Larry Puccio running the Moore Capito for Governor campaign.

Puccio, as everyone knows, is a former Democrat state chair.

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Capito, the son of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, announced his candidacy near the end of November.

Puccio is always thought to be the most influential advisor to Manchin and presumably will be allied with Manchin if he’s running for re-election.

The Manchins and the Moores are political allies from way back, even though Manchin is a Democrat and the Moore Capitos are Republicans.

  • Puccio left Democrat party leadership after donating to Justice in 2020.

If, in fact, Puccio runs the Capito for Governor campaign it will add more intrigue to what shapes up to be a fascinating race.

Years ago, it was rare to even think of a candidate hiring a professional to run his or her campaign. Nevertheless candidates always had a supply of political activists nearby to call upon for help.

These days if a statewide candidate lacks paid staffers, he or she is not taken as a serious contender.

* * * * * *

Former Kanawha County Republican Delegate Dianna Graves is said to be testing the water for a possible state Treasurer or Auditor run in 2024.

Graves represented the Cross Lanes area but was not sufficiently conservative enough to hold onto it against the far right wing challenge of now new Delegate Andy Shamblin. Shamblin is a Nitro High School teacher and arch conservative.

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Graves was originally appointed to the House seat and subsequently elected to a full term before losing to Shamblin in the 2022 GOP primary.

Graves is now chair of the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee, where she previously served as a member.

Graves is an accountant by profession which should qualify her for either the State Auditor or Treasurer positions. Both of those offices are expected to be vacated by Incumbent Republicans.

Treasurer Riley Moore has already announced a Congressional run for 2024 and Auditor J.B. McCuskey is among those thought to be considering a run for Governor then.

Graves would be an attractive, articulate candidate for any position. A solid conservative, she just wasn’t far right enough to suit the nutty, conspiracy-theorist crowd.

Hopefully she’ll toss her hat in the ring.

* * * * * *

When Republicans made two moves designed to help their future political goals, many of us wondered seriously about the changes.

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One misstep was eliminating a straight ticket option from general election ballots.

It’s understandable that, after 80-plus years of Democrat control, Republicans thougIht making voters mark the entire ballot and individual races would help them.

Nobody could have predicted how the popularity of Donald Trump would translate into making West Virginia the solidest of the red states.

With Trump leading the ticket, Republicans in 2020 would likely have gained larger supermajorities if voters could have made just one mark seal their vote for the entire ticket. 

Another move that has likely not benefited the GOP is the switch to non-partisan voting for court races.

While the theory of fairness makes the latter move seem logical, the state’s overwhelming turn to the right makes it a GOP loser, too.

Now voters face court races where they may have no idea who is the conservative Republican or liberal Democrat.

That potentially results in liberal Democrats winning judge positions that voters would not have chosen if only they knew their choice was liberal.

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Efforts are being made to change the judge balloting back to partisan. Putnam County Senator Eric Tarr is pushing for the change.

A hurdle to cross in passing the change is powerful Eastern Panhandle Senator Charles Trump.

If so, that change will not be approved. Some Republicans want to revise state Judicial districts to give them a perceived advantage. 

For example, some GOP leaders feel coming up with judicial districts that potentially pit two incumbent Democrats is a good idea.

Among those projected races would be Kanawha circuit judges Tera Salango and Joanna Tabit. Honestly, Republicans would like to be rid of both ladies.

* * * * * *

There’s no way the elimination of obvious political affiliation is realistic in bringing forth a non-partisan judiciary.

I’ve mentioned before that registered Republican judge candidates flock to GOP events and seldom attend Democrat sponsored rallies. The same is true in reverse for Democrat candidates.

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So it’s a sham process to begin with, giving only the appearance of non-partisanship.

In some cases, the legislative intent of non-partisanship was likely good. Still others thought it would make registered Republicans more electable not to include their party with their name on the ballot.

Now, in the Age of Trump, it would actually.  be helpful to have an “R” beside a judge candidate’s name.

It’s interesting how the intent of those proposing legislation comes nowhere close to the actual.results.

* * *.*.*.*

Another Republican potential for statewide office is apparently Andrea Garrett Kiessling.

You’ll remember her controversial removal from the District Eight State Senate ballot in 2022.

Kiessling.wanted to run in the new district that includes Roane and Clay counties and parts of Kanawha, Putnam and Jackson. 

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A Kanawha County voter in the district, Alicia Stine, petitioned to remove Kiessling from the ballot because she claimed the candidate did not meet the residency requirement.

Stine’s formal complaint came after another candidate in the race, Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, questioned whether Kiessling met the residency requirements. Stine’s Charleston attorney Anthony Majestro, contended in a petition that Kiessling was actually a North Carolina resident well past the requirements established by West Virginia’s constitution.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom sided with Stine and tossed Kiessling from the ballot.

Former House member Mark Hunt went on to win the seat with Kiessling’s support.

Kiessling now works for State Treasurer Riley Moore.

Some observers express disgust that party leaders recruited Kiessling without checking her legal qualifications to begin with. They say those same leaders “owe” Kiessling support for a state race next time.

* * * * * 

It looks like Kanawha may get some attention from their new Congresswoman Carol Miller.

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Mooney gave little consideraton to the state’s biggest county because he needed little support from there. As I’ve mentioned before, by the time Eastern Panhandle votes were counted, Mooney had previous elections won.

City of Charleston and Kanawha County officials will tell you they never saw Mooney during his years allegedly representing them.

But the 2020 census brought about redistricting which removed Kanawha to Congresswoman Miller’s new First District.

So last week, Miller, a Republican like Mooney, visited Charleston to speak at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Harmony Transformation Network.

That’s a clinic with a group of board-certified psychiatrists and licensed therapists who provide general psychiatry services to adults andadolescents in communities throughout West Virginia. 

After speaking at the clinic, Miller actually attended the Kanawha County Commission meeting Thursday evening.

That may be the first time a Congressional Representative has been at the Charleston courthouse in more than a decade. Surely the late Congressman John Slack, who represented Charleston for decades, would be appalled at Mooney’s total disregard for Kanawha. 

It’s difficult to believe Mooney simply ignored the largest city and county in the district and is still a viable candidate for public office. Political Science 101 would say that’s not a good idea. 

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Miller shared what the Republican-led House of Representatives policy plans are for the next two years.

She was welcomed by the two Commission Democrats (President Kent Carper and Ben Salango) and fellow Republican Lance Wheeler.

As noted here earlier, Miller worked swiftly to establish an office in the capital city after Mooney abandoned his on December 1.

Miller no longer operates an office in Bluefield with the new redistricting in effect. Staffers say Bluefield area needs are now answered from their Beckley office.

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.