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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – February 19, 2023

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Ron Gregory Political Columnist - WV Statewide News

If any political gossip columnist ever prayed for and received the gift that keeps on giving, it doesn’t get any better than Mingo County, West Virginia.

I love Mingo and its people. Friendly and kind with southern drawls and personality that make one think he’s been transported to Alabama. That’s my precious Mingo County.

And if you want dysfunctional politics, it’s also the place to be. If it’s weird and hasn’t happened yet in Mingo political circles, it soon will.

Mingo has been front and center on a topic we’ve discussed recently. It is a shining example of a longtime Democrat County that fell over for Donald Trump Republicanism. Hundreds have left the Democrats and switched to either Republican or Independent.

The GOP resurgence has been clear in the last two elections. A full Republican slate in 2022 came close when they wouldn’t have been in the race ten years ago.

Political novice Republican Audrey Smith nearly beat entrenched Democrat Circuit Clerk Lonnie Hannah. The incumbent is a former sheriff and longtime Mingo politician.

In fact, Smith requested a recount and ended up losing by only 55 votes.

Smith is the widow of the late County Commissioner Gavin Smith. He suddenly passed while serving as a commissioner in 2021.

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Another newcomer, Bethany Goad Cisco, was the GOP candidate who gave incumbent Democrat County Clerk Yogi Croaff quite a battle for that seat as well. She did have the political experience of having been deputy county clerk.

Now, I hear, both ladies are poised to run for office again in two years. One may run for incumbent County Commissioner Diann Hannah’s seat with the other running for assessor.

It’s thought that current longtime Democrat Assessor Ramona Mahon will retire. Hannah does a great job as commissioner and will be a tough challenge for anyone.

While the flip of counties like Mingo from Democrat to Republican is fascinating, that’s not what this segment is all about. No, not hardly.

Saturday night the exuberant Mingo Republicans planned a Valentine party at The Event Center in Delbarton. It was the subject of Facebook postings galore the next day.

Fascinating to see was the face some said is now heading the Mingo GOP. He appeared in several photos in the near-embrace of the widow Audrey Smith.

The face was familiar to all. No guesswork was involved. It was the disgraced former Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury.

Yes, THAT Michael Thornsbury. The one who went to prison for corruption. 

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“The new face of Mingo County Republicans?” joked former Democrat State Senator Truman Chafin when I asked if he’d seen the photos. Chafin is the Mingo Democrat chair.

By Monday the courthouse was filled with rumors. Many said the ex-judge, who was convicted of rigging a grand jury to indict a romantic rival, had actually been behind the county GOP organization – which includes a new women’s organization Smith and Cisco have been linked to – for months.

As a judge, Thornsbury was an intolerant king who ruled Mingo from the bench. It was his way or the highway. He was thoroughly corrupt. Despite it all, dozens reacted positively to the new pictures. Others told me the old judge was well-received at the party. The pictures show him being well-received by Smith for sure.

While I advocate forgiveness as much as the next guy and I’m a poster child for making mistakes I’m not sure Mingo Republicans should be touting their fondness for the former judge.

There are still plenty of Mingo Countians who suffered through Thornsbury’s tyrannical rule. They will not be pleased with any party that embraces him. 

And to be fair, there are Mingo voters who may have been correctly punished by the judge who will resent his presence as well. Believe me, he did nothing in his courtroom to win him a popularity contest.

I’m not saying he should be banished from society but he should not be the symbol for a political party either.

Smith displayed a lack of good judgment when she tried to get commissioners to appoint her to her late husband’s seat. It was a position she was not eligible for as a registered independent when her husband died as a Republican.

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It may be indicative of that lack of judgment that she paraded the Thornsbury pictures on social media.

An earlier posting of Smith and Thornsbury together brought 131 “likes” and 23 favorable comments. That clearly shows 

Thornsbury still has some support. I just doubt it’s anything near a majority. And I doubt that he should be in any party leadership position.

GOP leaders will say Thornsbury is not really their leader. The pictures say otherwise.

Despite charging $25 each or $40 for a couple, the fancy invitation posted for “The Red Party” had no disclaimer listing the sponsor as required by law.

I only called it a Republican event because that’s who advertised it and GOP National Committeewoman Beth Bloch praised it as part of the GOP rebirth in Mingo. She likely didn’t even know Thornsbury attended.

Things just get stranger and stranger in Mingo County.

* * * * * *

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One interesting scenario is presented by those switching to independent. At least one current Democrat officeholder told me he was thinking of registering as an independent “so next time, I can walk in and file with whichever party gives me the best chance of winning. If Trump’s heading the Republican ticket, I’ll just file as a Republican.”

A Secretary of State spokesperson basically confirmed he’s right. “If he walks in and registers as a Democrat or Republican, he can file with that party and there’s no waiting period,” said the spokesperson. 

So it may be interesting to see how many Democrat county officials register independent this year in anticipation of 2024.

By the way, I think that process is unfair and wrong. While requirements differ, in most cases a candidate must have been a member of his or her party for a certain period of time to seek the nomination. It’s not at all fair that an independent can walk in, register Democrat and file right then for office on the Democrat ticket. The same is true if he or she registers Republican and files to run on the spot.

It’s an option available to independents but not Democrats or Republicans. That’s not fair.

It’s too late now, but Secretary of State Mac Warner should have recommended legislation to fix that discrepancy.

* * * * * *

Delegate Heather Glasko-Tully, a Nicholas County Republican, didn’t exactly appear in awe while dealing with new Kanawha Senator Mike Stuart on social media last week.

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Stuart started the verbal brawl by attacking Republican members of the House Health Committee who he said “purported” to be anti-drug and pro-children. Stuart based his negative assessment of “conservative Republicans” on their decision to pull an anti-drug bill he favored.

Glasko-Tully shot back. “If the Senator knew as much as he thinks he does, he would be in good shape.” She then explained and reproduced a text from the bill’s lead sponsor asking that the bill be temporarily pulled for technical reasons.

No response was visible from Stuart so Glasko-Tully fired the final volley.

“How funny your tirade comes after I recently asked you about your failure to prosecute millions of dollars in FEMA fraud in Richwood after the 2016 flood!” Glasko-Tully wrote. “Could it be that a former Circuit Judge (from Richwood) had a son-in-law that worked as Asst. US Attorney at the same time?”

Stuart did not respond to that comment anywhere that I saw.

Stuart served as U.S. Attorney under President Trump. The Richwood fiasco was investigated by, among others, State Auditor JB McCuskey. Despite findings, as Glasko-Tully says, of millions in fraud only minor prosecutions were pursued by the Nicholas County prosecutor.

Then-U.S. Attorney Stuart was aware of the investigations but no federal charges were forthcoming.

Stuart has a reputation as a hard-nosed, take-no-prisoner type of outspoken guy. He might want to give it some thought before firing at Glasko-Tully’s committee again.

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* * * * * *

I, of course, have no idea if some should have been prosecuted by Stuart. But the appearance is not good.

I consider Stuart a friend. We spent a lot of time together in the 2004 Dan Moore for Governor campaign. He is used to just saying what he thinks. That doesn’t always make a lot of friends in politics.

* * * * * *

Count former Republican State Senator Clark S. Barnes, 71, as a pre-candidate aspiring to join his party’s newfound West Virginia political domination.

Barnes represented Senate District 11 from 2004 to 2015, when the GOP was only a minor force in the legislature. His district included his home base of French Creek, Upshur County. 

He resigned at the beginning of the 2015 legislative session after being elected Senate Clerk when Republicans became the majority party. He replaced iconic former State Senator and Clerk Democrat Joe Minard of Clarksburg.

Barnes has pre-filed for an undisclosed office. Unlike many precandidates, Barnes appears not to have social media sites boosting his potential candidacy. It isn’t clear, then, what he’s running for although he previously ran for Governor, finishing third in the primary. That was in the 2011 special election eventually won by Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin.

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* * * * * *

I’m told political consultant John Findlay was his usual charming self when he brought the Alex Mooney for U.S. Senate campaign to the capitol last week. 

The Mooneys invited folks for lunch in the East Wing. Eventual crowd estimates were that 20 to 25 attended, a sparse turnout for one of these giveaways.

Most joked about expecting Chik-fil-A, Mooney’s favored food for questionably spending donor money on. Instead, they were initially treated to – nothing except Findlay’s smiling face. Most were not happy. I can’t figure out why.

When the “food” finally arrived it was a fruit bowl, vegetables and cheese and crackers.

Some expressed their disappointment and a few offered to go pick up the aforementioned Chik-fil-A. Findlay rebuffed those offers.

I told you Findlay would manage to further destroy Mooney’s already dismal chances of being a Senator.

Mooney himself finally showed up late for the “lunch.”

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* * * * * *

Among other pre-filers, Alexander

David Gaaserud has thrown his hat in the ring for Governor. Now there’s a household name. He’s a Republican.

A Mountain Party candidate has also signed up for Governor. It’s none other than Chase J. Linko-Looper. Not a household name yet either but sure to be one if elected.

Steven Harris is a Republican for Secretary of State. That’s an open seat since incumbent Mac Warner is running for Governor.

Roy Ramey is running again for Agriculture Commissioner. He’s a Republican. Incumbent Republican Kent Leonhardt has pre-filed for an unspecified office. It is commonly known he is testing the waters to run for Governor but also announced on social media he will seek re-election to his current position. 

Stephen Schetrom is running as a Republican for State Treasurer. Incumbent Republican Riley Moore has announced he’s running for congress making this an open seat.

Lincoln County Commissioner and former Assistant State 

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Treasurer Josh Stowers is said to be considering running for Treasurer. A former Democrat, he is now a Republican as well.

Stowers would be the favorite among most contenders. He was a popular member of the 

House of Delegates before becoming longtime Treasurer John Perdue’s assistant.

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

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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.