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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – February 26, 2023

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Ron Gregory Political Columnist - WV Statewide News

When is it good government and when is it vote buying?

We can likely agree that good government serves the people well while vote buying does not.

Governor Jim Justice has perfected the art of delivering state grant checks all over the state. He and Babydog are familiar faces to boards, commissions, and agencies around the state that have applied for and been granted state funds.

The grant money would be just as effective without Justice’s personal touch delivery. Without a doubt, he’s using those grants as campaign tools.

To watch Justice in action in the communities, you’d think the funds were coming from his own pocket. We all know nothing comes from those pockets.

Other governors have personally delivered these same kinds of checks but never with the numbers Justice does.

While all governors of recent memory spent hours working at their desks, this one is a road warrior. He’s a stranger at the capitol.

Most recently he took to the road to deliver an Assistance grant in the amount of $2,080,000 for the Appalachian Regional Airport in Mingo County. That was the backdrop to an opportunity to campaign. Everybody knows the term-limited Governor intends to run for U.S. Senate next year.

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Clearly, as I’ve also said before, Justice doesn’t like being in Charleston a minute longer than absolutely necessary. That’s underscored by the fact that, despite agreeing in court to reside in the Governor’s Mansion as the law requires, he refuses to do so 

Among recent reasons given for avoiding the Mansion like a pandemic is that First Lady Cathy Justice wants to be at home in Lewisburg with her friends. Maybe she could try making some new ones in Charleston.

But the overriding question remains: is Justice really getting the job done while absent from the capital city? 

Many say the State Police shenanigans we discussed last week and similar incidents in other state departments are indicative of a disinterested and disengaged Governor.

“While JJ is away playing the Godfather, the youngsters are at play doing as they wish,” said one longtime state employee. “In fact, nobody’s minding the store.” Not only is Justice not minding the store, he avoids it with all his might.

Voters have approved Justice’s performance by re-electing him. We’ll see if they still approve when he runs for U.S. Senate next year.

I don’t think so. 

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There are many rumors in the Department of Highways similar to those with the State Police.

A major incident that is confirmed by reliable sources involves a relative of Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston.

Allegedly one of the top engineers at Transportation (Wriston’s relative) made a sexual overture to a Highway employee that was not well received.

The victim supposedly went to Wriston and he did nothing about it. The victim then went to the Equal Employment Opportunity office with what was characterized as overwhelming evidence. 

At some point, the relative apparently was barred from the building and retired.

In the Highways newsletter, the employee who allegedly made the sexual advance was widely praised when he retired.

* * * * * *

Or as one longtime reader said after reading our State Police fiasco story last week, “Sounds like they’re all doing what the state has been doing to us for years.”

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On the subject of State Police, the sexual escapades sell newspapers but it is allegations of financial fraud that should get real attention.

And the alleged police misspending has the common thread of the state-issued purchasing card. It’s  commonly called the state “p card.”

It was that card at the root of financial woes for the City of Richwood and other state government entities as well.

Apparently, no matter how clear the rules are, some folks cannot resist using the p card for personal items. There are so many of the cards issued it’s not likely every holder has been trained in proper usage either.

It’s an auditor’s dream how simple it is to track those illegal p card expenditures. If the store receipt shows a Highway worker paid for a Coke with the p card that’s probably an unauthorized expenditure and the paperwork is automatically there to prove it.

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Startling might be a word to describe the news that Benjamin Cisco allegedly embezzled as much as $800,000 from a charitable organization.

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I do not know Cisco well. He was involved in grassroots Mingo County Democrat politics along with other members of his family. He was also an automobile salesman some years ago.

Back then, I was in several political meetings in Mingo where he was in attendance.

Bright and articulate, it’s hard to imagine what led to this, but the filing of Federal Information indicates he has potentially admitted to it.

The information also likely indicates he is cooperating with authorities to implicate others. In addition, the information says he embezzled to benefit himself “and others.”

One huge transaction was facilitated by using someone else’s ID. The filing says that person is “known to the grand jury” and uses the initials J.R.

The scope of wrongdoing obviously extends beyond the organization’s bases in Belle and Williamson.

While I wish it had never happened and have sympathy for his family, it’s intriguing to follow who else may be involved.

We’ll keep an eye on it. And in this case, it’s not who shot J.R., it’s who is J.R.?

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Are state legislators making a power grab for the state Republican Executive Committee?

Some grassroots party faithful think that’s exactly what’s behind a planned effort to revise the bylaws.

The state chair, Elgine McArdle, is set to preside at the group’s winter meeting in March. Presumably, she favors the changes since they are coming on her watch.

Regular GOP field workers and some county chairs see the new rules as designed to give legislators more power on the committee.

It’s another sign of Republican power that anyone wants to control the state committee. A decade ago when Democrats ran state government, nobody really cared what the state Republican party said or did.

All that changed when the GOP won its supermajority in the legislature.

By and large, grassroots members of the state committee feel underappreciated by legislators they feel would have lost without their support. Some legislators, on the other hand, feel grassroots workers do not give candidates enough credit for winning their own elections.

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I’ve said it before but nothing sparks jealousy and turmoil like success. Everyone wants to claim credit when the party is winning; nobody is to blame when they’re losing.

The list of proposed changes totals 23 pages. Some county chairs oppose every one of the suggested alterations while others favor a few changes.

One pointed out by all opponents is the expansion of the steering committee from 10 to 35 members. That would automatically include the Republican leader of the State Senate and House of Delegates. Currently, that would be Senate President Craig Blair and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw. They are believed to be involved with the legislative takeover.

In addition to tripling the size of the committee, a $200 fee would be assessed from each member and there would be additional responsibilities.

Another county chair objects to the increased power given to the committee. Under the changes, rather than nominate officers from the floor, a “slate” of officers will be presented to the steering committee. If the committee accepts, the slate takes office. If they reject the slate, a different one will be presented for approval.

In other words, only the steering committee would have a say in who the officers are.

Rank and file members will have little input into any part of the organization if these amendments are adopted. 

One county chair told me he did not even think legislators should be on the committee let alone being automatically on the most powerful committee there.

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Some have suggested an effort will be made to table the changes.

This chair appears to be as power-hungry as former Chair Melody Potter. It was Potter who assumed the power to remove county chairs. Who can forget her arbitrary removal of a top-notch county chair in Wood County’s Rob Cornelius simply because he had the nerve to disagree with her?

We’ll discuss this radical bylaw change more in a future column before the March meeting. Let’s hope they aren’t adopted.

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State Auditor J.B. McCuskey and the State Republican Party have scheduled a prayer breakfast at Charleston’s Embassy Suites on March 1.

Word of the event came by email that reproduced a fancy invitation.

McCuskey has pre-filed for an undisclosed office and is known to be considering a run for Governor in 2024. He is also considering a bid for Attorney General.

The latest campaign finance report says McCuskey has about $330,000 on hand.

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Since other prominent Republicans are also running or considering a run for Governor, I asked state party official Byron Fisher how the joint sponsorship was decided. He said it was because McCuskey secured the speaker.

The special guest will be Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law & Justice.

There will be a roundtable question and answer session from 7:30 to.8:30 a.m. The cost to attend is $500.

The prayer breakfast runs from 8:30 to 10 with a suggested donation of $50.

The printed invitation says it’s paid for by the state party with no mention of the McCuskey campaign. It will be interesting to see if the State GOP co-sponsors events for other candidates and picks up the tab. Also, will they list the breakfast as an in-kind contribution to McCuskey’s campaign?

Meanwhile, as noted, McCuskey sits with his $330,000 and free publicity courtesy of the State GOP. 

* * * * * *

As I said last week. Republican National Committeewoman Beth Bloch likely did not know of disgraced Mingo Judge Michael Thornsbury’s triumphant return to politics at the GOP’s Valentine Dinner Dance at Delbarton.

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At the time, I wrote, Bloch “likely didn’t even know Thornsbury attended.”

After the column. appeared she confirmed that. She said she was praising the event and not anyone in attendance when she offered compliments on social media.

She was thrilled that the once dormant Mingo GOP has now shown signs of life. In fact, a former longtime Democrat official said the other day, “you gotta have that red R by your name now to win.”

Bloch is a real asset to the State GOP and my reference to her was not intended to be negative in any way. I would never criticize a hard worker like her who gives freely of her time for the good of the party. She’s also as honest as the day is long.

Apologies if it seemed that I was being critical.

* * * * * *

Races in 2024 that will draw considerable attention will include the two Supreme Court vacancies.

Both incumbents John Hutchison and C. Haley Bunn are generally expected to seek new terms. Both were appointed to the bench to fill vacancies by Governor Justice.

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Hutchison subsequently won a special election to complete his term. Bunn has not faced voters before and honestly, has sparse judicial qualifications.

It remains to be seen if the legislature changes it but for now, judges are elected in non-partisan balloting in the primary.

Bunn has already filed pre-candidacy papers. Her attorney credentials are impressive but, as noted, her judicial experience is thin. It will be interesting to see if voters consider experience essential.

Hutchison is commonly known as “Jim Justice’s lawyer.”

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185; ronjoegregory@gmail.com; or P.O. 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.