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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – March 12, 2023

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Ron Gregory Political Columnist - WV Statewide News

Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish the good guys from the bad. At other times, it’s just plain impossible.

One aspect of the human existence that I’ve written about over the years involves feelings and emotions.

More and more I find myself writing something slightly negative toward a public official and then adding, “I consider him (or her) a friend. Always liked him.”

My point is as it has always been: nobody’s perfect but few are all bad either.

Reporters who claim total objectivity and even strive for it will always come up short. And a totally unbiased soul is impossible to find.

I’d suggest it’s always been this way too.

I, for one, also instantly form an opinion about people I meet. I either immediately like or dislike them and that opinion seldom changes. That’s not fair but it’s true.

I chuckle at solid conservatives who want to “go back to “when the evening news was fair and unbiased.”

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It never was.

They think Walter Cronkite was a beacon of fairness?

Let me ask this: would anyone dream that “Uncle Walter” even considered voting for Barry Goldwater against LBJ? You really think Goldwater had a fair shot at ABC, CBS or NBC? No way.

They portrayed him as the bomb happy cowboy from.Arizona no.matter what he said or did.p

But bias works two ways. A journalist, like everyone else, can either be prejudiced for or against a candidate. That leads to completely different ways of handling any controversy the candidate gets involved in.

Just a minute. There is a point to my sermon this morning. 

In covering the 2024 gubernatorial election, I am already compromised. The fact is I like just about everyone running. I consider most to be my friends. I like Republicans Chris Miller, Terri Bradshaw, Secretary of State Mac Warner, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Auditor JB McCuskey and Delegate Moore Capito. Likewise, I like Democrats Stephen Smith, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango. I respect and admire all three.

And I’ll just go ahead and say it: I like former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. He’s not quite the villain he’s portrayed in the media to be. ,

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It would be personally difficult for me to unmercifully attack any of these candidates and potential candidates, even if I thought they were dead wrong. There is no underlying disdain for any of them. When they foul up, we’ll report it but there will be no sarcastic club to drive the message home.

I think everyone I’ve named would be an improvement over the incumbent, Republican Jim Justice. At least these other folks would live in the Governor’s Mansion, as the law requires.

A reporter even tends to become sympathetic to dubious explanations when he likes the person spreading them. If it suits your perspective better to believe your wife spent last night in that hanommock you removed six months ago, that’s her story, she’s sticking to it and you halfway believe it.

This then, finally.brings us to our reason for all this prose.

Recent days have seen illustrations of the upheaval within the state Republican party that I’ve been telling you about for months.

Nothing causes dissention like success. After more than eight decades as the state minority party, Republicans have no idea how to handle being in charge.

A symptom of the problem came to light Friday when Republican State Senators ejected Randolph County Republican Senator Robert Karnes from the chamber basically for disagreeing with Senate President Craig Blair, also a Republican.

We’ll go more in depth with that dispute next week.

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One prime example of friction  is Karnes’ full frontal verbal assault on Blair earlier in the week.

Granted, Karnes is a maverick. He is not leadership’s favorite Republican – ever. But he IS an elected Republican and member of the 31-3 majority.

As a reporter, I like Karnes because he’s candid and always good for a zinger quote.

Karnes wrote a letter last week that stopped just short of calling Blair a thief and a fraud. He focused on Senate Bill 740, setting up legislative pay raises.

Against the backdrop of the pay raise bill, Karnes essentially saipd Blair was just padding his own already outrageous salary.

If asked, most statehouse inhabitants would tell you legislators are paid $20,000 per year. Karnes also acknowledges that is currently the base salary for both delegates and senators.

But that’s not nearly all they get coming their way.

More concerning, Karnes said Blair stands to take home $180,000 a year in salary and compensation if 740 was signed into law..

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Currently, legislators also receive an expense reimbursement of about $131 per day for the 60-day session which totals around $7,860. This covers the cost of hotels, food, etc.

In addition, they also receive about $135 pay per day for interim and special sessions plus $131 each day to cover expenses.

“Most legislators receive about $30,000 to $35,000 in total compensation per year depending on special sessions and interim committees,” Karnes summarizes.

He adds, “A few committee chairs and officers get what are referred to as ‘duty days’ which they can take at their discretion to engage in meetings, preparatory work in advance of special sessions and interims, etc. Typically capped at about 30 days for a chair of, say Education. This adds about $8,000 per year if they use every duty day.”

Karnes goes on, “So for major committee chairs, work with regular session, interim sessions and special sessions a committee chair works typically 100 days per year and then if they use all of their duty days perhaps 130 to 135 total days. This totals about $40,000 to $45,000 of pay and expense money for these major committee chairs. (Judiciary, Finance, Education are a few.)”

Hold on to your seat, these $20,000 employees may start costing us real money.

“Senate President Craig Blair makes exhaustive use of ‘duty days’ to the extent that in 2022 he received over $65,000 in pay plus at least $35,000 in expense money, totaling over $100,000 for a $20,000 per year job. In total he claimed to have worked more than five days per week, 52 weeks per year,” according to Karnes.

He adds, “No senate president in the history of West Virginia has … duty days to the extent Craig Blair has. None were even close.”

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Karnes figures for the typical legislator the pay raise will change the $20,000 in base to $29,000 and all other pay and expenses combined with the base will total about $50,000 in compensation. 

“This probably makes sense,” Karnes asserts. “There is a lot of work that gets done outside of Charleston that is uncompensated for most legislators.”

But Karnes’ endorsement stops there. He says if Blair continues his 2022 practices, the Senate President will be paid between $150,000 and $180,000 annually in total compensation.

Many readers are already agreeing with the Randolph senator. I’ve had dozens of.phone calls of support for Karnes since the story first appeared. Not one has defended Blair.

Karnes, one of those labeled as an ultra conservative by me, sure seems to be right on this one.

He sums things up, “this bill would potentially make the president of the senate the highest compensated elected official in West Virginia. Current pay for the governor is $150,000, Attorney General is $95,000, Secretary of State is $95,000, etc. Even if the bill to raise pay for these offices passes, the senate president will make about the same as the governor at $180,000 and more than any of the others, who will be paid $115,000. Not bad for a part time job.”

So that issue is a clear sign of Republican division.

* * * * * *

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Then there’s the Shepherd University “legislative retreat.”

“Why is our Republican and supposedly conservative legislature involved in a retreat being run by the far-left Hunt Institute?” an Eastern Panhandle reader asked. It drew dividing lines for legislative Republicans as well.

Objections and questions came after the agenda for the April 6 and 7 event at Shepherd University was allegedly placed on legislators’ desks by ultra liberal.Kanawha Democrat Delegate Kayla Young.

The Hunt Institute was formed by former Democrat Governor of North Carolina Jim Hunt and has been denied funding at the University of North Carolina for being too liberal. They were also instrumental in the creation of Common Core and fully support Critical Race Theory (CRT), according to a Jefferson County and various Internet sources.

Additionally, The Hunt Institute has received millions from the Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Neither are known as big time conservatives. 

The invitation letter distributed   by Young bears her signature. Also signing is State Auditor JB McCuskey,  Secretary of State Mac Warner, and State Senators Patricia Rucker and Ben Queen. The latter four are Republicans. McCuskey and Warner have announced their candidacies for Governor in 2024.

“No organization that promotes Common Core and CRT should be anywhere near education in West Virginia,” boomed one Eastern Panhandle social media site with reference to the retreat.

If I didn’t like all the folks who signed the invitation, I’d probably say they used poor judgment in becoming involved with this group. 

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A call to Shepherd University  seeking further details about financial arrangements, etc. was not returned. Now a  FOIA ēwill be served on the school. We will get the facts.

For now, most GOP Legislators were negative in private conversations with a reporter, but few wanted to comment publicly about the retreat.

For his part, Secretary Warner stressed his conservative credentiais and repeatedly pointed out that former New Jerseyl Republican Governor Thomas Kean was involved in founding the Hunt organization.

Saying he will attend the session, Warner said, “Everybody knows I’m no radical left winger.”

Contacted by text, McCuskey initially wasn’t sure what meeting was being referenced. He asked to see the letter and was provided a copy. Other than indicating he was working with the Hunt group.”on a couple of things,” he did not respond to further texted questions.

Some free advice: McCuskey’s  silence does little to enhance his campaign theme of transparency.

* * * * * *

Conclusion: the “retreat” underscores the GOP division between hard core right wingers and what might be described as moderates.

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As I said, I like McCuskey and Warner. They’d be well advised to stay away from Shepherdstown in early April if they really want to be governor. It will cost them votes and not gain a single one.

Liking them, I choose to believe they don’t see this retreat as a choice between being true conservatives and radical liberals.

Nevertheless, it is.

Being honored and called a “Hunt Kean Fellow” isn’t worth it.

The Jefferson social site suggested those wanting to know more about the Hunt  Institute can go to: https://www.influencewatch org/non-profit/the-hunt-institutefor that information.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185; ronjoegregory@gmail.com; or PO Box 20297, Charleston, WV 25362. Confidentiality guaranteed.

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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.

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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.