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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – May 21, 2023

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Ron Gregory political columnist


I start with what has become a regular disclaimer: I happen to like Williamson Mayor Charlie Hatfield as a person. 

He’s jovial and optimistic. I think, quite honestly, he’s been good for the Mingo County seat.

There’s not much the greatest mayor who ever lived (former Williamson Mayor Sam Kaporales?) could do to help the economic plight Mingo County found itself in during recent years.

Coal production and related industries just aren’t what they once were. 

The Hillary Clintons and Joe Bidens of the world have seen to that.

Williamson, went from being a real boom town to a bust. Second Avenue is lined with empty store spaces where once commerce thrived.

National chain retailers once held their own downtown. Now there’s not even a full-fledged grocery store on the West Virginia side of the river.

The decline was slow but  inevitable. Some state, local and national officials took forever to realize that the “War on Coal” was actually working. 

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Adjustments to a more diversified economy were too slowly implemented. Look at Pikeville then look at Williamson. Pikeville changed with the times; Williamson didn’t.

Only recently has Mingo found new leaders to turn the county around.

An intelligent business lady like Diann Hannah on the County Commission has made a world of difference.

Things are hopeful but an instant turnaround just hasn’t been in the cards for the entire economic landscape.

I suspect Hatfield and a couple co-investors got involved and tried to save the local full-service hospital when it was too late. I believe their intentions were good.

With the Appalachian Regional Hospital facility thriving just across the river in Kentucky, there weren’t sufficient patient numbers and revenue to keep two full-service hospitals open.

Hatfield and others tried to keep the vital link to Williamson open. It just couldn’t be done and some bills were never paid.

Hatfield has been blamed for a fiscal disaster likely not of his making. To top that, Council makes him look like a villain when there’s no public evidence he’s erred as a mayor.

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Having attended some Williamson council meetings over the years, I can attest that there are widely divergent points of view. The patience of Job would be stretched thin by some members of city council and their ideas to jumpstart the community.

Eventually, as noted, Mayor Hatfield became involved with Williamson Memorial Hospital. Like the Cinderella Theater and so many other quality of life offerings, the hospital was doomed.

But the Mayor was on the side of the angels as far as his constituents were concerned. They wanted “their” hospital – not ARC.

Sadly, Williamson Memorial closed its doors but efforts are being made to bring it back with various medical services and clinics. While I doubt it will ever be the same, some believe it will.

I think it won’t be the same and the hospital went through a bankruptcy first.

A subsequent investigation was not exactly complimentary of his hospital leadership.

Although there are no criminal charges against Hatfield or others in leadership, disgruntled council members seized the opportunity to remove the Mayor’s ability to sign checks and other financial documents of the town.

Keep in mind again the violations he was cited for were not city-related.

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I say if there are no municipal charges against Hatfield as Mayor, it is improper to punish him by diminishing his city duties.

Actually, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit some time ago against the former hospital CEO and current Mayor Hatfield, according to a news release from the agency.

In the release, the agency said it has taken legal action after an investigation by its Employee Benefits Security Administration found Hatfield, who was a fiduciary of the company’s health care plan, allegedly failed to forward contributions to the plan. That led to the plan’s cancellation, leaving employees with a number of unpaid claims and without health care coverage.

Apparently, the funds were deducted from employee paychecks but never forwarded on to the proper agency.

But let me emphasize: to the public’s knowledge, there is no evidence of Hatfield mishandling a city check or any other city finances.

It’s only fair to give him that power back, it seems to me. Council should not be able to strip the Mayor of any duties or supervision without court action of some kind linking Hatfield to misdeeds at the city.

* * * * * *

A good man, Billy Wayne Bailey has passed away, according to various sources.

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Bailey served in the West Virginia Senate as a Democrat from 1991 to 2008, when he decided not to run for that office again. That year, fellow senators recognized his time in office with a resolution that recognized him as a “dedicated public servant and distinguished West Virginian.”

He was definitely that. A Catholic, Bailey displayed the true compassion and public spirit of a real Christian.

Seldom did I ever talk with Bailey that he wasn’t looking for a job or some other favor for the less fortunate.

And he always had a touch of a smile, even on his most challenging day.

He represented Wyoming County during his tenure in the Legislature. More recently, he had been living in Culloden, Cabell County. 

Bailey was recently  working as deputy secretary of the state Department of Veterans Assistance.

Bailey was another “old school” politician who actually cared about his constituents.

After Bailey left the Senate, he ran for Secretary of State but was defeated in the Democrat primary. He ran for Cabell County Commission in 2020. He campaigned very little  and lost that race as well.

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In fact, so low key was his campaign that dozens of Cabell Countians asked me who he was on election day.

Current State Senate President Craig Blair, a Republican,  expressed sorrow over Bailey’s death and admiration for his commitment to public service in an interview with MetroNews.

“I’m saddened by the news of the passing of Senator Bailey, who welcomed me to the West Virginia Legislature when I became a Delegate in 2003. We shared many conversations, challenges and most of all, our laughter,” Blair stated.

“I will personally miss my friend Billy Wayne and my prayers are with his family during this time of great sorrow.”

There will never be another Billy Wayne Bailey. West Virginians will miss him.

* * * * * *

Another great public servant is Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.

It’s been a difficult few days for Carper, a unique elected official.

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A born leader, Carper has been president of the commission in the state’s largest county for more than two decades.

Most commissions alternate presidents but his various fellow commissioners have recognized his inherent leadership skills for these many years.

Carper is smart and stays on the cutting edge. No valuable innovation gets past him

As most readers know, he’s suffered serious health problems of late, including open heart surgery the past few days. 

Those who pray should be asking for a full recovery. The rest of us will be constantly hoping he comes back to his seat on the bench soon.

Suffice it to say there can be no replacement for Carper. He’s one of a kind and we need him.

* * * * * *

While most of us have figured it will be another landslide year for Republicans in 2024, the apple cart could get upset easily enough.

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In my opinion, the key to Democrat chances at the governorship lie in the hands of Republicans.

While I expect former President Donald Trump to trounce Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the GOP Presidential nod and Governor Jim Justice to top Congressman Alex Mooney for the U.S. Senate, it depends on how much animosity they stir within the Republicans whether the Dems stand a chance or not.

If somehow Mooney could make the contest with Justice a close outcome, a Democrat might take advantage of the rift and get a surprise win.

It would harken back to 1996 when Kanawha State Senator Charlotte Pritt upset Joe Manchin in the Democrat primary.

That led to a bitter general election wherein Manchin actually endorsed Republican nominee Cecil Underwood, who won a second, non-consecutive term in the Mansion.

If Mooney could give Justice a close race, it might stir enough turmoil in the GOP to let the Democrat win the Governor race. I still think Manchin retains his Senate seat either way.

Mooney knows how to run a negative campaign, as Ron Young, former Maryland legislator and Mayor of Frederick, can attest.

So if Mooney fires up the anti-Justice drums and Justice targets Mooney, the disunity sparks may fly.

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* * * * * *

If Republicans fight enough in any statewide race it could open the door for a Democrat return.

And who would Democrats push for Governor?

Outgoing Huntington Mayor Steve Williams told me last week he is still looking seriously at a run for Governor in ’24.

Another with interest is the 2020 nominee, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango.

Both would be viewed as moderates and stand a chance of putting a coalition together.

On the liberal fringe, Stephen Smith will likely run again. Founder of “West Virginia Can’t Wait,” he finished less than five points behind Salango in 2020.

So, Democrats have viable candidates but without dissension in the GOP they stand little chance of winning.

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* * * * * *

The buzz of the town early last week came with word that Kanawha Circuit Judge Tera Salango had changed her registration from Democrat to Republican.

That, of course, touched off speculation of why she did it. Nosey neighbors know judges run on a non-partisan basis. So she surely didn’t change just to run for re-election.

Some thought the state GOP might have enticed her with offers of fundraising to try to knock off liberal Justice John Hutchison.

State Republicans are known to be looking for a Hutchison opponent.

But a source close to Salango told me she will run for re-election and “has no intention of running for the supreme court.”

The source added, “to tell the truth, she just feels more comfortable as a Republican and it won’t affect her rulings.”

Her husband, Ben, is the County Commissioner-possible-Governor-candidate.

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* * * * * *

The ideal candidate to face Hutchison would have been Jackson County’s Judge Lora Dyer.

But state Republicans cut the rug from under Dyer in an earlier statewide run, so she’s pre-filed for re-election.

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.