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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – June 4, 2023

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Ron Gregory political columnist

As we leap closer to the middle of the calendar year 2023, possibilities for the 2024 election heat up more and more.

With a pivotal Presidential race looming and most state offices up for grabs, candidates have been pre-filing in general and for specific offices in particular.

I’ve mentioned before that part of my sales pitch for candidate consulting services in the 1980s and 90s was, “You can’t start a campaign too soon.” I do think the current group of candidates is testing that theory by starting to campaign earlier and earlier.

At least five major candidates have been announced for governor and two for United States Senate. That’s just Republicans. Of course, with firm GOP control in the state, it’s little wonder there are more Republican than Democrat candidates.

I think most pundits and polls confirm Attorney General Patrick Morrisey as leader of the GOP for governor.

Morrisey does have vulnerabilities, however. The fact that a lobbying firm founded by Denise Morrisey, the AG’s wife, has found itself opposite Patrick Morrisey’s public positions on abortion and guns, is a genuine problem for his candidacy.

The Attorney General can try to explain away the problem but that may not be possible with the far-right Republicans who have recently dominated GOP primaries. Simply saying critics are lying may not satisfy all the questions voters have about Mr. and Mrs. Morrisey.

Perhaps no explanation is needed as to why Mrs. Morrisey resides in Greenbrier County while the AG claims Harpers Ferry as home but that surely isn’t the “traditional marriage” Republicans claim as one of their founding principles.

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Unlike his re-election sweep of then-Democrat Doug Reynolds, I don’t think the Morriseys can slip through this governor race by simply calling opponents, “liars” and “slimy.”

Of the current remaining candidates, my advice would be to take Morrisey on right now on these issues. Whoever is able to separate him or herself might get a serious look from voters next year.

A legitimate study should also be done of Morrisey’s claims of startling success in his lawsuits against opioid distributors.

The voters should know just how his settlements stack up against other states with similar drug problems.

* * * * * *

It wasn’t unexpected when First District congressional candidate Derrick Evans went after his opponent, Republican Congresswoman Carol Miller, when she voted to raise the debt limit last week.

Evans, a former GOP Delegate and conservative’s conservative, was quick to point out that Miller was one of 149 Republicans who joined Democrats to increase the debt limit by $4 trillion. Republicans talked tough on budget cuts until they caved to President Biden and Democrats.

Evans’ subtle criticism of Miller accused her of supporting the “uniparty bill.” He bluntly said there’s only one true conservative in the race and that’s him.

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As I mentioned last week, Evans is totally supportive of former President Trump as the 2024 GOP presidential nominee. Miller has refused to commit to Trump.

Although Miller is still a heavy favorite in this race, Evans is gaining some ground.

Some internal polling indicates he is making headway with traditional Republican voters.

* * * * * *

It came as a surprise to many when Supreme Court Justice John Hutchison announced his December 31, 2024 anticipated retirement from the bench.

Known as “Governor Justice’s lawyer,” most observers thought Hutchison would run for re-election at age 73.

Republican State Senator Charles Trump, the Judiciary Chair from Morgan County, quickly announced he’ll run for one of the two court vacancies, presumably Hutchison’s.

Although judge races are technically non-partisan, Republican leaders let a solid court majority slip away from them three years ago by not adequately funding and supporting Jackson County Circuit Judge Lora Dyer for the seat Hutchison now holds.

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Hutchison was appointed to the court in 2018 by Justice to fill the seat left vacant by disgraced Justice Allen Loughry. Hutchison then won the election in 2020 over Dyer and William Schwartz.

Last week, Hutchison wrote a letter saying that he wants to give anyone else considering a run for the court adequate notice of his intention.

Traditionally, lawyers not on the court do not challenge incumbents for election.

Hutchison is from Beckley. He served as a circuit judge from 1995 until 2018.

Although Justice called Hutchison a “conservative” when he appointed him, he was known for his liberal, pro-labor circuit judge rulings and has tended to be left of center on the high court.

Dyer has already filed pre-candidacy papers for re-election as a circuit judge next year. She is not expected to switch to the Supreme Court because of Hutchison’s decision.

* * * * * *

Considered potential candidates for the Hutchison vacancy are two other candidates who ran in a different division in 2020.

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Putnam County Assistant Prosecutor Kris Raynes and Kanawha Family Court Judge Jim Douglas are both rumored to be interested.

Raynes lost to William Wooton after also being recruited and subsequently abandoned by the Republican leadership.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit also ran and is said to be interested in an upcoming vacancy. She is identified as a liberal Democrat.

* * * * * *

Some legislators were advocating returning judicial elections to partisan affairs during the last legislative session.

One argument used to dissuade those who wanted to do that was that Republicans had advocated for nonpartisan judicial contests during the 80-plus years they were out of power.

The GOP finally got its way and most thought it would send the wrong message to return to partisan contests.

I’ve said from the beginning that nonpartisan elections are a farce.

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Everyone knows which party Justice Tim Armstead and his peers represent.

Republican judicial candidates attend GOP functions and Democrats go to Democrat gatherings. Nothing is likely to change that.

* * * * * *

The two spots up for election on the high court next year are Hutchison and Justice C. Haley Bunn, who was likewise appointed by Justice to fill Evan Jenkins’ term. She is labeled a Republican by court observers.

The holdovers – Tim Armstead, Beth Walker and Wooton – are labeled two-to-one conservative Republicans with Wooton being the lone liberal Democrat.

Trump will be a heavy favorite to win a seat. Bunn has already pre-filed for her job.

* * * * * *

Pre-filing in Cabell County has been limited to four candidates, according to County Clerk Scott Caserta.

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Incumbent Assessor Irv Johnson has filed for re-election as a Republican as has incumbent County Commissioner Kelli Sobonya.

Greg Mullins and Gregory Lawson are running as Republicans for Sheriff. 

Lawson is a retired State Police. Incumbent Chuck Zerkle is term-limited.

* * * * * *

Continuing his role of a good citizen, Lance Schultz is scheduled to appear before Milton City Council this Tuesday to complain about the Police Department and Chief Joe Parsons.

Schultz says Parsons became belligerent when Schultz complained about an improperly-parked police cruiser.

It was Schultz who earlier filed an ethics complaint against State Senate President Craig Blair.

* * * * * *

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Speaking of candidate vulnerabilities, they make little difference if voters don’t figure them into their equation and decide not to support a particular candidate.

I’ve been writing for about eight years now on the methodology used by Governor Justice and his family companies in refusing to pay their bills.

The latest lawsuit, filed by the federal Department of Justice, says Justice companies have failed to pay around $5 million in uncontested fines. 

Over the years, there’s documentation of millions more the Justices allegedly failed to pay in a timely manner to government entities as well as private enterprises.

All of these lawsuits and collection efforts have been heavily publicized by state media. If a West Virginia voter doesn’t know about them, he or she has surely been asleep for months.

I’m not saying that being sued for non-payment is a felony offense. I’ve been sued when finances got tight. But it seems a bit odd that Mountain State voters apparently see no problem with the Justice mode of business operations.

I’ve said before that one opposing candidate after another has based an anti-Justice campaign on these debts. In every case, Justice has swamped the opponent.

I suspect Congressman Alex Mooney, who has announced his candidacy for the same U.S. Senate seat in the 2024 Republican primary that Justice will seek, will use other lines of attack in his campaign.

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Mooney, the conservative darling, will certainly portray Justice as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) closet liberal.

Justice, who was initially elected Governor as a Democrat, is clearly open to that line of attack. But that won’t be enough to beat him.

I would guess that Mooney, a master politician if nothing else, will have an entirely new line of fire for Justice.

Mooney must somehow damage Justice’s 60% popularity with West Virginia voters. That the Governor has not paid his bills doesn’t work.

* * * * * *

Morrisey is the clear GOP frontrunner for governor at the moment.

To expand on my earlier comments, the AG will be the Republican nominee if something does not change over the next 11½ months.

Morrisey is likely at his high water mark in polls showing him with 37% support in the primary. If the other candidates do little to change the outcome, he has enough support to win.

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That’s why someone has to break from the pack early. Pressing Morrisey now would be a wise campaign move.

When the coming winter turns to spring and voters are actually deciding who they will support, it could be helpful to one in the group to be thought of as THE alternative.

Right now, Secretary of State Mac Warner, Auditor JB McCuskey, Delegate Moore Capito, and businessman Chris Miller all have a real shot but all four cannot move into first place past Morrisey without some genuine drama.

If Morrisey gets 37% and the four others equally divide 63%, the AG wins pretty easily.

* * * * * *

On the debt ceiling limit, Republican U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito joined with Democrat Manchin in voting “yes” on raising it.

Several staunch conservatives criticized the junior Senator for that. Some even predicted her political demise.

I don’t think so.

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Unlike Carol Miller, Capito represents one of the most beloved West Virginia Republican families of all time: the Moores.

The Senator’s late father, Congressman and three-term Governor Arch A. Moore, Jr. is still adored by many state Republicans.

Shelley Capito also is a shrewd politician who is not confrontational, even with political enemies.

Many Republicans consider Capito as the representative of GOP royalty.

While Miller’s father was a congressman, that was in Ohio which is not the same.

Basically, I think the electoral record shows Capito could vote solidly liberal on issues and not suffer much electoral fallout.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185; ron.gregory@wvstatewide.com; or PO Box 20297, Charleston, WV 25362. Anonymous tips are welcomed.

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  • Staff Writer

    From the WV Statewide News Team. Articles depicting “Staff Writer” indicate the content was prepared by several members of the news team.

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From the WV Statewide News Team. Articles depicting "Staff Writer" indicate the content was prepared by several members of the news team.