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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – July 2, 2023

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Ron Gregory political columnist

If anyone clings to the thought that the 2024 West Virginia Republican Primary will hold to the so-called “eleventh commandment,” they’re in for a surprise.

The greatest President of my lifetime, Ronald Reagan, is given credit for Order 11 which commands, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

Reagan first uttered those words in his 1966 campaign for California governor. It has often been quoted – but seldom followed – by many GOP politicians since.

Political consultants and candidates would undoubtedly sleep better during campaigns if everyone – Democrat and Republican – lived by the Gipper’s motto. 

It would seem to be solid advice to suggest candidates: “Just talk about yourself and how you plan to fix problems. Don’t badmouth your opponent(s). After all, we’ll need (insert opponent’s name here) in the general election.”

That would seem to be great advice but it can’t be followed. 

Why not? Because any experienced politico or social media expert knows negatives work better than positive spins. It’s all about three things: votes, votes and votes.

Reagan himself exploded on the national political scene with his tough handling of California college campus upheaval, his strong debate performances, and his firm conservative fiscal policies.

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While he didn’t speak too evil of fellow Republicans, he pointed out the weaknesses of such GOP one-worlders as George H.W. Bush.

I’ve speculated earlier about how nasty the 2024 Republican gubernatorial and United States Senate races might become.

I said either or both of those two GOP primaries might become rancorous enough to allow some Democrat wins.

But I may be putting it mildly. And the races aren’t “becoming” nasty; they already are.

“For your consideration,” as Rod Serling said on “Twilight Zone” I offer you One: Flat Top Arms in Beckley, West Virginia days ago.

Gun lovers, by and large, give Flat Top Arms rave reviews.

They say the quality is high, prices are reasonable, the store is clean and fresh, and well stocked at all times.

If everything’s so great, why am I, of all people, talking about it?

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Because the Beckley version of the “Shootout at the OK Corral” nearly took place there two Wednesdays ago.

Okay. It wasn’t a genuine shootout. In fact, no shots were reported fired at all.

But those who “support the Second Amendment” and “the constitution is my right to bear arms” proved they can disagree as well as gun haters.

In this case, Secretary of State Mac Warner’s 2024 gubernatorial campaign was set to receive the endorsement of one gun coalition and other Second Amendment proponents had scheduled pro-gun activities.

Space at the store is available for rent and the Second Amendment groups had rented it.

Flyers and ads for the event were distributed and a crowd gathered.

Days before the event when advertisements first appeared, shop owner Ron Wood said he received a call from Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the New Jersey transplant, asking why he, too, was not being honored since he’s another big gun proponent. Morrisey is also a Republican for Governor. 

Proprietor Wood said he explained to the AG that the space was rented to groups that support Warner.

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Morrisey then asked if he could join Warner in making a pitch to the crowd.

Explaining again that the room was rented by those who had already publicized activities there, the owner told Morrisey his only chance at speaking was if Warner asked him to.

Apparently, Morrisey thought there was no chance of that, so he did not attend the Wednesday Beckley event. It’s likely best he made that decision.

Guests who I spoke with were all pretty unified in what happened at Flat Top Arms. It’s safe to say they did not feel a comforting, welcoming atmosphere.

While dozens of Warner supporters gathered at the store on Eisenhower Drive, two people we’ve mentioned here before arrived on the scene.

Those assembled said it was quickly apparent that David and Ashley Roby were not there to cheer on Warner although they are avowed Second Amendment supporters.

The entire group had gathered on the inside for the day’s events when most in the crowd – including shop owner Wood and members of the Warner for Governor staff ‐- heard a commotion.

When they checked to see what was happening, in the words of one witness, “Ashley Roby was belittling and verbally attacking James McCormick.” 

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Wood reported, “She was very loud.”

Rather than celebrate Warner, the crowd’s attention remained on this altercation.

All those who spoke with Wv Statewide about the incident described Mrs. Roby as being “loud and out of control” while saying McCormick was “calm and trying to ignore her (Mrs. Roby).” They said David Roby stood behind his wife clutching an AR-15 rifle.

Among other descriptions, Ashley Roby allegedly called McCormick “a liar” and “a fraud.”

The Robys have feuded on social media with McCormick and others for years. The couple has traditionally supported Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt while McCormick has said Leonhardt facilitated the Robys getting copies of his private personnel records. 

McCormick once worked for the Agriculture Department. He says he voluntarily resigned from his position. 

McCormick says Leonhardt “lies – and says he either fired me or forced me to quit.” He says the Robys are aligned with Leonhardt.

When Wood decided he could not ensure order, he “asked the three to leave even though McCormick had done nothing wrong.”

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The three trekked outside where the arguing continued in the parking lot.

By happenstance, the Raleigh County Sheriff was there and reminded the trio that the owner had asked them to leave. Two former sheriffs were also present and the Robys and McCormick went toward their cars, eventually got in and left.

Not exactly the Southern cordiality you’d expect from a crowd supporting the same cause.

But there’s speculation that the Robys, who live nearby in Odd, West Virginia, made the trip intending to cause some disruption of what the Morrisey camp viewed as a Warner event.

A spirit of harmony does not exist at this point between the GOP governor candidates. It will only get worse.

The Robys and McCormick history of animosity, going back to at least 2018, could have just flared up at the gun store or was orchestrated in advance.

It’s going to be a fun campaign.

* * * * * *

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For their part, both Beckley City Police and the Raleigh Sheriff’s Department were said to be looking into the fracas.

Rumors that a warrant had already been obtained for Ashley Roby appeared more unlikely to be true as time went by. 

Repeated calls to the city police, sheriff’s department, and emergency dispatch were met with no additional information or no return phone calls.

But McCormick did file an ethics complaint against Leonhardt. 

We’ll explain that below. In the meantime, remember that Morrisey and Leonhardt are transplanted New Jerseyites.

* * * * * *

Some call them “carpetbaggers.”

* * * * * *

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But first, as they say in Show Biz, the happy birthday news is that Republican Cabell County Commissioner Kelli Sobonya will be celebrating her 60th on July 13.

How can one celebrate 60 years when she only looks 30? 

One of the finest public servants to ever take the oath of office, she’s going to kick off her 2024 Commission re-election campaign and have a birthday bash that same day.

A great advocate of transparency, she’s inviting the public to attend—more details to come.

* * * * * *

They aren’t exactly beating down the door at Cabell County Voters Registration. Of course, Cabell voters are sharp enough to realize that the primary is 11 months away. No rush yet.

According to Republican Cabell County Clerk Scott Caserta, these are candidates who have pre-filed with his office:  Irv Johnson, Republican for Assessor; incumbent Republican Sobonya for County Commissioner; and Republicans Doug Adams, Gregg Mullins, and Gregory Lawson for Sheriff.

* * * * * *

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Though he’s been elected Attorney General statewide, the Morrisey for Governor campaign keeps raising eyebrows. Many longtime politicos consider the Morrisey team “petty.”

Morrisey himself keeps showing his irritation at veterans who are largely supporting Mac Warner.

The Morrisey campaign’s disdain for the Warner crowd flared at Flat Top Arms, which happened after the AG had been turned down as a speaker you may recall.

Some speculated that Morrisey dispatched the Robys to break up the Warner Second Amendment rally although there seems to be no concrete evidence of that.

* * * * * *

Others find it odd that of West Virginia’s five-member board of public works executive officers, two are native New Jerseyites.

While Morrisey has always seemed proud of his Yankee heritage, Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt not only isn’t proud but appears to have made his birthplace difficult to find.

In fact, even Wikipedia failed to mention Leonhardt’s birthplace until a WV Statewide staffer added it last week.

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James McCormick thinks there is coordination between the 2024 Morrisey and Leonhardt campaigns. That includes the Roby presence at Flat Top Arms.

McCormick has filed an ethics complaint against Leonhardt seeking to uncover the truth. He thinks the coordination will be uncovered during that investigation.

We’ll keep an eye on that for you.

* * * * * *

A recent reputable statewide poll allegedly has the Republican governor’s race tightening – at least for one candidate.

While Morrisey still leads the field as he has from day one, Kanawha Delegate Moore Capito is said to be making a run at the top spot.

We are told the poll shows the AG holding at 36%. Capito is at 30%. Chris Miller stands at 12% while Warner has slipped to 10%. The remainder are in single digits.

Sitting Governor Jim Justice still enjoys a commanding lead over Congressman Alex Mooney for United States Senate.

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The poll is independent of any campaign and was conducted by a well-known national firm for a state business organization.

There is speculation that low poll numbers might persuade GOP State Auditor JB McCuskey to drop out of the governor’s race and run instead for Attorney General.

Recent polling on the AG race has shown former U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart and State Senator Ryan Weld virtually deadlocked at 12 or 13%.

Stuart, now a Kanawha State Senator, would have a more difficult race to win if McCuskey filed from Kanawha County.

* * * * * *

That gubernatorial poll might explain why the Morrissey campaign was calling state executive committee members seeking an endorsement recently.

Or maybe they’re just paranoid. Or perhaps that’s how they do it in New Jersey.

I was taught that executive committee members should keep their preferences to themselves until after their primary.

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* * * * * *

Meanwhile, incumbent Kanawha County Magistrate Joe Lopez has pre-filed for re-election in Division One, according to Clerk Vera McCormick. Incumbent Magistrate Jack Pauley has pre-filed in Division Four. In Division Five, appointed incumbent Leslie Grace has pre-filed. Incumbent Joe Shelton is pre-filed in Division Six.

Chad Smarr and Tressia Cabell have pre-filed for Magistrate but have not yet designated a division.

For County Commissioner, Republican Chris Walters has prefiled from District Three as we previously reported.

Republican Debra Rusnak is running for Prosecuting Attorney.

Republican Joey Crawford has pre-filed for Sheriff. Incumbent Mike Rutherford is term-limited.

Democrat incumbent Assessor Sallie Robinson-McKnight is running again. Republican Zac Longwell has also pre-filed for that position.

* * * * * *

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Making the rounds of rumors at the Kanawha Courthouse last week was the word that former Republican County Prosecutor Mark Plants will run for the new circuit judge position.

Kanawha has had seven circuit judges. That will move to eight with the 2024 election.

Kanawha judges run by division.

Plants was a prosecutor for six years and since has enjoyed a thriving South Charleston law practice.

Despite his legal career, he touts the four years he played football for Don Nehlen in Morgantown as his major accomplishment.

* * * * * *

As noted earlier, longtime Kanawha Assistant Prosecutor Debra Rusnak has announced her campaign for county prosecutor in 2024.

“I’m uniquely qualified because of my experience dealing with victims and in dealing with some of the most violent people that we have here in Kanawha County,” Rusnak said as she pre-filed at the courthouse.

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She will seek the GOP nomination in the May 2024 Primary Election. Current two-term Republican Prosecutor Chuck Miller, 75, has said he will not seek re-election. He said he will serve as Rusnak’s campaign treasurer.

If she wins next year, she would be the first woman elected prosecutor in Kanawha County. 

“I do believe that at the end of the day, it is not about my gender. I do believe it is about my experience in these types of cases. My experience in dealing with criminals, holding them accountable, and helping victims,” Rusnak said.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185; or ron.gregory@wvstatewide.com Anonymity assured.

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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.