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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – July 9, 2023

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Ron Gregory political columnist

The tightening of the 2024 Republican gubernatorial race was one hot topic of discussion last week. No matter who I spoke with, the question was, “Can Patrick Morrisey hold on?”

A better question might be, “How much earlier can we start election speculation?” After all, it’s still ten months until the West Virginia primary.

I’ve often explained here how my political predictions are subject to change during the course of and leading up to a campaign and election day.

I have been telling readers that Democrat Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango was considering running for governor. He is a logical potential candidate, having carried the Democrat banner in 2020 against Republican Jim Justice at the height of his popularity.

Salango is extremely popular in Kanawha, where he is not only a commissioner but also a respected attorney. His wife, Tera, is a circuit judge as well.

The commissioner admitted last week on the radio that he had given considerable thought to running again for the top spot. Although he didn’t say it, Salango certainly knows chances are better for a Democrat to be elected in 2024 since the popular Justice is term-limited from running again.

Most of the media attention, however, has been focused on the crowded Republican field for 2024.

Which brings me to my first point. Nostàlgic shoppers have often bemoaned the early advent of holidays. Some long for the days when Christmas items and decorations did not appear on store shelves until after Thanksgiving. Now, the Easter Bunny is barely burrowed before Jolly Ole Saint Nick appears.

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The early beginning of the political season has reached the point of ridiculous as well.

The primary reason all were abuzz last week was the release of a poll conducted for the state Chamber of Commerce.

The survey put Attorney General Morrisey in a dead heat for the GOP governor nomination with Kanawha Delegate Moore Capito. It also had State Senators Mike Stuart and Ryan Weld tied to occupy Morrisey’s current AG position.

One would have thought the 2024 primary was tomorrow by the reaction.

Morrisey supporters, whose man dominated earlier polling, panicked that their wide lead had slipped away. Capito stalwarts celebrated that victory was at hand.

It’s ten months until the subject primary, folks.

Likewise for U.S. Senate, where the survey said Justice continues with a landslide win over Congressman Alex Mooney.

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Chamber President Steve Roberts said the poll contacted 651 Republican and “non-affiliated” voters, giving it a 6% margin of error.

“Historically, West Virginia has had very low voter turnout,” Roberts said. “We are hopeful that polls like these start boosting interest in these important elections and encourage more people to learn about the candidates and be involved.”

If they inspire more voters early, maybe we should start the 2048 poll now.

Specifically, the survey showed Morrisey receiving support from 31% of respondents and Capito getting 30%.

Roberts continued, “This race is tied at this point. Both Attorney General Morrisey and (House Judiciary) Chairman Capito have strong name recognition in the state, but there is a lot of time remaining before election day. We are obviously paying attention to the campaign finance reports,  as it appears other candidates also have the resources to change the dynamics of the race.”

We already know that three other candidates – Secretary of State Mac Warner, Auditor JB McCuskey and Huntington auto dealer Chris Miller – have amassed significant amounts of money and will likely be running aggressive campaigns.

When I mentioned earlier how quickly things can change in politics, it’s wise to remember the most accurate surveys are only “snapshots in time.” How voters feel in June 2023 may be dramatically different from how they feel in May 2024.

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In the Primary for U.S. Senate, Governor Justice maintains an overwhelming lead of 56-19% over Congressman Alex Mooney. Roberts added, “The Governor has almost universal name ID in the state and is a well-known quantity. It’s probably safe to say that anyone who hasn’t heard of him is very unlikely to vote on election day.”

That’s likely true. Mooney has done little to raise his name recognition with statewide voters. Even in the state capital of Charleston, which he allegedly represented in the House of Delegates prior to this year, he is virtually unknown.

The chamber says “The race for Attorney General is developing and wide open at this point.” The announced GOP candidates there are former U.S. Attorney and current Kanawha County State Senator Mike Stuart and Brooke State Senator Ryan Weld.

A complete “two-thirds of voters are undecided in this race, indicating that it is not yet on voters’ radar,” the chamber adds.

Or maybe it’s on their radar and they dislike both candidates. 

Being from the state’s Northern Panhandle gives Weld a substantial base in battling Stuart from Charleston although the Kanawha Senator has family ties in the North.

One key to this race is whether any other candidate enters the primary field. If one files from the north, it would likely benefit Stuart; if from the south, it boosts Weld’s chances.

In actual numbers, Stuart received 20% and Weld got 14%. 

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Roberts said, “We expect that it is likely that Mike Stuart has better name recognition due to his prior service as a United States attorney, but it is clear that this race is wide open and will be very competitive.”

That could certainly be true since Stuart was often in the news for his war on illegal drugs as U.S. Attorney. He also “starred” in some controversial ads promoting the U.S. Attorney’s office during his tenure there. 80s

The West Virginia Chamber plans to continue polling throughout the year, according to Roberts.

This brings to mind that this site, wvstatewide.com, will be announcing the results of our latest poll on July 17. Then you’ll know where things really stand.

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Coal is not dead in West Virginia. The Governor recently celebrated Severance Tax collections setting a record of nearly $950 million, a 24% increase from the prior year.

As demand is increasing it will be interesting to see if Charleston City Councilman and Lobbyist Sam Minardi can get himself and his client CSX “back on track” with the legislature. The legislature has been very concerned with CSX shorting the coal industry the necessary trains required to move the coal from mine to market. Several legislators are whispering that Minardi’s antics have “gone off the rails”. That’s not a good position for the railroad or Minardi.

Minardi who proudly represents “South Hills” on Charleston City Council (Ward 15) should know South Hillers have problems when they cross the north side of the Kanawha River.

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This is a reminder that the 60th birthday and campaign kickoff fundraiser for Republican Cabell County Commissioner Kelli Sobonya is set for Thursday, July 13.

The event is scheduled from 5 to 6:30 pm at Heritage Station in Huntington. Cake and ice cream will be served and campaign donations are welcome.

Thus far, no other candidates have prefiled for Sobonya’s seat.

Sobonya is wrapping up her first commission term after years of outstanding service in the state House of Delegates. She’s the favorite to be re-elected next year.

* * * * * * 

GOP Secretary of State Mac Warner continues to run his well-oiled grassroots machine as he seeks to be governor.

He now has three coalitions supporting his efforts. There’s the Veterans and Military Families Coalition, the Women’s Coalition and the Second Amendment Coalition. The Second Amendment group is the one that recently raised consternation from Morrisey troops at the Beckley gun shop.

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Speaking of the gun store uproar, Morrisey representatives picked what they say was an error in last week’s narrative about the dispute.

A spokesperson says the Attorney General did not personally call the store owner about the event, as we reported here. Instead, she said a staff member called.

In addition, the spokesperson said nobody from their campaign, including Morrisey, asked for the AG to speak at the event.

A check of interview notes confirmed that shop owner Ron Wood did say it was Morrisey himself who called. Giving the benefit of the doubt to everyone, it could be like saying one is “from Charleston” when he actually lives in Marmet. Wood has been unavailable since the Morrisey camp contacted us.

When asked what the purpose of the call to the shop was, the spokesperson said it was “to find out more about the event.”

She was then asked what real difference it made whether Morrisey or one of his staff called, she said he simply wanted the “story to be factually correct.”

The Morrisey staffer then proceeded to lecture me on the “rules of journalism,” telling me I was “required to get Patrick’s side of the story before going to press.”

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I responded that from Journalism in high school to Journalism 101 and beyond, I had been taught that the rules for a “story” (which she kept incorrectly calling my earlier comments) differed from an opinion column.

Although the lines have blurred over the years and newspapers and other media are just as liable to inject opinion into a news story as not, I make an effort not to do that.

Still, factually, the shop owner told me “Morrisey called.” His account of the event disagreement – which nobody denied – followed. So I was supposed to call Morrisey to verify it was he and not a staffer who called?

I don’t think I have that obligation in an opinion column. Everything you see here is based on my opinion. That doesn’t give the right to make things up and flatly lie. A call was made and the event was discussed. As I asked her, what does it matter who specifically called?

But now you know the Morrisey side of that story. It says a lot that his campaign has the time and inclination to nitpick the Republican political columnist.

* * * * * *

Since there are at least five viable Republican contenders for governor, the minority Democrats lose attention from the media as well as voters.

It’s now safe to say that Huntington Mayor Steve Williams is the leading candidate for the Democrat governor nomination.

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Until Kanawha Commissioner Ben Salango took his name out of consideration, he and Williams would have been co-favorites. Now the Huntington Mayor is the clear frontrunner.

Pundits tend to overlook the other strong candidate: West Virginia Can’t Wait’s Stephen Smith. He ran a grassroots campaign in 2020 for governor and nearly won the Democrat nomination.

Smith is a far-left candidate associated with liberal causes. West Virginia Can’t Wait says “Our candidates are fighting to keep our kids here, win universal broadband, decriminalize cannabis, get money out of politics, and more.”

Smith does not appear to be a radical and his personal charisma appeals to voters. He simply cannot be ignored as the potential nominee.

Williams, whose obvious advantage is he looks like a mayor/governor, has done much to turn Huntington around in seven years.

From winning national city competitions to establishing a number of annual events and initiating unique community policing, Huntington is now a city with a pulse.

Geographically, Williams will do well in the southern coalfields from which he hails. He should carry Cabell and Wayne in a general election and run as close as any Democrat can in Putnam.

All in all, I give Williams a real shot at being sworn in at the capitol in January 2025.

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Meanwhile, the switch in state Democrat Executive Committee officials gives Smith solid support from such leaders as Chair and Kanawha County Chair Mike Pushkin.

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One entertaining as well as informative Internet site is “Alligator Jackson’s Inside Huntington.” Thousands turn there daily for the latest Huntington area news and commentary.

One contributor to the site the other day declared, “I’ve lived in Huntington all my life, and growing up I’ve often heard many complaints about the city. Through the years everyone has complained about downtown because of the unhoused population, or lack of stores, Cruise Avenue, the bars, you name it. 

“I hate to tell you this folks but it’s been the case since the 1990s, probably longer. In the late 90s I worked at the Keith, Cinema and Camelot Theaters. There were unhoused folks then. There were bar fights then, some fatal. 

“I say all this to say last night my family had a great time downtown. My husband and I took my son to the Old North Arcade  and played games. After we went to Roosters and had dinner. And for dessert we went to Austin’s at The Market Homemade Ice Cream and listened to a band performing. 

“We had a wonderful evening and we had fun. Huntington will always be how you choose to see it. I never imagined a thriving downtown again after watching store after store close down and move to the mall in the late 80s. I remember when you had Hibachi or Chili Willie’s only to choose from to eat, a movie or go to a bar, and that was it. 

“Our downtown has become a thriving place, with lots of stuff to do. Local shops. Local restaurants. Stop complaining and enjoy what we have.”

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Williams should immediately hire the author of those comments for his campaign. There’s no question Huntington is labeled as a crime capital by many.

The writer would make a good campaign spokesperson. This posting seems honest and genuinely felt.

* * * * * *

The writer of the pro-Williams piece did make a major mistake in labeling “Alligator” David Jackson’s site as negative toward the city, especially downtown.

Huntington has no bigger fan than Alligator. He does simply report what goes on, including crime. Still, he routinely attends events downtown and gives positive, rave reviews when deserved.

Jackson is good for Huntington.

Jackson’s response to the writer is pure “Alligator: “LOL. Listen people, one thing I won’t ever do is lie to you. I remember a time when things were better. I think they can be better again. I give credit where credit is due. I’m not going to get in a who loves Huntington the most contest.”

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We’ve always recognized here that the victors get to write the history. That’s why revisionist Union-sympathizing history writers make the western counties of pre-1860 Virginia to be overwhelming supporters of the federal union of states.

Francis Pierpont, the alleged governor of Virginia whose only “vote” came from the Republican dictator Abraham Lincoln, told Lincoln in a letter he could only exert control over about 20% of the western territory. Yet subsequent history writers make the area a hotbed of union sympathizers.

I enjoy pieces that appear in the internet’s Hur Herald, an archived newspaper headquartered in Calhoun County. It is operated by Bob Weaver, a former Calhoun County commissioner.

Recently the paper published an interesting piece from the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer. The article originally appeared in Chronicling America.

Weaver said it was found by a former Calhoun resident, Dr. Tim Miller, MD of Kingwood and appeared after the War Between the States.

“Proceedings of the (Reorganized) Virginia Legislature in Wheeling. Discussion regarding the bill changing the place of holding courts in Calhoun county.”

“Mr. Williamson said the place where the court is now held – Arnoldsburg – was the last place in America where the war would be settled, and the people would not hear of it for ten years after it was settled. There were other loyal sections in the country where courts could be organized.

“Mr. Farnsworth said he knew that these Calhoun people were aggrieved, and he thought they ought to be relieved.

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“Mr. Williamson, in answer to Mr. Zinn, said that the present county seat of Calhoun was about forty miles from every place except Arnoldsburg.”

Such sarcasm nevertheless underscored that Arnoldsburg, then the county seat of Calhoun, was overwhelmingly Confederate in sympathy.

Commenting that Arnoldsburg was the “last place” the war would end and, even then, they wouldn’t know about it for ten years emphasized how West Virginia organizers felt about that town, “40 miles from everyplace, except Arnoldsburg.”

Grantsville, of course, replaced Arnoldsburg as county seat.

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Add Morgan Switzer to the list of those hoping to replace Kanawha County Prosecutor Chuck Miller when he retires at the end of 2024.

A Kanawha native, she said last week, “I am now running for Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney. I’m so excited to announce that today, I know that it’s kind of spread by word-of-mouth but now I’m officially saying it and I’ll be filing tomorrow so I’m super excited,” she said on WCHS Radio.

She joins the field as the second Republican to announce her candidacy. Longtime Assistant Prosecutor Debra Rusnak announced she intends to run earlier.

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Either of those would be the first female prosecutor in Kanawha history. In making her announcement, Switzer gave her reasons for running. “First of all I know that office and I think it’s important to say that at 16 or 17 I started interning there, that’s when I fell in love with the work, that’s when I knew that I had a talent for it,” Switzer said.

Prosecutor will be an interesting race, especially since Miller ran twice unopposed.

Although he can’t come close to Governor Justice’s record of not paying taxes, it was revealed that Democrat U.S. Senator Joe Manchin has some past due accounts himself.

That prompted this from the GOP. “Joe Manchin voted to raise West Virginians’ taxes with the so-called Inflation Reduction Act but refuses to pay his own,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Tate Mitchell said in a statement. “Manchin is a complete hypocrite.”

Get ready for just such rhetoric from Republicans who desperately covet that seat next year.

* * * * * *

Speaking of Alligator Jackson’s site, he proudly proclaimed that Cruise Avenue has returned to Huntington.

A fixture when I was a Marshall student, Alligator noted that Republican State Senator Mark Maynard is a big supporter and organizer of the event. 

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“He reports proudly that Mayor Steve has proclaimed the first Sunday of the month to officially be Cruise Avenue,” the site reported.

I told you Huntington now has a pulse.

* * * * * *

The gloves are apparently off in the Republican U.S. Senate campaign.

First, there was a Twitter skirmish between Governor Justice and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. The Bluegrass senator is openly supporting Justice’s Senate primary opponent, Representative Alex Mooney.

Then, there were disruptions Friday evening at a Mooney fundraiser at the Huntington VFW. Video of that event shows Mooney Campaign Manager John Findlay escorting a lady out of the building for being disruptive. She was said to be the second person tossed with the event less than an hour gone.

I now feel honored to perhaps have been the volatile Findlay’s first West Virginia ejection. You will recaĺl he would not allow Ernest Sammons of Mingo County to attend a state GOP quarterly meeting when he was the WVGOP Executive Director.

We’ll have more next week.

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Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185; or ronjoegregory@gmail.com. Anonymity 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. View all posts

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.