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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – July 16, 2023

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Ron Gregory political columnist

The Great Purge of 2024 may do much to equalize state Democrats with the deep red Republican tint now observed.

Many times here we have noted the widespread belief among politicos these days that all one has to do to be elected in West Virginia is win the GOP nomination.

Of course winning the Republican nod in the Mountain State is not nearly as easy as it once was.

For the 80-plus years that the majority party was Democrat, there often were as many ballot vacancies on the Republican side in November as there were candidates.

Those days are long gone, thanks in part to the efforts of former GOP State Chair Kris Warner to “fill the ballot” during his tenure as leader.

Warner was met with foot-dragging and outright opposition from some of his committee members when he began aggressive candidate recruitment.

I specifically recall a conversation by two GOP legislators at the capitol while Warner was chair.

“I sure hope they don’t find a Republican dumb enough to run against Truman (Chafin, the longtime Mingo County Democrat senator),” the first said.

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“Oh I know,” said the other. “We can’t hope for better from down there. He’s conservative and votes right once in a while. It would just make him mad if they run someone and he’d never vote with us again.”

Until the last decade, that was the general feeling among many GOP officials. They recommended not to take a long shot at winning and offending Democrats in the process of losing.

Republicans finally became convinced to seek out candidates, much of that coming after Warner left as chair.

One thing we’ve been discussing here since Republicans began to sweep statewide elections is that being in the majority intensifies differences rather than reducing them.

That’s the purge I’m referring to. When a party holds a supermajority in both houses of the legislature as well as the governor’s office, they actually wield incredible power.

Some Republican legislators are reluctant to share that power with fellow party members who are not totally aligned with them philosophically.

We all know the story of George Orwell’s classic tale, “Animal Farm.” In the end, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

That’s in line with the quote attributed to the 19th-century British politician Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

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There’s no question Republicans hold all power in West Virginia politics right now. While that does not necessarily lead to cries by some in the majority of “corruption” by fellow Republicans, it has clearly led to ideological dissension in the ranks.

There is a segment, particularly of the legislative majorities, that does not think some of their fellow Republicans are right-wing conservative enough. 

I call those “far right” or “right fringe Republicans” for lack of a better term.

Then there are “traditional” or “moderate Republicans” who really don’t care to shake the boat too much, too often.

That division, which started subtly in the legislative chambers but is now more pronounced in early electioneering for 2024, reveals that some GOP primary races are going to be heated.

Far-right Republican candidates intend to tell voters that moderate Republicans are not true supporters of GOP principles.

That’s why they agree with Orwell, saying all legislators – Democrat and Republican – look the same.

Take, for example, a Jefferson County House of Delegates candidate.

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One of those supporting candidate Daphne Andrews for the House posted on social media, “(Andrews) is a great candidate and true conservative who is going to take out RINO Wayne Clark in 2024.

For those totally out of election lingo, “RINO” is an acronym for “Republican In Name Only.” The word implies that the person named – in this case, Delegate Clark – is not a philosophically true-believing Republican.

“Right fringe Republicans” insist that “traditional Republicans” want to make all abortions legal, favor restrictions on guns, and love government regulations. The “tests” to “prove” one’s Republican credentials are dubious at best.

I’ve actually heard some “right fringe Republicans” refer to Eastern Panhandle State Senator Charles Trump as a RINO. If Charley Trump is a RINO, then everyone is. He’s a totally principled conservative who just happens to be well-respected on both sides of the aisle. He votes for what benefits his constituents.

Nevertheless, many of those who won’t crawl to the far right tree limb on every issue will be the target of these fringe Republican candidates next spring. That can’t be good for the majority party.

I’m not predicting a Democrat takeover of the legislature but they could gain some seats, thanks to Republican infighting.

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Speaking of Kris Warner, whose Republican Secretary of State brother, Mac, is running for governor, Kris is now toying with the idea of running for Secretary of State himself next year.

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That might well allow for an amicable transition from one Warner administration to another in 2025.

The success rate for relatives with the same last names appearing on the ballot at the same time is questionable at best.

Kris Warner is a key strategist for Mac Warner’s gubernatorial campaign. I’d be surprised if Mac wants to lose Kris’s expertise for the remaining months of his campaign.

If Kris Warner enters the SOS contest, he’ll be entering a crowded field that already includes as many as nine GOP candidates.

Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood, Kanawha State Senator Mark Hunt, and Kanawha Delegate Chris Pritt are among leading Republicans interested in succeeding Mac Warner.

In addition, one strong rumor last week was that Kanawha Delegate and Democrat House Minority Leader Doug Skaff planned to switch parties and run for SOS as a Republican.

Skaff reportedly told several of his legislative colleagues at the Southern Legislative Conference session in Charleston, South Carolina, that he will switch to the GOP in August. He supposedly said he toyed with the idea of re-registering and running as an independent but saw no path to victory that way.

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It’s too bad former West Virginia University men’s basketball coach,  Bob Huggins, is determined to destroy any positive relationship he might have retained with the Morgantown school.

It seems apparent to me that Huggins decided to resign in the heat of the moment before reality set in. Resigning rather than being terminated by WVU likely cost Huggins a barrelful of money.

While the university would likely have fired him “for cause” anyway, he would not have lost many of his base supporters as he now has by threatening to sue WVWho.

Social media platforms were initially filled with Huggins supporters asking WVU administrators to give him yet another chance.

Many of those changed to negative toward the ex-coach when word of his lawsuit threat was made public.

At least one sports writer said Huggins created a “lose, lose” situation by insisting, after nearly three weeks had gone by, that he didn’t actually resign from his coaching job in the first place.

That came long after WVU released a joint statement containing Huggins’ comments saying he had resigned and was “retiring.”

It also came after he reportedly met with his team, telling them of his retirement and causing a mass exodus of new recruits and hiring of a new coach. He also spent four or five hours at the WVU Coliseum cleaning out his office and hauling personal items away in his truck.

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As readers know, I wasn’t a WVU or Huggins fan before any of this. I’d think those who are would be universally embarrassed by their men’s basketball program.

Huggins surely will not be reinstated as coach but he may wrangle more money out of an obviously inept athletic department.

* * * * * *

Some get upset that I refer to “WVWho” when writing about what I formerly called the “University of Southern Pennsylvania Morgantown School (US-PMS).

Maybe the Huggins saga will illustrate to diehard WVU fans that their coaches and teams are not universally revered in West Virginia.

There is a segment of the population – including me – that sees Marshall as the state university.

There’s not sufficient space here to go into why many of us feel this way, and I’ve written about it in detail before.

The hero worship of a basketball coach by members of the state legislature any time Huggins walked through the door was appalling.

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At the capitol, delegates and senators would cling to the coach as though he was the Second Coming. He wasn’t.

But he was the highest-paid state employee at $3 million or so. Legislators, who perhaps should be important as well, are paid $20 thousand.

Maybe mixed-up priorities account for some of Huggins’ arrogant belief that he was “untouchable.”

Perhaps the saddest part of the whole story is that Huggins was an excellent coach. He is pouring darkness over his light by threatening to sue the university.

* * * * * *

The legislature never tires of placing burdens on local governments without offering advice or funding on how to fix them.

Beginning in 2025, Kanawha County will have an additional circuit judge and three more magistrates.

That means eight – not seven – circuit judges and 13 – not ten – magistrates will expect to be housed in a building designed and built for the lower numbers.

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Legislators left it to the county commission to figure out how this all works out. Undoubtedly, solutions will be found with little or no help from the legislature that created the problems.

For their part, Kanawha County Commissioners are already working on the accommodations.

In the meantime, courthouse sources say they expect all ten incumbent magistrates to run in 2024. Obviously, that means there will be three open seats.

Already pre-filed, according to County Clerk Vera McCormick, are incumbents Joe Lopez in Division One; Brent Hall in Three; Jack Pauley in Four; Leslie Grace in Five; and Joe Shelton in Six.

Chad Smarr and Tressia Casto Cabell have pre-filed but are undecided as to the division.

For county commission, where the person elected must be from either Magisterial District One or Three, former Republican State Senator Chris Walters has filed. He resides in Three.

The candidates in that race will be contending for the position now held by Democrat Commission President Kent Carper. Carper, who has served on the commission for more than two decades, has not announced if he is running again.

The post is limited to Districts One and Three because no more than one commissioner can live in a single district. Current Commissioners, Democrat Ben Salango and Republican Lance Wheeler represent the other two districts.

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For Prosecuting Attorney, Republicans Debra Rusnak and Morgan Switzer have pre-filed. Incumbent Chuck Miller has announced he will not seek re-election. 

Republican Joey Crawford has pre-filed for Sheriff. Incumbent Sheriff Mike Rutherford is term-limited from running in 2024.

Republican Zac Longwell and incumbent Democrat Assessor Sallie Robinson- McKnight are running for that position.

There have been no pre-filers for the Board of Education.

* * * * * *

The uproar at the Alex Mooney for U.S. Senate rally in Huntington recently was heavily debated by pundits and others.

Identifying those who tried to disrupt the event and Mooney’s speech as Cabell County Democrats, Republicans largely dismissed the brouhaha.

Some were convinced the folks doing the shouting were sent by Governor Jim Justice or his campaign staff intent on mischief.

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Justice and First District Congressman Mooney are squaring off in the GOP primary for Democrat Joe Manchin’s seat. 

Justice was elected governor in 2016 as a Democrat, adding to the conspiracy theories being tossed about.

“That one that raised hell,” one attendee told me, “I remember seeing her campaign with him (Justice) when he was a Democrat. He sent them here to cause trouble.”

If that did, in fact, happen, it was counterproductive at best and utter stupidity at worst.

In a crowd of around 100 people, four troublemakers are hardly going to win any converts for their side by interrupting.

Based on his past campaigns in Maryland, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mooney himself didn’t indirectly recruit the rabble-rousers, figuring his rabid far-right-wing crowd would blame Justice, as they did.

Just ask Frederick, Maryland’s former mayor, and legislator, Ron Young, about Mooney’s campaign tactics. He’ll give you an earful.  

If you remain unconvinced, go to any faithful Republican in Virginia and ask him or her about Mooney’s manager John Findlay’s campaign approach.

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* * * * * *

Democrat U.S. Senator Joe Manchin has kept his political plans a subject of speculation by refusing to say he’ll run for re-election in 2024.

Manchin continues to fuel the rumors that he may run for President on a third-party ticket.

A possible presidential bid would likely assure the defeat of Democrat President Joe Biden.

Manchin’s New Hampshire visit affirming his potential interest in the presidency caused even more national political experts to chime in.

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said a Manchin run would help former Republican President Donald Trump and it “absolutely hurts Joe Biden.”

West Virginia voters who love Trump would not object to that.

* * * * * *

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Word on the street last week was that Republican State Auditor JB McCuskey, lagging in gubernatorial polls, will file instead for Attorney General.

That’s the office current AG Patrick Morrisey is giving up to run for governor himself.

McCuskey’s entry into the AG race will make it even more difficult for Kanawha State Senator  Mike Stuart to win the nomination.

A third announced candidate, Brooke County Senator Ryan Weld, would likely not give up as many votes to McCuskey.

McCuskey’s Charleston address will help him split Kanawha County with Stuart. The McCuskey family is best known for Clarksburg area connections which means the Auditor will take some votes from Weld also.

* * * * * *

On the subject of polls, we’ll be announcing our latest survey results tomorrow (Monday) on the Tom Roten Morning Show. Tune into WVHU, 800AM or see them here to start your week.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185; or

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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.