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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – July 23, 2023

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Ron Gregory political columnist

While Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is still leading polls for the 2024 GOP gubernatorial nomination, I’m not so sure his candidacy is ready for prime time.

Along those lines, I remember the helter-skelter Morrisey United States Senate campaign on the Sunday before the GOP 2018 primary.

When a reputable last few days’ polls showed former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship taking the lead in that race, the Morrisey forces panicked.

They called a rarest of rare Sunday press conference in front of Charleston’s federal building two days before the election.

To their chagrin, the press conference was moved to their nearby headquarters when a storm blew in. 

One junior staffer told me he “speculated” that Morrisey originally chose the federal building for his remarks “so the charges against Blankenship would “look official” to TV viewers and on video.

In other words, they had hoped the AG holding documents in front of a federal courthouse would add credibility to the supposed “election crimes” Blankenship had committed.

Once assembled at headquarters, Morrisey proceeded to name off a series of election violations Blankenship had allegedly committed. The AG said he was reporting the violations to the Federal Election Commission immediately.

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Coincidentally, according to Morrisey, this is about the time national news commentators referred to Blankenship as a “convicted felon.” Never mind the fact that he never was or has since been convicted of a felony crime.

Blankenship does not believe it’s a coincidence, however.

Election day results produced Morrisey as the winner with the wounded Blankenship third at 20%. Cabell County’s Evan Jenkins placed second.

Fast forward to the present Morrisey gubernatorial campaign.

His staff jumps for the tall weeds every time this site mentions the AG in what they consider to be a negative manner.

When we post such things, I almost immediately get a somewhat confrontational phone call from a member of Morrisey’s campaign staff.

When I say it is “somewhat confrontational,” it always begins pleasantly enough. The caller informs me she has “a question about the article” just published.

As we move forward, it’s obvious her version of “a question” is different than mine.

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Maybe it’s a New Jersey versus West Virginia thing. Different words have different meanings to Yankees.

Anyway, the “question” soon becomes a pointed reference to the latest story, with the staffer asserting that “the story is wrong.”

When asked by me what is “wrong” in the story, she identifies some minor point that has no effect on the overall article conclusion.

For example, I mentioned some time ago that she wanted me to “correct” that it was not Morrisey personally who called a gun store in Beckley to inquire about a Mac Warner for governor event, but it was a staff member.

Regardless, the Morrisey campaign was asking questions about a Warner event at a privately-owned business.

I’ve learned with the Morrisey campaign, it’s more semantics than substance. It’s how one says it, not what it actually means that counts.

* * * * * *

Last week, we headlined a story about Morrisey’s wife, Denise Henry Morrisey, being a registered Russian agent. I didn’t write that story but the Morrisey paid staffer called me to again “ask a question.”

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I wonder if the campaign has ever considered that we all know that Denise Morrisey founded one of the world’s biggest government public relations firms? They surely have clients that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Morrisey agree with philosophically.  Every newspaper I’ve ever written for has had advertisers who I didn’t like or patronize.

Why not just give that response about lobbying on behalf of Russia instead of attacking the messenger of public information? Tell us you’re not a Putin shill even if you’re paid to deliver his message to Congress.

Again, they’re quibbling over semantics. On the registration form, Mrs. Morrisey is clearly listed as “performing the function of an officer” of the firm.

While another line identifies an employee who worked on the project, are we somehow to believe that Denise Morrisey gave up her “officer of the firm” role on this one lobbying effort?

Sometimes, even in politics, the truth is the best answer.

It seems to me that if I buy an undercooked pizza from a company you founded and still have an ownership interest in, I have a complaint with you whether you acknowledge it or not.

Perhaps the other owners in the firm should withhold any share of the profits from Denise Morrisey if she’s not supportive of their overall lobbying efforts.

* * * * * *

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As we already knew, on the forms identifying the firm as Russian agents, Denise Morrisey’s residence is listed in Virginia. During parts of those times, her husband was AG giving an Eastern Panhandle address.

If nothing else, this raises an interesting question: if she becomes First Lady, can we expect to see Denise Morrisey in Charleston with the governor?

Does she see being First Lady as a full-time job? Will she and Patrick Morrisey live at the Governor’s Mansion?

* * * * * *

Last week, legislative Democrats suggested that a rumored special session in August should include an effort to solve the state’s prison crisis.

Although House Democrats have about the same power as your 98-year-old Uncle Jake, it is yet another example of the rudderless ship being floated by the administration of Republican Governor Jim Justice.

The light still glows at the state capitol to signify Justice’s declaration of a prison state of emergency in August 2022. That’s right, folks, it’s been almost a year.

The Republican supermajority legislature has met multiple times since then. The governor and BabyDog have traveled the state handing out checks.

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So, why has virtually nothing been done about the inadequate number of personnel to properly staff the prisons? Is anyone concerned about the safety of prisoners and jail staff?

Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, William Marshall, recently discussed the difficult situation with legislators during an interim session.

Marshall conceded that the emergency status will likely remain in effect past the one-year mark next month.

Talk about fiddling while Rome burns. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that critically understaffed prisons are like a ticking time bomb. The danger is inherent.

The commissioner acknowledged that the current situation – which includes the use of inordinate amounts of overtime and National Guard troops to fill in – is not safe for prisoners or personnel.
One might have expected legislators to at least do something about the low-end pay scale for prison employees but they have not.

Meanwhile, Justice, with his eagle eye on capturing Democrat United States Senator Joe Manchin’s seat next year, traverses the state passing out state checks like there’s no tomorrow.
A $10,000 pay raise has recently been proposed by the House Committee on Jails and Prisons. But when will that happen?

Republican legislative leadership seemed less than enthusiastic about the Democrat urge to deal with the matter in August.

Responses from those in Republican legislative leadership centered on strictly partisan attacks on the nearly defenseless Democrats.

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When you consider that your child’s football team has four times the number of players as there are legislative Democrats, you realize why their cause is hopeless.

* * * * * *

As I wrote earlier, ignoring the jail and prison problems is just one example of how this administration loves to kick the can down the road. If there’s a problem, they simply ignore it.

The theory is apparently that some future governors and legislature can deal with the critical problems later. Preferably that “later” is after January 2025 when Justice leaves office.

Unless desperate national Democrats decide to conspire with the Chinese to create another killer pandemic, there will likely not be another deadly illness windfall from the federal government to tide the state budget over.

Although the loss of human life was a tragedy, COVID was a financial boom for Justice and the Mountain State treasury.

Without those devastating yet miraculous federal dollars, West Virginia will be broke and then some. That, on top of State Police problems and dozens of other concerns ignored by Justice, will create some real difficulties for his successors.

* * * * * *

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While I’ve consistently told you that Manchin is running for re-election to the Senate, even I have some intriguing thoughts about a possible presidential run.

The senator keeps speculation alive on that situation, even traveling to early primary states.

One has to admit, watching Manchin, that he is behaving much as you’d expect a third-party presidential candidate to act.

Even Democrats are slowly admitting that not only is President Joe Biden past his prime, but he’s also incapable of speaking coherently.

Right off the top, I still think running a third party for president is a hopeless cause. I realize Manchin knows that too.

If Teddy Roosevelt couldn’t pull it off, nobody can. 

Even with all his charm and charisma, Manchin cannot expect to win.

So what could entice him into the nationwide race? I suppose it would be to make his fellow West Virginians happy by assuring former Republican President Donald Trump another term.

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There’s no doubt Manchin entering the race would finish off Democrat Biden. Although costing Trump a few votes in places like West Virginia, Manchin would be the answer to the ex-president’s dreams.

I also understand the anecdotal logic that Justice would not be running for the Senate if Manchin had not assured their mutual friend, consultant extraordinaire Larry Puccio, that he is not going to seek re-election.

Master political genius that he is, even Puccio cannot pull off supporting two opponents in a high-visibility race.

That’s great speculation but there’s not a morsel of evidence that it’s true.

We attempt to stay within the factual range of possibility here.

I must admit I’d be excited to see Manchin run for president. Plus, I think he’d do very well.

So well, in fact, that Trump might award him a cabinet post when the ex-president moves back into the White House.

Perhaps that’s the incentive to run.

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* * * * * *

Those who know far more than I about what a conservative really is have recently engaged in a volley of attacks on the Republican U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

The social media sites go so far as to authoritatively say that Capito has voted more with Democrats than Republicans.

How ridiculous.

One Trump site supporter even went so far as to link Capito and the Moore family to alleged crimes committed generations ago by the Manchins and vice versa.

For heaven’s sake; Shelley Moore Capito does not vote more with Democrats than Republicans. She did not get to her starring role in the GOP by being an automatic Democrat vote. Republican leaders are not that stupid.

What she does do, as her revered father, Governor Arch A. Moore, Jr., did, is vote her conscience on all issues.

She is in a leadership role in the Senate GOP because she’s loyal to her party – and her constituents.

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This is another of those examples of some Republicans letting success go to their heads.

Consider the potential alternatives to Capito. She’ll come out on top every time.

* * * * * *

The naming of Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia as the new Homeland Security head is an example of a rare good personnel move by the Justice administration.

That brings their overall good selection batting average up to about .110. But you have to start somewhere.

With his decades of experience as the top legal mind in one of the state’s fastest-growing communities, Sorsaia is ideally suited for the job.

Meanwhile, apparently retiring with his department in good shape,  Justice said, “Jeff Sandy has done an amazing job as Secretary of Homeland Security. He’s an honorable man who’s helped my administration in countless ways, and we will greatly miss his tireless work. I can never thank him enough for his service these past seven years and I wish him the absolute best in his retirement.”

Sandy is retiring on August 1.

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Even weighing all the crucial work of his department over these turbulent seven years, Sandy likely gained the most notoriety for his leadership investigating State Police corruption.

Justice also presented Sandy with a much-deserved Distinguished West Virginian Award.

* * * * * *

One newspaper described legislators tackling the prison problems as engaging in “behind-the-scenes meetings.”

That’s an interesting description of how it’s okay for legislators to meet privately, avoid public scrutiny and discuss matters before them. Those practices are not so for other public servants. I suggest it’s not right for any elected official.

The Cabell and Kanawha County commissions abide strictly by the regulation that they can’t conduct the public’s business out of the public’s eyesight and hearing.

When Cabell commissioners want to discuss issues as a group, they provide public notice of a coming “work session” and provide an agenda.

In the case of both counties, the general public is welcome at their meetings and agendas are strictly adhered to.

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The legislative secrecy is not the best practice of good government. I’ve said before if a quorum of county commissioners meets; it’s illegal. If a quorum of school board members meets; it’s illegal. If a quorum of legislators meets; it’s a caucus.

I firmly maintain that the public’s business should be conducted in public.

There are occasionally good reasons for closed, executive sessions – such as personnel matters – but the West Virginia legislature should stop the secrecy and invite their bosses (the public) inside to all meetings, including party caucuses.

After all, these are supposed to be citizen-legislators serving the public. So why keep that public in the dark?

* * * * * *

Can I get an “amen”?

Republican governor candidate and current secretary of state Mac Warner is obviously the “king of coalitions.”

Trying to balance his lack of an unlimited campaign budget like some of his opponents, Warner is running a textbook grassroots campaign.

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In that playbook is the creation of various special interest groups, which he calls coalitions, who plan to vote for Warner next year.

There are already “Women for Warner” and veteran and gun rights proponents for Warner.

Now, on July 28, Warner will meet with “People of Prayer” who support him in Fairmont.

The gathering is scheduled from 3 to 4 p.m. at Faith Church International.

Having already organized several coalitions of like-minded supporters, Warner is clearly now bringing in the heavy hitters with God anchoring the clean-up position.

Everyone is invited to the event.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, another GOP gubernatorial candidate is making headway by visiting various locations around the state. 

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Kanawha County Delegate Moore Capito was in Huntington last week and stopped by the iconic Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House.

Capito, whose name gains him instant recognition among the public, greeted diners and staff.

* * * * * *

Capito’s instant name identification comes from being blessed with the first name of his legendary grandfather, Governor and Congressman Arch A. Moore, Jr. as well as being the son of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

That’s why other candidates require millions of dollars in their budgets to compete. 

* * * * * *

In Kanawha County, the list of 2024 pre-filers has grown in the races for 13 magistrate positions. 

Those who had filed by Thursday, according to Clerk Vera McCormick, were incumbents Pete Lopez, Rusty Casto, Brent Hall, Jack Pauley, Leslie Grace, Joe Shelton, Mike Ferrell, and Gary Sheff.

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Non-incumbents include Mary Frampton in Division 12, Andrea Richmond Board in 13, and Chad Smarr and Tressia Cabell, undecided.

In addition to those who had filed and were listed here last week is Democrat Michael Scarberry, who pre-filed for county commissioner.

* * * * * *

Heartfelt condolences go out to the wife, family, and many friends of Putnam County’s Paul Hartling, who recently passed away.

He was a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in St. Albans, where memorial services were held yesterday. 

Hartling was known nationwide as a champion of the Republican party.

He was a retired Senior Territory Manager, Reseller with Chevron.

Hartling was a past President of the Putnam County Republican Club, past Chairman of the Putnam County Republican Executive Committee, past WVGOP State Vice Chair for Congressional District Two, and an Associate Member of the FRWV. 

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He was a veteran of the United States Army. Hartling is survived by his wife, Linda.

As a fellow opinionated Republican, Hartling and I did not always agree on every issue. But I came to respect his opinions, which were often closer to correct than mine.

I will miss his wisdom and insight into the inner workings of the GOP.

* * * * * *

Speaking of good hires in unexpected quarters, as we were earlier, state Republican Chair Elgine McArdle made the first smart move of her tenure when she introduced Kyle Saunders as the party’s new executive director.

Not nearly as abrasive as his predecessor, John Findlay, Saunders will be a major asset as Republicans look to maintain their hold on state government in 2024. 

Saunders is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University Institute of Technology. 

He has previously held positions with the Republican Governors Association, Susan B. Anthony List, West Virginia Republican Legislative Committee, and most recently, the Office of U.S. First District Congresswoman Carol D. Miller.

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Saunders is a welcome addition to state GOP headquarters.

* * * * * *

Beyond where she lives, Denise Morrisey and her partners are asked to tell the Department of Justice their individual nationalities on some of the registration forms.

Five out of six partners, including Mrs. Morrisey,  note that their nationality is “white” while another is “Native American.”

“White” is now a nationality. We can learn a lot from New Jerseyites.

* * * * * *

On the subject of Morrosey. I’m sure that some recent rumors are unfounded.

In this case, I’m referring to the tough questioning the AG got from a few Putnam County Republican women at the Kanawha GOP picnic.

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Coincidentally, no doubt, that was followed by Morrisey canceling an August 8 scheduled appearance in Putnam County.

Now, in his absence, Warner is scheduled to speak.

Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.

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

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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.