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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – July 30, 2023

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Ron Gregory political columnist

Call it a “Tale of Two Delegates,” with due apologies to Charles Dickens.

Honestly, it definitely doesn’t rise to the level of  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,”  but it does illustrate that all people are different in similar situations.

It also shows how differently two legislators can approach a subject. In this case, we’re talking basketball.

On one hand, we have a Democrat delegate from Cabell County; on the other, a Democrat delegate from Ohio.

County, that is. Maybe. Nobody has ever been able to differentiate between the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and its two surrounding Yankee states. 

In the first instance, there’s Delegate and Minority Leader Pro Tempore Sean Hornbuckle. In the second, it’s Minority Whip Sean Fluharty.

Shortly after Hornbuckle returned from coaching his basketball team to a championship against national competition, Fluharty was getting ejected from a college alumni basketball game between Marshall and Pittsburgh in Wheeling.

Any character resemblances between these two are purely coincidental. Those in attendance at Hornbuckle-coached games see a great motivator and role model for children. Those fòr the other team in the stands say Fluharty can be “obnoxious” as he “baits” and taunts them.

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It seems Hornbuckle is a genuine model of good citizenship; Fluharty might be an example to budding juvenile delinquents.

One positive thing about Fluharty; he was honest when asked what happened at Wheeling’s Wesbanco Arena last week during a The Basketball Tournament game that featured Marshall University alumni versus the University of Pittsburgh alums.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m a passionate WVU fan,” the Ohio County delegate told WTRF-TV7, “and probably a little too loud. This was nothing more than old-fashioned banter with Pitt fans as part of our historic rivalry. WVU won. Marshall won. It was a great atmosphere in Wheeling and I look forward to continuing to cheer on our state while toning it down a notch. Let’s Go Mountaineers.”

Sounds innocent enough and in a sense, it probably was.

Yet in another, is it all too reminiscent of a generation of Americans who believe they can loudly complain, pound the floor and get their way?

Meanwhile, Hornbuckle has been coaching his young lads – including his own son – for seven years and they now appear to have reached the pinnacle of success.

Most recently, he coached his team to victory at a Big Shots tournament in South Carolina. Along the way, they knocked off some powerhouses under their “Choose West Virginia” banner.

“No matter where he goes—as a coach, an elected official, or a dad—he proudly represents West Virginia with class and dignity,” the internet news site TheRealWV said while naming Hornbuckle their most recent Real West Virginian of the Week.

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Two different Democrat delegates approached the simple game of basketball in two very different ways.

Which would you prefer to represent you?

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Despite his over-the-top enthusiasm, Fluharty did not get his “dream” match-up between WVWho and Pitt. Led by the fantastic talent of Jon Elmore, Herd That handled WVU Thursday night to move on in the tournament while eliminating WVU.

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Even if it’s graduated Marshall players and a few what ESPN called “ringers,” having state bragging rights feels pretty good to this Herd fan.

Oh, and WVU had some “ringers” who couldn’t find Morgantown with a GPS as well.

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While the two delegates were making news last week, the multi-candidate GOP gubernatorial primary may have entered into the dog days of summer. It’s been pretty dull lately.

One Governor candidate, Secretary of State Mac Warner, was busy putting together another of his “coalitions” and Auditor JB McCuskey’s exit from the race grabbed all the tiny bit of attention generated by the major candidates.

Most water cooler discussions centered on the contest McCuskey newly entered; that of Attorney General.

Any race with Kanawha State Senator and former U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart in it will be boisterous. Stuart, who with Brooke State Senator Ryan Weld was already in the AG race, pulls no verbal punches.

Initially, Weld sounded distressed that his “good friend” McCuskey entered the field. He even went so far as to say if he had known McCuskey was going to run, he wouldn’t have.

That leads me to wonder why Weld doesn’t pull out now that McCuskey has announced his intentions. After all, the actual filing doesn’t open until January 2024.

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Just another example of having a state government on automatic pilot occurred last week. Governor Jim Justice dramatically called for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission to postpone a meeting about Alderson Broaddus University.

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“I’m calling on the HEPC to delay this emergency meeting,” said Justice, calmly yet 

frantically, “because no one wants to see this university close if there’s a way to avoid it.”

Then, virtually conceding defeat for the small institution, he went on to say, “It may very well be inevitable, but we’re going to try really hard to find a pathway.”

When Justice issued his frantic plea, it was one day before the HEPC had scheduled an emergency meeting with plans to simply close AB. 

The university, with less than 1,000 students and based in the historic Barbour County city of Phillipi, owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility and other municipal fees.

With a closure vote scheduled within 24 hours and the Governor at last engaged, the school, city, and utilities worked out a payment plan and the meeting was canceled. 

All of which begs the question; if we had a full-time Governor paying attention to the affairs of the state, would this ever have gotten to the crisis point?

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Public officials love to give reporters tidbits of information they hope will result in positive press.

On the other hand, it is like pulling teeth to get something perceived as negative out of those same officials.

Many individuals, not just reporters, have found how inadequate the state Freedom of Information Act laws are.

Besides the fact that nobody is in charge of enforcing FOIA, it has no teeth even if they did.

I’m going to support legislators who promise to give us real FOIA reform.

For now, could we be told the names or at least the ranks of the four State Troopers let go as a result of a recent investigation?

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The Basketball Tournament (TBT) provided the setting for the Marshall alumni to get that long-awaited victory over WVWho’s alum on the basketball court in Wheeling.

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Besides giving Herd That its Mountain State bragging rights for the time being, the TBT set the stage for sports writers to fill space during the dull athletic days of summer.

That inevitably led to pockets of prose about retired WVU head basketball coach Bob Huggins.

Unfortunately, such writing sometimes led to the near hero worship Huggins always received from the West Virginia media.

Bob Hertzel, who has covered WVU for years, was as fair in his analysis as any and did not wade in water over his head defending Huggins.

Hertzel’s commentary backdrop was Huggins’ appearance at the TBT in Wheeling’s WesBanco Arena.

The former coach came to watch Best WV take on the DuBois Dream.

A photo showed him sitting in the stands. He was accompanied by his wife, one of his daughters, and a Wheeling friend of his.

Huggins was clearly pleased when Best Virginia won on Erik Stevenson’s game-winning, three-point shot. Stevenson played for Huggins at WVU. 

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Hertzel complained, maybe somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that the former coach deserved better seats.

The writer went on to describe Huggins’ attendance as “in a way, his coming-out party, sort of his first public appearance since his DUI arrest in Pittsburgh, his announced ‘resignation,’ which he since has disputed, and a stint in rehab to begin the long road back to regaining the Hall of Fame aura he had before a heat was turned up so high on him that the residents in Las Vegas, Arizona, and Death Valley would have considered it far beyond what they have been going through so far this summer.”

As many are, it’s safe to say Hertzel is a Bob Huggins fan. Like thousands on social media, it’s clear he’d welcome Huggins back to the real WVU bench.

Still, this writer realizes how tough that wish would be for even the best genie in a bottle.

I don’t want to be too judgmental and readers should factor in my allegiance to Marshall and hostility for WVU.

Still, I think I come down smack dab in the middle of those who simply “forgive” the ex-coach and those who advocate taking turns beating him in the public square.

We truly have all come up short many times. Clearly, I’ve had to ask forgiveness when I didn’t deserve it.

I have often shattered my own glass house when criticizing others. By no means am I perfect.

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Still, I wonder if those defending Huggins no matter the sin realize that’s not even good for him.

By the way, I am not saying Huggins is the worst sinner among us. Clearly, he’s not.

There is surely a path to redemption for Huggins. Hertzel described his demeanor, “He was approachable, would chat with those wanting to chat, posed for who knows how many pictures that found their way onto social media.”

He added, “A request from a reporter to talk was met with what seemed to be a polite, yet definite, no, which is understandable since his situation remains unresolved and he has said all he can say through his attorney.”

The scribe goes on to say, “West Virginians are, by nature, forgiving people and there certainly is a strong faction of the public who believe he should get his job back.”

Unlike most state reporters who have looked thoroughly at the situation and said there’s no way the WVU administration would ever bring Huggins back, Hertzel finds hope.

“The fact that Josh Eilert was hired as an interim coach for this year certainly leaves the door ajar … should he (Huggins) be able to make his case to get back onto the court in the courts or should the school decide that they believe he is totally rehabilitated and deserved to have his job back,” the writer said.

Hertzel summarized it best, ‘This return to the spotlight was a necessary first step, but little more than dipping the big toe in the ocean before deciding whether to go and swim against the tide or simply relax on the beach.”

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My much more simplified opinion is that Huggins should, in fact, return to coaching but not at WVU. Or Marshall. Doc Holliday was more than enough, thank you very much.

* * * * * * 

Kanawha State Senator Eric Nelson, who was rumored to be running for either Treasurer or Auditor in 2024, is now telling insiders he will seek re-election.

* * * * * *

Presidential candidate 

and Miami (Florida not Cabin Creek) Mayor Francis Suarez is one of many minor contestants using unique fundraising tactics.

Suarez is offering a $20 ‘Bidenomics Relief Card’ to anyone who donates $1 to his campaign.

Suarez is the first cousin of West Virginia Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Alex Mooney. The Republican Congressman’s mother, Lala, who I have dubbed “the brains of the operation,” was a Suarez before marrying Mooney’s father, Vincent Mooney.

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Francis Suarez began airing a commercial on June 15, declaring his candidacy for the GOP Presidential nomination.

The innovative funding techniques, such as Suarez offering the $20 card for a dollar donation, are triggered by a Republican National Committee debate rule.

To be on stage for the debates among presidential hopefuls one must receive 40,000 “unique” campaign contributions.

Thus, lower-key candidates are resorting to unusual offers to get just a $1 donation from 40,000 different people. Suarez’s approach is particularly unique.

“Bidenomics is making the American Dream unaffordable, so I asked, ‘how can I help,’ and you answered,” he wrote. “I’m offering every American a $20 Bidenrelief card when you give just $1 to help me qualify for the debate stage.”

The mayor boasts a pretty impressive election record, having been “first elected with a mandate of 86 percent and then re-elected with a mandate of nearly 79 percent” in the city of Miami, “which is no easy feat for a Republican.”

No word yet on Mooney giving anyone $20 for every $1 donation.

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A Wheeling attorney has been charged with three counts of violating the rules of conduct for attorneys, according to The West Virginia Record.

“On June 18, the state Lawyer Disciplinary Board issued a Statement of Charges against Paul J. Harris, a Wheeling attorney with more than 35 years of experience,” the Record reported.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” Healy Baumgardner, a former Fox News analyst and adviser to Presidents Donald Trump and George W. Bush who was involved in one of the matters at the heart of the Harris charges, told The Record.

According to the first count of charges, your friend and mine, Wheeling attorney Elgine H. McArdle, represented Baumgardner in an Ohio County (Ohio County apparently being the “in” place these days) divorce proceeding.

You will also remember McArdle as the state Republican Party Chair who was once photographed wearing a “Fluharty” campaign badge. 

Hmm. Fluharty?

Where have we heard that name before?

The picture was reportedly taken before McArdle was State Chair.

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“In a letter sent to the Office of Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel dated March 27, 2017, McArdle expressed concern about how Harris and his firm allegedly mishandled more than $600,000 that was to be placed into an irrevocable family trust to benefit Baumgardner and her now ex-husband Emil Nardone,” the paper said.

McArdle said Harris actually placed the money into his IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Account) account and testified he used the funds for his “fees.”

In his response to the letter notifying him of the complaint, Harris denied any violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

So, McArdle recently made a good personnel move which we applauded earlier. Now, she appears to be on the side of the angels in this case.

Maybe … just maybe, she’ll be better than Mark Harris after all.

* * * * * *

Although we may have a record number of candidates for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2024, the pre-filings at the Kanawha and Cabell county courthouses have slowed to a trickle.

In fact, Cabell County Clerk Scott Caserta reported no new filings since last we checked.

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Meanwhile, in Kanawha, all was quiet except for the magistrate positions.

There’s unusual interest in magistrates since three new positions are being added next year.

Kanawha Clerk Vera McCormick reported that Chad Smarr, who had pre-filed as undecided as to division, came in and changed that to Division 8.

The other candidates include incumbents: Pete Lopez, in Division 1; Rusty Casto, in Division 2; Brent Hall, 3; Jack Pauley, 4; Leslie Grace, 5; Joe Shelton, 6; Mike Ferrell, 7; and Gary Sheff, 9.

Former Deputy Sheriff Harry Carpenter is running in 11. He’ll be my easy choice for that seat.

Others are Mary Frampton in 12, Andrea Richmond-Board in 13, and Tressia Cabell, undecided as to division.

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.