Last week, I raised the question of whether the new Summersville Lake State Park is a wise investment for West Virginia taxpayers.
We won’t know until it’s operational the firm answer to that question, of course.
We may not even know then if future administrations are permitted to operate like that of current Governor Jim Justice.
To say Justice and staff are reluctant to reveal much of the public’s business to the public is an understatement.
The man who routinely holds press briefings and travels around the state handing out checks and grants with his constant companion, BabyDog, is an enigma.
(To those in Hamlin, that means he’s hard to figure out).
On one hand, Justice appears gregarious and a shining example of openness. On the other, he could be the stereotypical used car salesman who describes a vehicle as “needing one little thing” when the motor has blown sky-high.
Justice and his press relations staff ignore what other governors would treat as routinely answered questions.
It is not only me but numerous other reporters who get no answer or return calls when an issue arises.
It is Justice’s “Mr. Haney act” (from the old “Green Acres” TV show) that endears him to both the press and the public.
After all, how does one aggressively confront a public official who smiles, leads his dog to public events and regularly brings up his humble upbringing?
I admit that it’s difficult to remember that Justice is evasive when confronting him. No wonder the public buys his Bubba imitation.
There have been few West Virginia public officials whose act (and I’m convinced it usually is that) compares to Justice. The late Secretary of State and Treasurer A. James Manchin was naturally flamboyant but it wasn’t an act. He was just being himself.
Manchin also always had an open-door, take-all-phone-calls policy.
I’ve seen Manchin sit and be blasted by an irate citizen. Then he invariably replied, “pray for me, ma’am (or sir) that I do better in the future than I have in the past that’s come and gone.”
Manchin would also openly answer questions to his own detriment.
In summary, I knew A. James Manchin. A James Manchin was a friend of mine and Governor, you’re no A. James Manchin.
Still, however, I like Justice and BabyDog.
On the subject of parks, a press release from First District Republican Congresswoman Carol Miller bragged about her support for the creation of the New River Gorge National Park.
She cited a 2022 report recently released by the National Park Service.
The report highlighted the national park’s generation of an estimated $9.1 million in economic output and over 1,000 new jobs.
As an aside, the report reported that New River Gorge is the 63rd national park. Summersville is the 36th state park.
Another aside, we still never hear a politician detail jobs lost in the jurisdiction.
The positive comments by Miller highlight a point her opponent, political prisoner Derrick Evans, often makes. It’s similar to something I mentioned last week about Justice.
West Virginia’s Republican officeholders roundly criticize the “runaway spending” of Democrat President Joe Biden yet boldly proclaim the merits of those funds when they come our way.
As it was last week, I’m not necessarily opposing the creation of this national park. However, I am observing the hypocrisy of berating spending while simultaneously holding a joyful hand out to gather some of the proceeds.
It is facts such as these that give far-right Republicans pause when considering Miller and/or Justice. They don’t need to worry about the other GOP Congressman, Alex Mooney. He’ll vote and talk right every time. So will Evans.
That’s one reason why Evans is gaining ground on Miller. It remains to be seen if embracing funds created by bills he opposes gives a bump to Justice’s GOP 2024 primary opponent for U.S. Senate, Mooney.
Evans and Mooney clearly fit into the mold that endears them to former President Donald Trump supporters. It is safe to say Trump still enjoys the support of 70% or more West Virginians.
If enough Trump supporters figure out the differences between Justice and Mooney as well as Miller and Evans, there may be some tight primary races next May.
Trump’s choice in the Evans-Miller contest seems fairly apparent when his social media posts proclaim both he and Evans as “political prisoners.”
The ex-president even ran their two mugshots side-by-side.
The already-crowded field for the 2024 Republican nomination for Secretary of State may get even less spacious.
Kanawha State Senator Mark Hunt is telling associates he’s considering an SOS run.
If the Charleston attorney enters the field, he becomes the early favorite.
Most statehouse observers do think, however, that one earlier rumored candidate will not run.
Cabell County Delegate Daniel Linville put rumors to rest and said he is “locked in” to seeking re-election rather than statewide office as there are still things he wants to finish despite his very long list of accomplishments.
Kanawha Delegate Doug Skaff is still mulling a run for SOS as well.
Last week, I incorrectly referred to Monongalia County Delegate Anitra Hamilton as her District’s “former” Delegate.
She is, of course, the present Democrat Delegate who replaced former Delegate Danielle Walker.
Walker resigned to become head of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union.
In last week’s column, I noted that Hamilton was among the legislators present at a West Virginia University student rally.
She was appointed by Justice to replace Walker on April 26.
Then she was sworn in by House Clerk Steve Harrison. Her mother, Francis Anthony, attended the ceremony.
I’ll get it right the next time.
Yet another example of Justice’s lack of transparency is his refusal to turn over copies of his official schedules in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee
The legal maneuvers to avoid doing so have now reached Kanawha Circuit Court.
Justice apparently thinks the public has no right to know who he meets with as their Governor.
Would revealing all his contacts embarrass him or some of those he met?
As I’ve discussed here over and over, the state’s weak FOIA may let him get away with not revealing his calendar.
The Democrats here have taken him to court because of his refusal. Many private citizens cannot afford the cost of going to court to see a public record.
As long as his approval rate stands at 50% or above, there appear to be no political repercussions no matter what Justice does.
One would think the average West Virginian would be curious about what’s on those calendars that the Governor and his staff cannot – or will not – display.
Still, the average voter seems more concerned about where BabyDog will be next than anything else going on with this Governor.
Word that a second voting fraud conviction in the state was rendered recently in Randolph County brought swift reactions from many.
Some, like most Trump supporters and I, saw the hypocrisy of MainStream Media that continues to proclaim there was “no fraud” in the 2020 election.
Obviously, these two examples prove there was some fraud. The most recent defendant, Jon Cooper, admitted he voted in both West Virginia and New Mexico.
On the local level, questions about the immediate $500 fine ordered for Cooper made Mingo Countians curious.
Their questions stemmed from the case of Judy Taylor of Matewan. She is the mother of Democrat-turned-Republican Mingo County Commissioner Thomas Taylor.
Judy Taylor entered a no-contest plea in her case. Logan County Prosecuting Attorney David Wandling served as the Special Prosecutor in Williamson.
Despite alleging that Judy Taylor presented a fraudulent absentee ballot application to the County Clerk, Wandling agreed to a settlement that included no fine or jail time with the ability to wipe out the charge through a pre-trial diversion plan.
If Judy Taylor commits no other crimes for a year, the original charge “will be vacated,” according to the agreement.
It’s fairly obvious that Randolph Prosecutor Michael Parker took a tougher view of that election law violation.
In fairness, the defendant in Randolph did actually admit voting twice. Taylor still insists she is innocent.
It was interesting to see Putnam Republican Delegate Kathie Hess-Crouse’s social media comments about being a Hooters Girl last week.
Since Crouse posted her Hooters pins online and I simply commented that she did, I’m hoping it was none of our readers who, in her words, tried to make her feel bad.
She wrote that some criticized her because of that place of employment. She agreed that she is “far right” as it was 30 years ago while she was at Hooters.
Everyone surely knows by now that Hooters was and is a legitimate restaurant.
It is possible to imagine, though, that some of her far-right supporters would not like the restaurant name.
I still recall what she and some of her supporters did to defeat former GOP Delegate Joshua Higginbotham. He was one of the most effective, hard-working legislators around – and he was far right as well.
Let’s just recall that she proudly posted the Hooters pins originally, not I. Additionally, I made no negative comments.
Things are rapidly coming together on the Woody Williams-inspired Gold Star Family Memorial in Huntington’s Ritter Park.
The recent Woody Williams Memorial Ride raised funds for the project that honors families who have a member who did not return alive from war.
The last living World War II Medal of Honor recipient was a beloved hero and community activist in Huntington for nearly 100 years. He passed away while working to establish the Memorial.
His good friend and often chauffeur Cabell County Magistrate Kim Wolfe told me the creation of the Memorial “was one of Woody’s last wishes.”
Wolfe is a former Cabell Sheriff and Huntington Mayor.
The Magistrate was extremely pleased in November 2022 to deliver coins designed by Williams to musical star Wayne Newton in Las Vegas.
The coin exchange was another of Williams’ last wishes, Wolfe said.
A colleague asked an intriguing question recently.
I was repeating my oft-quoted reference to a long-ago political mentor in Webster County who always said “A politician is like a racehorse. He has only so many wins in him. If he keeps running, eventually he’ll lose.”
My associate swiftly said, “Robert C. Byrd couldn’t win today as a Democrat.”
That caused quite a bit of speculation by us.
Would the late Senator, Ku Klux Klan recruiter and West Virginian of the Century have turned over his Democrat credentials and become an independent as so many have?
Would he have gone all the way, as numerous others are, to Republican?
There are hundreds of political observers who believe that today, to be a public official here one must be a Republican.
That’s quite an incentive for some to “let the elephant trumpet and the donkey bray/but cast your lot the Republican way,” as long-ago Gilmer County GOP Chair Russell Bush always chanted.
My opinion – and it’s clearly just a guess – is that Byrd would happily have switched to Republican without missing a beat.
After all, the man who filibustered the 1964 Voters Rights bill as an avowed “Dixiecrat” with his state just five years removed from school segregation, quickly switched his Baptist hymnal when that side became more dominant.
The biggest downside for Byrd might have been that Democrats wouldn’t have named him Man of the Century if he was a Republican.
What do you think?
Finally (I hear those sighs of joy) there’s the WVMetroNews poll.
No wonder Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wanted this site to “cease and desist” reporting the simple, bare facts.
After months of being the runaway leader for the 2024 GOP Governor nomination, he’s dropped like a Russian noodle in Chinese tea. (I’m sooo clever).
Kanawha Delegate Moore Capito is now in the lead at 32% with Morrisey dropping to second with 23%, the MetroNews poll found.
Huntington businessman Chris Miller is third with 9% and Secretary of State Mac Warner came in fourth at 7%.
It may be a long winter at the Morrisey homes in Lewisburg and Harpers Ferry.
In the U.S. Senate race, Justice still doubles up on Mooney at 58-26%. Justice leads incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin by 51-38%.
In all fairness, the poll has been questioned by every major candidate in the race. The numbers simply don’t add up and the methodology is extremely questionable. Many have alleged the political motives behind the Chamber. More than one current statewide official and sitting legislator told us the poll was absolute B**SH**, and a way for democrats to interfere in a Republican primary.
More on this next week.
Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or firstname.lastname@example.org.