It would take far more than the space of this column to detail all the heated discussions and conflict going on in some West Virginia government bodies.
As we’ve observed before, the turning of the Mountain State from Democrat blue to Republican red has not necessarily resulted in governmental harmony throughout the land.
There’s no better – or worse, depending on your outlook – example of divided government than in the Eastern Panhandle’s Jefferson County.
There, in one of two state counties with five Commissioners rather than the three others have, the group cannot agree on a replacement member.
(The one good idea former Democrat Governor and United States Senator Jay Rockefeller ever had was to reduce the number of counties from 55 to about a dozen. Instead of logically consolidating counties, the state embarked on its rip-the-heart-out-of small-towns school mergers).
We’ve watched Mingo and other counties wrestle with choosing replacement Commissioners during the past few years.
Whether it’s three or five, a vacancy sets up the likelihood of a tie vote on a replacement.
Since a single Commissioner only has real power if he or she has a solid second vote on the bench, each Commissioner wants the replacement to be a friend.
It is always a tedious process for those involved. For Jefferson currently, it appears to actually be an impossible task.
As usual, two of the major things I look for in judging candidates for public office is honesty and transparency.
I’ve already made it clear that I admire Jefferson Commissioner Tricia Jackson for her strong stands in favor of the public’s right to know. She’s also now running for State Auditor.
In addition, it’s fairly clear that Jefferson Commission President Steve Stolipher will never work his way into the Transparency Hall of Fame.
In fact, Stolipher has been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia. They allege that he violated a constituent’s First Amendment rights by blocking her from his Facebook page.
Christy Stadig says she was blocked by Stolipher in May 2022 following “a brief, though civil, exchange with the Commissioner about the county’s recent financial audit.”
The suit goes on to say that Stadig confronted Stolipher at a Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee meeting, asking him to unblock her.
Stolipher “laughed at her request,” the suit alleges.
Media reports noted that in 2020, the ACLU-WV sent letters to West Virginia Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Republican Delegates John Mandt and Tom Fast; GOP State Senators Mike Azinger, Mark Maynard and Patricia Rucker; Democrat Jefferson County Commissioner Patsy Noland; Fayette County School Board member Darrin McGuffin, Monongalia County Democrat Commissioner Tom Bloom and the Parkersburg Police Department advising them against blocking constituents on Facebook.
Court rulings have made it nearly impossible for a public figure to block a constituent on social media.
Wait a minute. The POLICE Department blocked someone from contacting them?
With apologies to my friend, King Leonardo, “that’s the most unheard of thing I ever heard of!”
According to the ACLU, numerous court cases have recognized politicians’ official social media pages as public forums.
This means that blocking access to them is an unlawful restriction of free speech, according to the ACLU.
This is one of many times the ACLU is correct in terms of the public’s right to know.
Did I just say that the ACLU is right? I suppose that’s prima facie evidence that I am, in fact, a RINO.
A citizen’s right to question and/or let a public official know how the citizen thinks he or she is doing is at the very heart of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In dispensing factual information to the public, a public official cannot be too transparent.
For days that turned into weeks that turned into months, the Jefferson Commission has been deadlocked on replacing the vacancy in the group.
Two Republican Commissioners, Jackson and Jennifer Krouse, have even boycotted meetings to prevent a quorum presence when naming a replacement was on the agenda.
Jackson and Krouse dutifully told citizens in advance that they would not be in attendance at those meetings.
Things have gone so far afield, however, that Solipher actually accused Jackson of missing a Commission meeting because she was campaigning for Auditor in Wood County.
As for philosophical differences that divide the Commission, 2-2, Commissioners Jackson and Krouse are generally together. Jane Tabb, an Independent, normally sides with Solipher, another Republican.
The issue of filling the vacancy is compounded by the state’s “bassackward” methods of selecting a replacement.
Those provisions kick in when the Commissioners can’t agree on a new member.
The county party’s executive committee of the member being replaced selects nominees for the spot from among qualified members of that party. Instead of the sitting Commissioners choosing which one of the names they want, they each eliminate who they do not want.
Is that not weird?
As I currently understand it, there are questions about the qualifications and alleged conflicts of interest for one or more of the Jefferson nominees.
All of this has some suggesting that an actual election for the replacement should be held. If that happens, the new Commissioner would serve only until the 2024 election is certified, according to Jackson.
I told her that I wondered if the county could legally fund a special election like that since it isn’t contemplated nor directed by State Code.
Of course, if the anonymous official who moved the state’s mandated May primary to June three years ago is in charge, anything is possible.
When last I checked in, Calhoun County was also turning political somersaults trying to unite on a new Commissioner.
We’ll examine “Sunny Cal” next time.
There will be a pop quiz on “Who’s on first; and What’s on second” in Jefferson County at the end of this column.
I’d go with “I Don’t Know’s on third.”
Supporters were invited to a Pig Roast fundraiser for the Chris Miller for Governor campaign this past Thursday.
The event was at The Venetian in Milton.
Donation levels were $50 for attendees; $250 Silver and $1,000 Gold.
The Huntington auto dealer already had more than $4 million in campaign funds.
Maybe the pig roast is the kickoff to the aggressive campaign Miller promised us last fall.
I hope to learn even more about Eastern Panhandle politics when I appear with Rob Mario on WRNR Radio’s Mario in the Morning program.
That’s the spot to turn to in the Panhandle for political news and talk.
Tune in each morning for the latest political news and commentary from the host and a variety of guests.
Meanwhile, in Mingo County, Republican Delegate Mark Dean is said to be considering giving up his House seat to run for County Commissioner next year.
That would not be a smart move for Dean since he’d be pitted against powerful incumbent Republican Dianne Hanna in the GOP primary. She has already pre-filed.
As I pointed out last week, Hanna is one of the smartest and hardest-working public officials around. It would surprise me if Dean is politically suicidal enough to take his chances against her.
More sensibly, Dean may want to look at moving up to give Mingo back a State Senator of its own when the timing is right.
The county was spoiled for decades by having local Democrat attorney H. Truman Chafin as a respected State Senator. Combined with legendary Democrat House Delegate Harry Keith “HK” White, the county had a powerful presence at budget and other critical times.
And yes, I know Chafin and White represented two different Democrat factions. Still, they were united when it meant good things for Mingo County.
Dean’s shot at moving to the upper chamber might come as a challenge to current Wayne Senator Mark Maynard. His district includes Mingo but his term is not up until 2026.
Nearly everyone in Mingo political circles thinks Deskins will run for Circuit Judge. Many also believe incumbent Judge Miki Thompson will not run again.
Chatter among those saying that Deskins will run for Circuit Judge includes the probability that Marsha Webb Rumora will campaign for the Family Court position being vacated by Deskins.
Unlike previously when Mingo selected just one Circuit Judge, the Legislature reconfigured Mingo into a three-judge circuit with Logan County.
Under the new law, each county must have at least one judge.
Population-wise, it is likely that Logan will continue to have two judges and Mingo will keep one.
Deskins would be a favorite to win one of the spots because of her previous background as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Logan.
Her children also participate in some sports activities in Logan County, adding to her high name identification.
Add her impeccable reputation in her native Mingo and you have a sure winner on your hands.
Logan’s two sitting judges – Joshua Butcher and Kelli Codispoti – will be favored to win the other two seats if they decide to run.
Although overall great improvement has been made at the Mingo courthouse in terms of elected officials, current Circuit Judge Thompson is little better than the deposed, disgraced Judge Michael Thornsbury. She just smiles and is more pleasant when ruling with an iron fist – or gavel.
So, the election of Deskins to that position would signal a bright, new day in that area as well.
Nevertheless, one campaign sign advocating for Thompson’s re-election was recently seen in a Mingo law office window.
A typographic error last week resulted in incorrect information being passed along.
While Chris Miller was one of the earliest to pre-file for Governor, he was not the earliest, as stated in this space last week.
In fact, Jackson County wild animal rescuer Terri Bradshaw was the first and earliest to file as a Republican Governor candidate.
Apologies to a very understanding lady who actually prides herself on being first to file. She did it several months before Miller.
She very nicely pointed out the mistake.
Putnam County Republican State Senator Eric Tarr has called upon West Virginians to unite with Israel after the latest Hamas missile attacks. I suspect 95% were already there before Tarr urged them on.
In a press release last week, Tarr used the Israeli misfortune to underscore his support for ultra-conservative Republican Congressman Alex Mooney in the 2024 race for United States Senate.
Just for the record, I’m an isolationist who wouldn’t spend a dime of American taxpayer money to protect any person or place except American people on American soil.
While I salute the brave men and women who join the military “to protect our freedom,” I have no confidence in elected leaders to assign those duties effectively.
Politicians send troops to war with orders not to cross certain lines nor push for combat victory. The officials make any kind of victory impossible.
I will assert here that if I were court-ordered to join one Army or another in the Middle East, I’d choose the Israeli uniform.
The most recent attack by Hamas on Israel was barbaric and must be totally opposed by decent people.
Tarr sounds as if he thinks Mooney is pretty close to perfect in his epistle.
However, he uses most of his message to criticize Mooney’s announced primary opponent, Governor Jim Justice.
The Senator says Mooney “has demonstrated unwavering commitment, driven by conservative values, setting him apart from politicians like Jim Justice, who has abandoned honesty and integrity in favor of self-preservation.” Tarr continues, “Jim Justice is not a conservative. He fought and helped defeat the constitutional amendment that would have strengthened the right to worship in West Virginia.”
Tarr is not through. *I am as strong a second amendment supporter as you will find,” he writes, “but it’s only a persuasion against oligarchy and our last line of defense against a lost nation.”
Tarr concludes, “Alex Mooney pulls the Senate right. Jim Justice pulls the Senate left.”
While that final analysis could be correct, I continue to believe West Virginians will stick with moderation and re-elect Democrat Senator Joe Manchin if his name is on the ballot in 2024.
Still, the Tarr rhetoric is mostly like similar verbal attacks being lobbed all over this state and others where Republicans now find themselves in the majority.
The question of whether a candidate is conservative enough is regularly tossed about on the GOP side.
Honestly, Republicans now seem to display more diversity of opinion than ever before.
Once Republicans berate each other in primaries, there’s not much left for Democrats to say about the GOP “winners.”
One interesting sidelight of the Republican success is that it causes local politicians such as Tarr to believe their influence can carry the day for those they support.
In this case, that may not prove to be true. Since Mooney and his carpet bag crossed into West Virginia, he has seldom been seen in Charleston, let alone Hurricane and Huntington. We’ll see what percentages of the votes Justice and Mooney get in Tarr’s district.
Every once in a while, readers ask about past storylines.
More than one has inquired about the Fourth Federal Circuit’s Judge Robert B. King of West Virginia.
You may recall that it was Judge King who, in August 2021, announced plans to retire from the Richmond bench that serves the Mountain State.
At the time, Judge King was to acquire senior status, meaning he could handle a limited amount of special assignments in semi-retirement.
Proving perhaps that judges are people too, King changed his mind in November. He withdrew his August letter and said he would continue his regular, active status. It was then widely reported that King wanted former West Virginia U.S. Senator Carte Goodwin appointed as his successor.
Allegedly, when the jurist learned that the Biden White House would instead nominate Charleston lawyer J. Jeaneen Legato as the new judge, King balked.
There was little speculation as to why King was apparently so adamantly opposed to Legato.
For those wanting the update, King still remains on the bench at age 82 and Legato continues to be listed by the bar with a law office in Charleston.
Invitations have been extended for what has become an annual gathering of Warner family and friends at the Warner Family Farm at Volga, Barbour County.
This year, there’s likely two of the Warner brothers running for statewide office who will be in attendance.
Secretary of State Mac Warner is definitely a Republican candidate for Governor in 2024. Meanwhile, brother Kris Warner, a former State GOP chair, is considering a Secretary of State run himself.
The invite, addressed to “Friends and fellow West Virginians,” makes the Barbour County mountains sound like Shangri-la.
“The cool, crystal clear mountain air of early November stimulates the senses in beautiful & bountiful Barbour County. Veterans Day dwells on the doorstep, deer season harkens, Thanksgiving blessings are close, and Christmas looms on the horizon,” it says.
Perhaps the author should be nominated as Poet Laureate or at least Barbour Tourism Director.
The Warners go on to invite folks “for a joyful evening of camaraderie and/or a morning full of buckwheat cakes and coffee as we celebrate the very pinnacle of the autumn season.”
How could anyone turn that down although I am no big fan of buckwheat cakes?
The event will be held Friday and Saturday, November 3 and 4, at the Old McCoy Farm.
The fun runs from 6 to 11 p.m., Friday; and 7:30 to 11 a.m., Saturday.
Past gatherings have featured campfires, music and light refreshments Friday. The buckwheat cakes and coffee are prepared Saturday.
I would be remiss if I didn’t report that my son, Elias Gregory, has pre-filed for Kanawha County Magistrate.
His wife, Kaitlyn, is also running.
There are now ten Kanawha Magistrates but that will go to 13 in January 2025.
The Gregorys did not designate which division they will run in. Hopefully, they won’t be taking on each other.
The ten incumbents have already pre-filed or are expected to do so.
I’ve already mentioned that my old Holiday Lights buddy, Deputy Sheriff Harry Carpenter, will run with my support in Division 11.
I understand that my son will file in 12 with Kaitlyn in 13.
In the Honesty is a Strange Policy Department, we can recognize Roane County Republican Delegate Riley Keaton, who just announced his early retirement from the Legislature.
Keaton did little to distinguish himself in the three years since he was initially elected.
He says now “I’ve accepted a Legislative role with the Justice Administration’s Department of Human Services.” This too will likely warrant a story.
He continues, “Service in the Legislature is called a ‘part-time’ job,” but that isn’t always, or even most of the time, the case.”
Since, according to Keaton, being a Delegate was causing him to spend too much time away from his family, he jumped at Justice’s job offer.
Unless I’m reading it incorrectly, that means he intends to work less in his new job than before. He’s likely to make more money for the privilege.
Ah. Honesty is refreshing.
There’s some speculation that former Senate President Mitch Carmichael will be leaving the Justice administration before spring.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jarod J. Douglas has been honored with a national award for his investigations and community service at the FBI Academy.
Douglas won one of only two awards from the East Coast and his award was the first-ever award for a West Virginia U.S. attorney.
In June 2018, the FBI, along with the Department of Veterans Affairs: Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Justice began looking into the deaths of elderly veterans at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.
In July 2020, Reta Mays, a former nursing assistant at the VA Medical Center, admitted to killing seven veterans and attempting to kill an eighth, with insulin injections. Mays was sentenced in May 2021 to seven consecutive life sentences plus 20 years.
While full details of the Clarksburg VA scandal were made known, silence has been the rule of the day concerning the events that led to former State Republican Chair Mark Harris’ dismissal at the Beckley VA Medical Center.
There’s even more to that story we’ll share sometime soon.
Doug Skaff Jr., the former West Virginia House of Delegates Democrat Minority Leader, has pre-filed to run for Secretary of State as a Republican.
Skaff left his House leadership post in August 2023, also subsequently resigning from the Legislature.
Skaff was first named Minority Leader in December 2020, after former-Minority Leader Tim Miley did not seek reelection. The former Kanawha County Democrat represented the 57th district for 12 years.
Skaff, president of HD Media, had said he planned on using the extra time to focus more energy on his businesses and coaching his three sons at soccer.
Three other Republicans have also announced they are running for Secretary of State: Delegate Chris Pritt, former Delegate Ken Reed and Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood.
Oddly enough, Skaff’s party switch and SOS filing we’re not applauded be either the state Democrat or Republican Chairs.
Democrat leader, Mike Pushkin was most outspoken, saying Skaff “intoxicated” with the thought of being elected to statewide office.
Meanwhile, GOP Chair Elgine McArdle questioned Skaff’s genuine commitment to Republican values.
Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or firstname.lastname@example.org.