Echoing the words and thoughts of several other incumbent Republicans, Raleigh County Delegate Todd A. Kirby put his political situation in writing last week.
He emphasized the point we’ve made here that all is not peace and prosperity within the state’s new Republican majority party.
“It was not long after the last session in March of this year that I started hearing that the establishment within my party was actively looking for someone to run against me in the next primary election,” Kirby wrote in a letter to Beckley’s Lootpress.
“I was told that there would be repercussions for my votes, my amendments, and for my floor speeches that regularly went against the establishment swamp in Charleston,” Kirby continued.
“While I had no doubt that this was most likely true, I had a hard time thinking how any of the prominent conservatives or Republicans in Beckley could go against what I had done in Charleston in the past regular session.”
Kirby has definitely never wavered in proclaiming himself to be a staunch conservative. I certainly wouldn’t dispute that. He is also an Assistant Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney.
Like some other incumbent Republicans, who are part of the GOP super-majorities in both houses of the State Legislature, he is finding himself potentially being “primaried” for the 2024 election.
“While there have been no official filings against me in the upcoming primary election, it is just a matter of days or weeks before the announcement will be made,” he went on. “Before that happens the people of the 44th District deserve to know why the ‘elites’ and their lobbyist supporters are so desperate to get rid of me.”
The Delegate then stated his conclusion as to why he will have to fight in the primary to retain his seat.
“I am being primaried by the establishment because I had the audacity to call out the leadership in the House for pushing legislation that was contrary to the Republican platform and that was not in the best interests of the people who sent me to Charleston,” he wrote.
A pretty simplistic explanation for a complex situation.
Kirby went on to cite his opposition to funding the new Form Energy plant in Weirton as a major reason he’s being targeted for defeat.
He said he also bucked leadership by fighting against “allowing corporations to inject liquified carbon into our state forests and wildlife management areas for the sake of the green energy agenda.”
Then Kirby briefly touched on a point of genuine controversy. “I stood up for teachers and public workers when their insurance premiums were increased during a historic shortage of teachers and workers in this state,” he wrote.
Kirby then declared, “I proudly defended miners, workers and their families when there was an attempt to dramatically reduce the amount they could recover from the deliberate acts of their employers which led to their permanent disability or death.”
The Delegate next noted his version of other intra-party disagreements. He attached ulterior motives contrary to conservative principles as the “real reasons” he is being targeted for defeat.
It’s clear from his rhetoric that Kirby does not expect a friendly primary challenge. He seems prepared for a real heated exchange of ideas and direction.
He summarized his re-election campaign by saying, “I am a champion for individual freedom, an advocate for the voiceless and I am proud to be a thorn in the side of some of the most morally bankrupt people in Charleston and DC. I did not run for office to be part of a social circle, for clout or to make friends.”
It’s safe enough to say that Kirby did not make many friends in House Republican leadership with his commentary.
Assuming he is right and party leaders manage to find an opponent to challenge him, this will be one interesting vote to watch for Republican trends in 2024.
Politicians should know that leadership – be it Republican or Democrat – will recruit candidates who view them favorably.
Those who criticize their party leaders are not likely to be endorsed for another term.
Last week I noted that many observers make squabbling within the GOP to be a contest as to who is the most conservative.
I said then that it isn’t quite that simple – and it’s not.
I expect legislators like Kirby to be proclaiming his conservative credentials while his or her opponent(s) declares the incumbent is a liberal RINO (Republican in Name Only).
Opponents will find one or more issues where they say the incumbent voted “wrong” and hammer their point to voters.
Of course a lot of the election debate will go on because it’s virtually impossible to fairly define the “conservative” or “liberal” position on many issues.
For decades as the minority party, “conservative” Republicans opposed government funding, grants and loans for new plants and businesses.
How often we heard “conservative Republicans” say that if a business was viable, it would not need a government subsidy.
Now that the GOP is in charge, they see the wisdom of the types of incentives they opposed when Democrats were running the show.
For years, some Democrats campaigned as “business-oriented moderates” as a code identification to Republican voters that they were actually “Republicans registered as Democrats.”
What is now clear, however, is that legislative leadership wants legislators they can count on to carry out the will of the party caucus, whether they’re Republican or Democrat.
I’ve actually heard old time legislators explain to crowds of voters how they actually voted for a bill they were totally against or vice versa.
Back in those days, most voters were unaware of the legislative process. They usually just scratched their heads while the politicians spoke.
It’s still just as puzzling; just more sophisticated perhaps.
Some of the candidates targeted for defeat by legislative leadership will openly fight back as Kirby plans to do. Others will be more subtle and some will not mention leadership’s intrusion at all.
I wrote last week that party infighting can be helpful. This is especially true if the campaigns stick solely to the issues and do not resort to name-calling, unfiltered gossip and hitting below the belt with falsehoods and innuendo.
Statehouse Republicans have obviously done a good job of recruiting candidates in recent years, given their increased numbers.
It can assuredly be said that legislative leadership-endorsed candidates have performed better at the ballot box than those appointed by Governor Jim Justice.
Most candidates Justice had appointed to legislative vacancies have not actually won in subsequent elections.
I’ve written it before but I’ll do it again: the beginning of the Republican takeover of state government occurred when Kris Warner as GOP State Chair insisted on “filling the ballot.”
Warner traveled the state recruiting candidates in the days when a Republican was hard to find, much less be convinced to hopelessly run for office.
In combination with that, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and political genius consultant Greg Thomas cannot be forgotten.
While the GOP did not take over the Legislature during the ‘Blankenship year,” of financial support two decades ago, the organizations formed and energized during that election set the wheels in motion for future success.
Blankenship and Thomas deserve a lot of credit for that.
Many previously little-known candidates were fully funded by Blankenship friends and supporters. Their ballot performance convinced many that Republicans can field viable candidates in West Virginia.
Determining who the “real conservatives” are can be entertaining without being an exact science.
Since it’s obvious that West Virginia has taken a “turn to the right” by voting for Republicans, there’s seldom a candidate who self-identifies as a liberal.
Judging the average candidate or official as liberal or conservative is more subjective than objective, naturally.
After West Virginia Republican Congresswoman Carol Miller announced she would vote with the GOP caucus majority for Speaker, she somehow verified for uncompromising right wingers that she “was always a RINO.”
We briefly discussed this last week.
Miller lost all favor with Trump loyalists despite voting for the ex-President’s first endorsed Speaker candidate, Jim Jordan, three times.
According to the posts, Miller and/or her staff had allegedly told callers Miller would never vote for Jordan when she had already voted for him twice.
The social media attacks on Miller were over the top and unmerciful.
These same straight-arrow conservatives were really ticked when Miller stayed true to her word and later voted for Tom Emmer of Minnesota, who at that time was the majority’s new choice after Jordan withdrew.
Their social media posts prominently displayed the ratings of an obscure organization that ranked Emmer as 69% conservative and Miller, 65%. That earned a “D” grade for both.
Similar numbers caused one poster to declare, “now we know why she’s for Emmer.”
It couldn’t have been that she voted that way because she had clearly pledged to “vote with the majority.” No way.
Who knows how the organization doing the grades selected the votes to score the representatives.
One thing is for certain: Republicans looked silly fighting for three weeks to elect their own floor leader.
In the end, the majority, including Miller, voted for Louisiana’s Mike Johnson, who nobody would identify as a RINO.
Johnson is an avowed Trump Republican. One would think that being a Trump loyalist would bring Miller a positive comment or two from Trumpsters.
On the other hand, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, who started the process that led to the need for a new Speaker, was clear in his assessment.
“The swamp is on the run, MAGA is ascendant, and if you don’t think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to MAGA Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement, and where the power of the Republican Party truly lies, then you’re not paying attention,” Gaetz said.
Please note: those who wouldn’t be happy if they were hung with a new rope; Congresswoman Miller voted your way.
This is beginning to sound like a stuck record player (I know, I know; what’s a record player?) but as we told you nearly a year ago now, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams has thrown his hat in the ring for Governor.
The three-term Democrat Mayor pre-filed last week for the 2024 election. He is retiring as Mayor next year.
“The success we have had in Huntington can be replicated” throughout the state, he said in making the announcement.
Mark down the date and time you were told this: despite the GOP takeover, Mayor Williams can be elected Governor next year. He’s likely the only Democrat with a fighting chance.
Meanwhile in Mingo County, rumors are rampant that current Prosecutor Duke Jewell will switch races and run for Family Court Judge in 2024.
That’s the seat now held by Sabrina Deskins, who is running instead for Circuit Judge.
Interestingly, in the new Logan-Mingo circuit where Deskins will be running, the law requires that at least one judge must be from Mingo and the other two from Logan County.
It’s fascinating to look at the newly-aligned districts and hear somber voices assure us that West Virginia judicial races are now “strictly non-partisan.”
The lay of the land betrays that perception.
For example, Logan County currently has two circuit judges; Mingo has one.
By combining those two counties into a single district and ordering voters to pick one Mingo and two Logan judges, what actually changed?
The obvious difference is that voters in those two counties will jointly cast ballots to elect three judges. Up until now, Mingo and Logan voters marked ballots in separate races.
The likely 2024 effect of this change is that it makes Mingo Judge Deskins even more unbeatable for the single Mingo judgeship. I’m happy about that.
However, other circuit redistricting is much more puzzling.
While Boone and Lincoln counties will still constitute a circuit with two judges, there is no requirement that each come from a different county.
Currently, the two judges, Jay Hoke and Stacy Nowicki-Eldridge, are from Lincoln, despite it being smaller in terms of population and registered voters.
Meanwhile, Wyoming and McDowell counties are united in a circuit with two judges. The law says one must reside in Wyoming and the other in McDowell.
Let’s see … two counties, two judges. In one circuit they must be from different counties; not so in the other one.
Then look at the around-the-backdoor maneuvers in the circuit made up of Doddridge, Pleasants, Ritchie and Wirt.
In that two-judge district, there can be no more than one judge elected from any of the four counties.
The Fifth Circuit is composed of Calhoun, Jackson, Mason and Roane counties. That’s a four-county circuit with three judges.
In this case, however, the legislation specifies that one judge must come from Mason; one from Jackson; and the third from either Calhoun or Roane.
Kanawha County will elect eight circuit judges in 2024 rather than the seven it now has.
Nicholas County, with one judge at present, will have two in 2025. The sitting judge, Stephen O. Callaghan, (in)famously did not serve the first two years of his current judgeship due to Supreme Court sanctions.
He was reprimanded and fined for photoshopping an ad that appeared to show his opponent, then-Judge Gary Johnson, drinking beer at the White House with unpopular President Barack Obama.
One must wonder if legislators have someone in mind for that second judge position?
Additionally, why is there no numerical consistency in how the various circuits are configured?
One might successfully argue that the newly-formed districts violate the “one person, one vote” principle.
I still wonder who could be Nicholas’ anointed second judge? I’m guessing …
Meanwhile, in Lincoln County, politics is always red hot.
Aside from inane courthouse protests, the stage is being set for some interesting 2024 races.
The protesters holding signs near the Hamlin courthouse last week aimed most of their wrath at Magistrate Kim Lovejoy-Clayton and her husband, Republican Sheriff candidate Dan Clayton.
It was not totally clear what the protesters were upset about but they took their gripes to social media as well.
Although the specific reason for the protests was not clear, some of the posts hinted that Lovejoy-Clayton has been setting bonds too high in her court.
Some sources felt all of the uproar was related to an announcement by Republican Circuit Clerk Brian Graley that he plans to run for Sheriff next year.
Observers speculate that Graley’s Sheriff candidacy signals a split in the CPAC that was formed about two years ago.
Made up primarily of longtime Democrats who recently switched to Republican, CPAC was successful in electing its slate of courthouse candidates in 2022.
Some sources say that soon after the ’22 election, CPAC selected their candidates for 2024.
Graley, elected in 2022 as the CPAC Circuit Clerk candidate, was among those who agreed to support CPAC’s slate in 2024, those sources say.
Dan Clayton was allegedly chosen as the group’s Sheriff candidate with Graley’s blessing.
“Now,” said one source, “Brian has decided to quit CPAC and run for Sheriff himself. So there are now two GOP factions just like there always were two Democrat factions.”
Meanwhile, Republican Sheriff Gary “Butch” Linville is being pushed to run for Magistrate Lovejoy-Clayton’s seat. Linville is term-limited as Sheriff.
School Board member Jody Pistore, a Republican, is considering a run for Republican Josh Stowers’ County Commission position.
Stowers is a former State legislator.
Lincoln is one of those places where the melding of “old” and “new” Republicans is not going smoothly.
After all, it is Lincoln County.
Although the moronic Lincoln protest could be Comedy Central material, the height of absurdity was reached when Hamlin Mayor David “Flimsy” Adkins, in his “Police Chief” role, confronted the protesting citizens.
Wearing a police cap and shirt, Adkins has apparently never heard of the First Amendment despite claiming on Facebook that he “believes in the U.S. Constitution.”
Videos posted on social media showed Adkins confronting the protest organizers. The Mayor/Chief basically told the protesters that his “feelings were hurt” by vulgar language on some of their signs.
One of the signs without vulgar language read, “Kim Clayton Cooks With Canned Gravy.”
Protesters said they called State Police, who advised Adkins that the signs were not illegal. They said the Mayor then apologized to the protesters.
Keep in mind, dear reader, that Adkins is also a GOP member of the State House of Delegates.
Prediction: Dan Clayton will be the next Sheriff of Lincoln County.
Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or Ron.Gregory@wvstatewide.com