It’s not good to defy Mother Nature nor West Virginia State Senate President Craig Blair, it seems.
In the case of Blair, the repercussions of going sideways against the Berkeley County Republican Lieutenant Governor became clear last week with the expulsion of Randolph County State Senator Robert Karnes from the Senate Republican Caucus.
The Blair-Karnes split did not just begin last week, of course. It’s been brewing since before Blair assumed the gavel in 2021 and Karnes made it clear he did not intend to worship at the President’s feet.
It was near the breaking point earlier this year when a motion was made to exclude Karnes from his seat on the Senate floor.
Actually triggering that ejection was Karnes’ questioning Blair’s expenses and reimbursements being paid for by taxpayers.
Blair’s public excuse for the removal was that Karnes kept asking that bills be read in full, prolonging floor sessions.
Although that is apparently permitted by Senate rules, Blair was not about to allow it. The result found Karnes sitting in the hallway outside the Senate chambers, twiddling his thumbs for a short time.
Briefly, Karnes’ Senate district was without one of its elected representatives. It could reasonably be argued that the district voters’ legitimate voices had been silenced for a few minutes.
Karnes’ most recent eviction from the GOP caucus was supposedly because he leaked some “confidential” information from a previous conclave.
Karnes assured me he was definitely not the source of those leaks. “I’d say so if I was,” he insisted. “You know me well enough to know that. I did not leak any confidential information and I condemn whoever did.”
Money is, of course, the lifeblood of politics. Winning election campaigns are propelled by finances.
I’ve had a prolonged disagreement with West Virginia Republicans since they appear to have decided to use their newly acquired majority status to keep the campaign funds pouring in.
I think it’s preposterous that the Republican Executive committees now charge their own candidates to speak at dinners and other party functions.
So much for offering candidates a way to make their overtures for free – or at least economically – to their own party members.
The state Executive Committee, as well as many county committees, has lost sight of its real party purpose.
Frankly, a party executive committee should be more the cheerleading squad for their party – not the prime critics and fundraisers.
Many Republicans seem to relish one or both of those roles.
Raising funds to assure their own continued existence should not be the committees’ number one goal.
For years, some employee unions, like the United Mine Workers, have forgotten rank-and-file employees and just existed to perpetuate themselves and raise funds for that purpose.
Recently, it seems Republican Executive committees have a similar strategy.
The love of money has even infiltrated the GOP legislative majorities.
I don’t often agree with House Democrat Minority Chair Mike Pushkin of Kanawha County. On the subject of a recent “caucus” at Charleston’s Edgewood Country Club, he is absolutely correct, however.
It is unseemly, whether legal or not, for lobbyists to pay a fee to address legislators. Yet the appearance of that cannot be avoided in the Edgewood event.
All the semantics in the world do not change the perception of this caucus/fundraiser.
Pushkin said on a Charleston radio talk show that he “understood that lobbyists gave up to $10,000” for the “honor of sponsoring” the event.
The Delegate added that he had been told that there were 56 sponsors, who he described as those earning a “special audience” with legislators at the caucus.
He noted that if 56 gave $10,000 each “more than half a million dollars was raised.” He acknowledged that much was undoubtedly not raised.
Pushkin said someone should track how many of the “caucus sponsors” are given prime opportunities to address legislators once their regular session begins next month at the capitol.
So much for the free exchange of ideas. Can you imagine George Washington or Teddy Roosevelt charging lobbyists to meet with them? Does that not sound contrary to what was once taught in Civics classes?
Hell, that’s even too much for President Joe Biden to try.
Okay, maybe it’s not too much for him.
Statehouse Republicans seem intent on proving that voters were right in keeping them out of power in this state for 83 years. It seems, once in charge, that they deem their votes worth more than Democrats ever did.
In the present case, Republican legislators say they need to meet prior to legislative sessions to “agree on the agenda” of issues they will push in the next session.
In this case, that session will arrive in January.
To put a price tag on items to be considered on that agenda simply flies in the face of a republican form of government.
Please note: that’s “republican” with a small, not large, “r.” Also, I realize that legislators are not going to admit that the caucus is designed primarily to raise political funds.
This is no suggestion that there’s anything illegal or technically improper about what the GOP is doing.
Still, when a Legislative committee now takes up an issue and brings forth “experts” to formally testify and give them advice, Karnes and others will want to check to see if (and how much) the witness and/or his company donated to a party/caucus.
That may not be a fair evaluation but it will be made nonetheless.
It’s not a pretty – or electoral-winning – sight. It seems to me that Republican leaders should display a bit more caution in the future.
There’s not a lot of difference between how contractors and lobbyists “bought” their votes in yesteryears compared to the present.
We generally laughed at the story of a bridge building contractor who attended a reception sponsored by the state Department of Highways (probably still called “State Road” at the time) in the 1970s.
The Highways official, accompanied by a young aide, was working the room.
When they approached one bridge contractor and made small talk, the man expressed his dismay at never having been awarded a West Virginia bridge contract.
The bridge builder allegedly looked at the Highway Commissioner, and inquired, “we’re the biggest bridge-builder in the world but can’t get even a tiny job here. Is there anything I can do with this administration to get a contract?”
The public official was firm. “Make an appointment and go see the Governor,” he replied.
“Bring a manila envelope with your qualifications. Hand the envelope, unopened, to the Governor. The bigger the envelope, he said (motioning his fingers four inches apart), the better the chances of you winning a bid.”
Both the Commissioner and the contractor understood these rules of the road. The thickness of the package helped gain access.
That practice, though illegal, went on for years. It could be argued that it more subtly continues today.
That’s disappointing to many of us who openly longed to see Republicans take charge of the Legislature and state government.
If the early political grenade tossing in the Republican United States Senate race is any indication, the sky’s the limit in the ballot war between Governor Jim Justice and Congressman Alex Mooney.
Already, Mooney supporters assert that Justice is not a “real” Republican while the Governor points out that Mooney is supported by “Never Trump” political action committees.
Ads supporting Justice call the Congressman a “Maryland Mooney,” hinting at his Free State roots.
Mooney enthusiasts make it clear that the Governor was once a Democrat and proponent of President Biden’s massive infrastructure spending bills.
If the name-calling continues, it might just be the spark of a comeback for Democrats statewide.
Former GOP State Chair Melody Potter warned about that some weeks ago.
Republican legislators, who have been an overall disappointment to many rank-and-file conservatives, do not gain support from honest voters by practicing “pay-for-play” politics.
The constant verbal beatings of primary opponents do not sit well with moderate voters, who will determine the 2024 election.
On the subject of the Republican U.S. Senate contest, Mooney has lost his campaign manager, John Findlay, to former President Donald Trump.
Findlay, the man credited with single-handedly destroying the Virginia GOP majority, has become Trump’s Convention Delegate Selection Director.
As a lifelong Republican, readers may understand that I am often more critical of the GOP than the Democrats.
Negative comments about some Republicans do not necessarily mean that Democrats are any better.
Weighed in the balance, I think the state is much better off with Republican statehouse majorities.
Some of the current crop of GOP legislators are prime examples of outstanding leaders and we should not lose sight of that.
The current configuration of both the state House of Delegates and State Senate are such that those bodies see few examples of Democrat “leadership.”
It’s difficult to “lead” a “group” of three State Senators in a 34-member body when one of that number is yourself. That’s how many Democrats there are, with a distinct chance there will be fewer still in 2025.
There are few envious of Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel’s “power” role when there’s just Senators Bob Plymale of Cabell County and Mike Caputo of Marion joining him in that caucus.
Likewise, respect for Delegate Pushkin is not greatly enhanced by “leading” less than ten in his 100-member body.
Regardless, even in a shrunken minority, the Democrats can feud about as well as the famed Hatfields and McCoys – or 2023 Republicans. We’ve been outlining GOP divisions for weeks.
I recently received an anonymous email that was, to say the least, not very supportive of Pushkin and Democrat legislators.
Included with the email was a link to an article by Caiden Cowger in the Mountaineer Journal.
The story includes several actions and decisions by Pushkin, as state Democrat Chair, with which the sender and others disagree.
In the interest of being fair and balanced, let’s look at some of those complaints.
On June 24, 2022 – Pushkin fired Pam Van Horn (Executive Director), Jacob Hively (Data Director), Mary Ann Claytor (Outreach Director) and Leigh Koonce (Regional Director) on the same day Roe v. Wade was overturned.
The State Executive Committee and County Chairs were not notified of these dismissals.
In July 2022 – Delegate Jim Barach moved to Florida, leaving a ballot vacancy in the 53rd House District.
Pushkin was pushing the committee to call a meeting to appoint his favored candidate. When the Chair of Kanawha Democrats pushed back, “Pushkin cussed at her and started calling local union halls to put pressure on her,” according to Caiden.
“That plan backfired and local unions pulled support from WV’s State Committee,” he writes.
September 2022 – Pushkin demanded that the Federation of Democratic Women give him the space they rented at the Charleston Marriott for their annual convention, which cost $20,000 and was booked a year in advance. “When the women refused Pushkin held a competing dinner at the same Marriott,” the article says.
December 2022 – Pushkin locked all Democrats who serve on their county committees and state committee from having access to voter data. “Pushkin did allow his friends to have access as a ‘special favor’” Cowger reports.
May 2023 – Pushkin attended a meeting of the Kanawha County Democratic Executive Committee. The Chair and Secretary of the committee wrote a letter requesting access to voter data.
Jacob Hively, Secretary of the Committee, was the former data director in charge of the data, as noted earlier.
“Pushkin cussed at the committee chair and members,” Cowger writes.
June 2023 – The Democratic County Chairs Association (CCA) had to elect a new Chairman. “Leigh Koonce, Chair in Jefferson, is running,” the article says.
“Pushkin called the leaders of the CCA and cussed them out for supporting Koonce and told them they ‘lack integrity.”’
July 2023 – “A special meeting about the state of finances was passed at the May 2023 meeting. Pushkin called the meeting late and held it at 2:00 p.m. on a Thursday, while many committee members were at work. The committee did not get a quorum to conduct business.”
September 2023- Kanawha Democrats had to nominate three names to replace Delegate Doug Skaff, who resigned.
“When the vote did not go the way Pushkin wanted, he cussed at the committee saying ‘you really f—ed that up.”’
September 2023- The State Committee met in Weston. “Pushkin refused a Zoom option which has been used since Covid. There were disabled members of the committee who could not travel. Pushkin also refused to allow live streaming on the official YouTube. Pushkin allowed members to carry multiple proxies in clear violation of DNC Bylaws,” Cowger writes.
November 2023- Pushkin “threatened legal action against the West Virginia Young Democrats” with Marc Williams as legal counsel.
“Pure intimidation because he hates the president,” according to the article.
December 2023- The State Committee voted down a motion presented by Claytor and Hively to re-authorize the indigenous people’s caucus within the West Virginia Democratic Party.
December 2023- Koonce asked for an open conversation on access to voter data. Former Attorney General candidate “Sam Petsonk threatened that if he brought it up at the meeting, they would throw all of his friends ‘under the bus,’” Cowger states.
December 2023: Pushkin voted down a motion to reform the Indigenous/Native American Caucus.
Sounds like they’re having fun, doesn’t it?
The state government is losing one of the truly good guys with Chuck Flannery’s resignation as Secretary of State Mac Warner’s Chief of Staff.
Flannery will continue his public service by becoming State Director for U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.
Flannery is being replaced in the SOS office by current Deputy Chief of Staff Donald “Deak” Kersey.
Whether during office hours, in the middle of the night or on holidays and weekends, Flannery has always been available to assist or answer any question raised by reporters or the public.
His unique brand of genuine public service will indeed be missed.
* * * * * *
Hats off to those responsible for earning the 1987 film, “Matewan,” a spot as one of the 25 films inducted into the Library of Congress National Film Registry.
The John Sayles-directed film is set in 1920s Mingo County and dramatizes the Matewan Massacre. That’s the bloody battle between coal miners and Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency officers.
The storyline follows the events with historical accuracy that still leaves the viewer with many lingering questions.
These are issues that have remained unsolved in the intervening years.
Berkeley County Sheriff Nathan Harmon has pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of obstructing a law enforcement officer.
The Sheriff had previously insisted that he did not interfere with Deputy William Henderson’s investigation into a January one-vehicle accident involving his daughter.
Special Prosecutor Dan James offered a plea agreement and Harmon accepted it.
It was a story that had numerous twists and turns on its way to the conclusion.
Investigators said the Sheriff called a second deputy to the scene to administer a breath sobriety test to his daughter. The level exceeded the legal limit but Harmon did not report that to the investigating deputy.
As part of the agreement, Harmon is required to give a detailed statement as to how he interfered with the investigation.
For months the Sheriff had insisted he had done nothing wrong, acting as a concerned parent rather than a law enforcement officer.
Harmon, a Republican, was elected Sheriff in 2020. After defeating four opponents in the primary, he went on to unseat incumbent Democrat Sheriff Curtis Keller in the general election by a margin of 27,685 to 19,887.
Prior to signing the plea deal, Harmon had told the media that he would explain his actions and the “weaponization” of law enforcement against him as soon as his attorney gave him clearance to speak.
Harmon is a former State Police trooper.
His resignation is effective December 26.
Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or firstname.lastname@example.org