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Editorial

Gregory’s Web – December 31, 2023

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I occasionally scratch my head and wonder when – or if – campaign laws have changed. It’s a bit difficult to keep up to date.

Sometimes the only change is the application of the rules.

Most of us who have been around politics for multiple decades can remember instances where a candidate would at least be admonished for things that now don’t seem to matter at all. 

On the other hand, some items are policed now that brought no review of any kind in 1990.

Some years ago, a candidate for Sheriff could get in a jam for including a local police car in his or her commercials. That’s one that still seems to be the case today.

It generally happens when the candidate is already the County Sheriff or a Deputy.

The officer/candidate routinely films or photographs an ad with his or her police cruiser parked in the background. Most think nothing of it, since it is “my” vehicle.

Wearing a badge and uniform in a commercial is also frowned upon. In other words, the taxpayers can’t be expected to pay for props for an official’s campaign advertising.

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In fact, I urged a recent Mingo County Sheriff candidate to redo an ad when he was in his Town Police uniform.

He ignored it when I told him that the ad would be considered improper. I told him I had nothing against him and actually figured he would make a good Sheriff. 

Mingo County? He would absolutely have been superior to the Smith clan.

Nevertheless, I finally told him, “you need to have that ad done without the uniform and badge before someone reports you.”

He absolutely didn’t think it was a problem. Long story short, he was reported and seemed genuinely surprised when the Ethics Commission said the ad was inappropriate.

Even when the regulation was vigorously enforced for law enforcement, though, I often asked how judicial candidates got away with including their courtrooms in their material.

Generally, I would receive some mumbo-jumbo response from a lower-level bureaucrat  in the Secretary of State’s office or the Ethics Commission.

More and more, with the proliferation of social media advertising, it seems  judge candidates include courtrooms in their ads.

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In many cases, the courtroom shown is the one where that particular judge actually presides. 

A few years back, a sitting circuit judge who was running for a Supreme Court seat displayed himself sitting on his own bench with gavel in hand. All the identification as a judge was supplied by the taxpayers.

When I questioned that, I was told I had “really waited too long to complain. Those ads are already paid for and at the stations.”

At the very same time, a Deputy Sheriff running for Sheriff in a central West Virginia county was told to get his patrol car sitting in the background out of his ads or face being fined. 

Maybe I need to rethink this and try to find out how displaying your police cruiser is any different than showing your bench, gavel, gown, as well as your jury and witness box.

I’m confident there’s an explanation somewhere out there.

* * * * * *

Let’s talk about not being able to know the players without a scorecard. The travails of the Jefferson County Commission are difficult to follow.

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In the interest of clarifying voting on the solar energy resolution approved most recently, I can report that departed Commissioner Clare Ath did not vote on the matter at any time. Last week’s narrative here said she voted once before resigning from the Commission seat. That was wrong.

She had resigned by the time the first vote on the issue was recorded and she was clearly not around for the most recent vote after resigning her position.

We also clarified on Martinsburg’s WRNR Radio that I did not intend to say that the Jefferson Commission is now a hotbed of liberalism.

The appointment of Pasha Majdi pushed the Commission to a more pro-solar position. That is often thought of as liberal.

While Majdi cast his opening vote for solar, that does not mean the socialists have taken over at the Charles Town courthouse.

Overall, the five-member board would surely still be classified as conservative Republican.

Now that we have all that straight, we will await the Commission’s next move.

* * * * * *

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Oh, they’ve already made it.

The latest (maybe) development is that Edwina Benites, the Jefferson County Development Authority Director, is now Interim County Administrator.

That decision was made on a 3-2 vote over the strenuous objections of Commissioners Tricia Jackson and Jennifer Krouse.

The Commissioners reportedly interviewed six candidates for the Administrator job earlier.

Then when it came time to actually choose someone, Majdi nominated Benites. Stolipher seconded but the other Commissioners got to nominate nobody.

Tabb immediately  joined Majdi and Stolipher for Benites with Jackson and Krouse voting against the appointment.

Jackson pointed out that the Administrator position was advertised as part-time with a minimum of 32 hours per week. The successful candidate is to be paid between $40 and $60 per hour, according to officials.

With Krouse and Jackson wondering if one person can legally hold both a full time and part-time job, Majdi said, “we will sort it all out.”

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Some asked if the dual jobs could be considered, “double dipping.”

Although County Attorney Nathan Cochran offered some legal concerns, Tabb, Stolipher and Majdi voted to hire Benites.

“We can work out the details,” added Tabb.

She then said Benites “can just check in at the JCDA.”

Jackson said she believed a full time Director should “do more than check in.”

In addition, when Benites was employed as WEA Director, the salary was reported to be $95,000 per year.

* * * * * *

There’s no real explanation as to why the County Attorney would suddenly start advising this Commission about “legal issues.”

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As things have been going, it seems “legality” would be among the least of their worries.

* * * * * *

Continuing in the fascinating world of the Jefferson County Commission, two seats on the five-member panel will be up for election in 2024.

The much-disputed, unexpired term now being filled by Majdi will be on the ballot along with the position of current Commissioner Tabb.

Technically, the Madji slot represents Charles Town Magisterial District. Whoever is elected there at the polls must reside in Charles Town District, although Madji does not live there.

The accepted interpretation of State Code is that the elected Commissioner must live in the appropriate district but an appointed member does not have to.

That makes about as much sense as saying that an elected Commissioner must have been a registered member of his or her political party at least 60 days prior to filing while there is no such requirement for appointed members.

Oh yeah, that’s what they decided in Mingo County two years ago.

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Now in Jefferson, after Ath’s resignation from Charles Town District, Madji was chosen for the seat by the other Commissioners in the even more convoluted manner prescribed by state law.

Simplified, that meant that the Jefferson Republican Executive Committee recommended three names as a possible replacement for Ath.

Then Tabb, as the longest-serving Commissioner, eliminated one of the candidates. Jackson, who with Stolipher is the next longest-serving, then struck one other from the list. Tolipher deferred to her, allowing Jackson to be the second longest serving for voting in this case.

When those two were finished, only Majdi remained on the list and he was, therefore, appointed.

So, actually, Stolipher did not participate in selecting Majdi unless one considers his hand-off to Jackson “participating.”

Whew! It tires me out just trying to explain it.

* * * * * *

It may not be possible to explain the inexplicable. 

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* * * * * *

In Jefferson, pre-filing, Republican Jack Hefestay Jr. is running for the Majdi seat. His financial report shows he has loaned his campaign $50,000.

Democrat James R. Walch has also pre-filed in Charles Town District. He has not yet been required to report his finances.

Tabb’s Middleway District seat has two GOP candidates. They include Michael T. Mood, whose financial report shows he raised $495 in the third quarter; loaned himself $50 and has a campaign balance of $543. 

Sean Feigo is the second candidate. He does not have a financial report due yet.

* * * * * *

Enough good things cannot be said about GameChanger, the opioid addiction fighting organization headquartered in Fairmont.

The group, chaired by political consultant supreme Larry Puccio, has produced an impressive film that emphasizes how “one illicit pill can kill.”

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The organization’s founder and executive director, JB Bozcek, has clearly worked long and hard with Puccio in bringing the video to the public.

They are making a strong effort to reach young people in the state about the danger of beginning the path toward opioid dependency.

With leadership like Puccio and Bozcek, the group has been successful in getting state officials such as United States Senator Joe Manchin and Governor Jim Justice involved in promoting their group.

Recently, Justice was on hand when the film was viewed by upwards to 2,000 Marion County students. He spoke for a half-hour to the students about the threat of opioid dependency.

By emphasizing true-to-life addiction stories, GameChanger is successfully getting the message through to young West Virginians.

There can hardly be a more valuable public service than helping preserve the well-being of youth.

This organization and its leaders need and deserve your support.

* * * * * *

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We are fast approaching the time when official filing for the 2024 election is here.

In fact, the City of Huntington will begin accepting filing papers in two days, on Tuesday, January 2. That continues through the end of the month in the City Clerk’s office.

Huntington’s filing period is established in the city charter. It is thus longer than the state filing period, which does not begin until January 8 and ends January 27.

As we’ve discussed here before, candidates who pre-filed are always free to change their minds.

Some may have pre-filed for one office but had second thoughts and now want to run for a different position. In addition, some pre-filers may not actually file for anything at all. They are not required to do so.

We’ve already looked at some potentially exciting races for the new year. Now, it gets even more serious.

It is also difficult to withdraw as a candidate after the official filing period ends.

Of course we’ll keep you posted about all of the candidates when they become official.

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* * * * * *

As noted, pre-filers may switch offices or not run at all when filing time comes.

The major reason to pre-file is that it sets a potential candidate up to legally accept contributions, expend funds and provide financial accountability.

Generally speaking, if someone pre-files and quickly starts raising money, he or she is likely committed to officially filing later on.

Pre-filing also helps a potential candidate test the waters of his or her electability. If John or Jane Doe pre-filed for Secretary of State in February but have gathered few or no contributions or public support, that candidacy may not exactly be a good idea.

Based on those results, he or she may actually not file at all or run for Agriculture Commissioner instead. 

A current example of that is Republican State Auditor JB McCuskey. Keeping his pledge to hold that office for no more than two terms, he pre-filed for Governor earlier this year.

Discovering that this is not his time to be elected Governor, McCuskey changed his candidacy to Attorney General. Therefore, we will be expecting McCuskey to file for AG, although he is still not legally obligated to do so at this point.

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The ability to change one’s mind before officially filing has led to some interesting speculation the past few weeks.

For example, polling indicates that GOP Congressman Alex Mooney is not going to even come close to defeating Governor Justice for the upcoming U.S. Senate vacancy.

Mooney announced his Senate bid months ago. Despite being assured of ultra conservative Political Action Committee financial support of as much as $10 million, Mooney has gained no ground on Justice.

This lack of traction comes despite PAC spending of over a million dollars in opposition to Justice.

When Mooney announced for the Senate, that spurred State Treasurer Riley Moore to declare his candidacy for Mooney’s House seat.

Mooney has endorsed Moore as his replacement and Moore supports Mooney for Senate.

Recent surveys show Moore with 80% of the Congressional GOP vote.

The prominent speculation has been that Mooney might see the political defeat writing on the wall and change his plan to seek re-election.

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Frankly, although the Congressman could legally do that, it is likely ruled out as a practical matter.

Moore is clearly committed to running for the Congressional seat with Mooney’s support. The Treasurer has endorsed Mooney for Senate.

That genie can probably not be returned to the bottle.

* * * * * *

If Mooney did suddenly file for re-election, Moore would undoubtedly still run as well.

There are a number of political consultants who think Moore would continue to win that race, as well.

* * * * * *

Although most legal scholars appear to think inmate Edward Jesse Dreyfuse’s filing for writs regarding the appointment of Cabell Circuit Judge appointment of Sean “Corky” Hammers will not ultimately succeed, there is still speculation as to whether it will slow the process down.

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Although Supreme Court officials have made no comment regarding the writs, a legal source said the high court had advised Hammers that the earliest he could be sworn in was December 28. 

That was apparently due to a requirement that at least 20 days separates a judicial appointment by the Governor and the oath of office being administered.

The source, as well as a Supreme Court spokesperson, confirmed that the court has taken no action on Dreyfuse’s motion.

Nonetheless, the source said plans are in place for Hammers to be sworn in on January 5 at the Cabell courthouse.

We’ll keep an eye on developments here as well.

* * * * * * 

There are big time supporters of Senator Manchin who definitely want him to run for President.

Obviously, some want him in that race because they think he’d do a better, more moderate job than either President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump.

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Others have different motivations.

I’m told that some huge contributors want Manchin in the race based on their theory that he would siphon more votes from Trump than Biden.

Thus, these folks think Manchin might throw the divided race to Biden and keep Trump on the sideline.

I strongly disagree with that theory, as I’ve said here before.

I believe Manchin, a Democrat all his life, will have more appeal to Democrat voters than Republican.

My guess is that with Manchin in the race, Trump is assured of victory.

It will be fascinating to watch all that unfold.

Meanwhile, Manchin is about as good at keeping himself in the ongoing conversation as Trump.

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* * * * * *

If one begins to believe the Jefferson County Commission is the most dysfunctional organization on earth, he or she might want to look at past GOP feuds as illustrative. After all, Republican Commissioners are clearly at odds with each other in Jefferson now.

Many will remember that Republican Governors Arch Moore and Cecil Underwood were not exactly Best Friends Forever.

In fact, the two openly feuded for years and even ran in primaries against each other.

While both arguably became more cordial to each other over the years, there was a time when one was either a “Moore Republican” or an “Underwood Republican.”

The “Moore Republicans,” of which I was a member, clearly outnumbered the Underwood crew.

Later, Morgantown businessman John Raese led a faction of Republicans who opposed Governor Moore.

Raese even managed to get himself elected State Chair despite his hostility from Moore.

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Also, back in the days when Kanawha County Clerk Alma King and I were the only Republican officials in that courthouse, we made front page news nearly every day by calling names and ripping each other.

I was County Manager in the late 1980s. To say Mrs. King and I disagreed on most public issues is an understatement.

* * * * * *

Remembering County Clerk Alma King, who was undoubtedly a good public servant no matter what I said at the time, I recall once when she wanted to consolidate some precincts up heavily Democrat Cabin Creek.

The County Commissioners, made up of one Republican and two Democrats, voted to send me with her up East to look at the proposed changes. There was unspoken concern that the GOP Clerk might be closing some voting places to make it more difficult for Democrats to control the election outcomes.

Then-Chesapeake Mayor Marvin Crouch was often in the audience for Commission meetings.

After the Commissioners agreed to have a driver take Mrs. King and me up Cabin Creek, the ever-comical Crouch looked at me and said, in a stage whisper, “Ron, make Alma ride shotgun.”

I smiled and asked, “Why’s that, Mayor?” 

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He quickly retorted, “‘Cause I don’t think anybody ever saw two Republicans up Cabin Creek at the same time. Somebody’s liable to get shot.”

The courtroom – including Mrs. King and the three Commissioners – exploded in laughter as Crouch grinned from ear-to-ear.

* * * * * *

Calhoun County Republicans have scheduled a dinner at the Arnoldsburg Community Center on February 17. 

Candidates are invited to attend.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or ron.gregory@wvstatewide.com

Author

  • 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.