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Gregory’s Web – March 17, 2024

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While Jefferson County Commissioners faced exorbitant bonds and removal from office for standing by their convictions, unfounded rumors spread like wildfire in the West Virginia Governor’s race and a firebrand conservative former political prisoner made big gains in his effort to unseat a sedate, “moderate” Republican Congresswoman last week.

In fact, it was that Congressional member’s son who showed that there is newfound life in a gubernatorial campaign that barely had a faint heartbeat a month or so ago.

Republican Governor candidate Chris Miller kept telling me and anyone who would listen that he’d make a race out of his Governor bid before all was said and done.

Honestly, that appeared quite unlikely for months. While putting together an impressive war chest of funds – mostly with his own money – Miller appeared to have forgotten he was running for Governor during most of 2023.

Meanwhile, being a non-politician in a race with political pros left Miller languishing near the bottom of the pack.

Every time I saw him or talked with his campaign staff, they insisted they were “keeping our powder dry for right now.” 

His staffers declared their man would make an intense 90-day push to the primary that would make Miller a front-running contender.

I was skeptical. But on the other hand, it now appears they were right.

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From every corner of the state, I’ve had phone calls, texts and personal visits from people who are impressed with Huntington auto dealer Chris Miller as a potential Governor.

Those of us who have been around politics for decades have an instinctual “feel” for how a race is moving. In this case, Miller has dramatically picked up speed – and votes.

To use a horse race comparison, Miller is clearly in the right lane pushing the leaders for the rail.

Polling and instinct aside, most of those whose judgment I trust tell me that the winning GOP Governor candidate in an election held today would be former Kanawha Delegate Moore Capito. 

Miller and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are closely bunched for second and Secretary of State Mac Warner is in fourth, according to these experts.

Add to that Capito’s increased travel around the state, and I think the son of United States Senator Shelley Moore Capito is the clear leader at this point.

Do not, however, count Miller or Morrisey out just yet. Miller does have all that money and the Attorney General has his charming wife, Denise.

Well, maybe he has her. In their very family value, old-time religion household, one member (Morrisey) lives in the Eastern Pandle and the other (Mrs. Morrisey) resides in the Greenbrier Valley.

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Talk about fundamentalist West Virginia Christian values, these two clearly hold them dear.

And beside that, the New Jersey culture, from whence comes the AG, is so aligned with West Virginia values that he often talks about them on the campaign trail.

The similarity of West Virginia and New Jersey standards might be best compared as a big, cold, sweet West Virginia Royal Crown Cola versus a large, chilled New Jersey bottle of Moxie, the world’s most bitter tasting soft drink.

Ever had a Moxie? Try it and you’ll find out why Southerners think the soda is the basis for their observation that Yankees sound like they’ve got their mouths full of the stuff it took Bess Truman 29 years to get President Harry Truman to quit saying.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, the District One Congressional campaign being waged by January 6, 2021 political prisoner Derrick Evans is impressive indeed.

Being aligned with former President Donald Trump in a state where the people would genuinely inaugurate the ex-President as king is only part of Evans’ appeal.

Friends and officials from Trump’s administration, such as Roger Stone, have endorsed him and that has put Evans in a spot where he could win over incumbent Republican Carol Miller, Chris Miller’s mother.

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It’s fascinating to see her son’s support growing by leaps and bounds while her re-election chances sink slowly in the west.

Congresswoman Miller is still likely to win but Evans has made her position quite uncomfortable two months out.

* * * * * *

Although being from a small state with little obvious voter clout, Democrat United States Senator Joe Manchin can surely keep his name in most news cycles.

After having toyed with running for Senate re-election or as an independent candidate for President this year, Manchin made headlines last week by commenting on a possible independent run for his Senate seat.

This came after Manchin announced he would not seek re-election as a Democrat nor would he run for President this time.

CNN apparently got word that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had floated the idea that the West Virginia Senator could come to the rescue of Democrats and Mountain State voters.

According to the Schumer scenario as told by CNN, West Virginia voters are not pleased with their potential choices to replace Manchin.

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The inevitable Republican nominee is current Governor Jim Justice. The Schumer theory holds that Justice is weak due to his obvious problems paying bills. They subscribe to the theory that Justice’s alleged riches will dissolve under a mountain of debt and voters will no longer trust him.

On the other hand, the likely Democrat choice is former Republican and ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

State Democrat Chair and Kanawha Delegate Mike Pushkin is among leading Democrats who have rejected Blankenship’s candidacy. He is also a bitter enemy of Manchin.

According to the CNN piece, Schumer has discussed the possibility of Manchin seeking re-election as an independent with Democrat support. Among others, the New York Senator has spoken with Manchin himself. CNN says the West Virginia Senator is not enthusiastic about the possibility.

However, when CNN questioned Manchin about running for his current job, he would not rule it out.

The Senator noted that he has until August to decide and “that’s a long time.”

Blankenship, who ran for the Manchin Senate seat in 2018, finished third in the Republican primary won by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey that year.

A multi-millionaire whose name identification is high, Blankenship is likely to win the Democrat nomination, much to Manchin’s chagrin.

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The West Virginia Senator is set to do this weekend’s political talk shows, so the chance of his potential run will remain very much in the news.

The Senate seat is thought to be pivotal to any chance Democrats have of keeping control of the Senate in 2025.

As I’ve said before, Manchin is nearly as good at keeping his name out in front of voters as former President Trump.

* * * * * *

Speaking of keeping a name out front, a fake newspaper appears to have a following equal to or exceeding legitimate dailies.

The “Pittsburgh Observer” was still all over social media last week, even though it doesn’t really exist.

The latest, lengthy post about the sham site does a fairly in-depth analysis of the operation.

The “Observer” first gained notoriety with the baseless claim about Republican Governor candidate, Moore Capito.

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When I first discussed this “story” two weeks ago, I pointed out that there were no facts or direct quotes, a favorite device of “pretend papers.” I labeled it all a lie.

I further noted that all of its allegations used language such as “could” of “maybe” in their narrative.

“The homeroom teacher could have strangled the misbehaving student” conveys the obvious but has no detail or reason for accuracy. That’s similar to what this rag did.

Many in the Capito ranks have suggested filing a lawsuit. They took it that seriously.

GOP gubernatorial candidates Mac Warner and Morrisey denounced the “Observer” and claimed no ties to it.

An article by former Democrat State Senator Stephen Baldwin in therealwv.com at week’s end seemed to show some links between the “Observer” and both Patrick Morrisey’s and Mac Warner’s campaigns.

Who knows for sure?

As other reporters had already pointed out, the Baldwin piece clearly shows a connection between the “Observer” and Republican political consultant Caiden Cowger. 

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That, also, was already revealed by Kyle Vass, an investigative reporter with ties to the state American Civil Liberties Union.

Vass says the “Observer” went out of business in 2011. Cowger bought the dormant name this past February, he adds.

Cowger, from Upshur County, is President of the Family Policy Council of WV. That’s the post formerly held by Allen Whitt.

Whitt ran against U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito and received less than 10% of the vote in 2020.

Baldwin’s article also points to some unusual financial ties with the Upshur County Republican Executive Committee. Several sources had alerted me to those links some time ago.

I still don’t understand the intricacies of that deal but I’m working on it.

The Baldwin and Vass articles additionally noted that one of the first outlets to “share” the “Observer” story was a Facebook page, Vets4Coal.

Vass reported that the Vets page was run by James McCormick. I believe that is correct. The Vets and McCormick have been staunch Mac Warner supporters.

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The day after Mac Warner denounced the Capito story, Vets4Coal “disappeared from Facebook,” according to these reporters.

A Cowger Media-maintained website has now been taken down as well, the writers said.

Baldwin added that the whole debacle is the “strangest story I’ve worked on so far.”

Indeed.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, those writing about the fake story debacle have found that many of those involved appear to be violating state law regarding financial reporting requirements.

That underscores what I’ve been saying about West Virginia public disclosure regulations. The laws are the “toothless tigers” of state government.

The requirements are on the books; folks ignore them; nothing happens.

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So, legislators can boast of being transparency champions while election shenanigans continue under a safe cover of actual darkness.

Why, oh why, is the public skeptical?

* * * * * *

Up in Jefferson County, The Martinsburg Journal reported that the ridiculous arraignments of County Commissioners Tricia Jackson and Jennifer Krouse “were not open to the public.”

What?

That’s what happens when there’s no mechanism to enforce the law.

* * * * * *

I must add what an insult to justice the bonds set for the two Jefferson Commissioners – Jackson and Krouse – was.

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They had to post bonds of $42,000 as though the Magistrate believed they were both flight risks.

Political persecution is simply wrong, no matter the amount of fines or bonds.

* * * * * *

In the interest of honest disclosure, my courthouse source seems to have erred when she told me the maximum fine for each of the 42 charges against the Commissioners was $100. It appears that it actually is $1,000.

Apparently someone missed the additional zero. I will admit the error. 

I will not agree, however, with Jackson and Krouse haters who use that relatively obscure error to justify $42,000 bonds for each Commissioner.

Of course, the bail was set by a public official chosen by the people. Setting the amount, in this case, belongs to the Magistrate. Still, it seems excessive.

Remember, various courts have agreed that flight risks are the prime consideration in setting bond. They are not meant to be punitive.

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* * * * * *

We are up to the 46th Delegate District in our rundown of 2024 legislative contests.

Incumbent appointed Republican Jeff Campbell is seeking election in 46. Two other Republicans – Trey Ewing and Thomas Perkins – have also filed.

Democrat Paul Detch is unopposed.

The 47th District features two former Republican delegates – George “Boogie” Ambler and Ray Canterbury. Stephen Snyder is challenging him in the GOP primary.

Democrats Kayla McCoy and Roger Vannoy will meet on that side for the right to go on to the general election.

Incumbent Republican Todd Longanacre is not running this year.

In the 48th District, Republican incumbent Thomas Clark will meet Democrat Devin Spinks. Both are unopposed in the May primary.

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Republican Stanley Adkins will face incumbent Republican Heather Tully in the 49th District primary.

Democrat Jean Nutter is unopposed.

The 50th District will see Democrat Jerry Allen taking on Republican incumbent David Pritt. 

Neither has primary opposition.

District 51 finds Republican Marshall Clay, the hard-working, dedicated Sergeant at Arms, squaring off with Dan Hill in the primary.

Clay would make a great legislator.

Democrat Robyn Kincaid takes on Jack Thompson on that side of the ballot.

Incumbent Republican Tom Fast is not seeking re-election but instead is running for Circuit Judge.

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The 52nd District finds former Kanawha County Republican Chair Tresa Howell meeting Greg Ingram in the primary.

I don’t know Ingram but he would have to be a better choice than the confrontational, opinionated Howell.

Democrats will be represented by the unopposed Thomas Jones.

They are all vying for the right to replace the long-serving Democrat Delegate Larry Rowe. He is among the most dedicated and honest legislators to ever stand under the dome. Rowe will be missed.

Republican Terry Burns is challenging Tristan Leavitt in the District 53 primary. Democrat Chris Smith is alone on that ballot.

The incumbent, Republican Chris Pritt, originally announced for Secretary of State when former Delegate Doug Skaff entered that race. Pritt, instead, is challenging incumbent GOP State Senator Eric Nelson for his Senate District 17 seat.

In House District 54, it is Republican Julien Aklei in a rematch with the Democrat incumbent Mike Pushkin.

Pushkin has held on to the downtown Charleston district for some time.

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The 55th District features appointed Republican incumbent JB Akers facing Democrat Linda Bodie.

Akers is a former candidate for Charleston Mayor who was appointed to the House by Governor Jim Justice.

We’ll have more next time. Be sure to register to vote!

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

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  • 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.