by Ron Gregory
As the days and weeks drift by following the May primary election, it is truly amazing that appointed Logan Circuit Court Judge Doug Witten maintains his effort to hold on to an office he shouldn’t have had in the first place.
A hearing date has finally been set for August 23, although the starting time and location have yet to be determined. Some courthouse observers said Witten’s challenger, Circuit Judge Elect Joshua Butcher, had asked that a hearing demanded by Witten he held at the courthouse. Those same folks said Witten is apparently lobbying for the Chief Logan Conference Center. Apparently, as would be the inclination of Witten, he wants the hearing held where the lowest number of people might be present. The courthouse is likely too convenient a location to suit the judge.
At stake, of course, is Butcher’s claim to a 59-vote win over Witten in the primary. The appointed judge made it clear during a campaign highlighted by charges that Butcher “wears his religion on his sleeve,” that he will do anything to win. He probably wants fewer witnesses to his antics.
Witten’s major claim is the ludicrous assertion that Richard Ojeda’s beating right before the primary cost him the election. Don’t even really expect me to explain it. Witten said he was identified as being on the “Kirkendoll” team of candidates and that led to his demise. The twisted logic there is that State Senator Art Kirkendoll headed a faction of the Democrat party that included candidates for other offices. When Ojeda was slugged on Sunday before the election, a sympathic reaction somehow blaming Kirkendoll for the beating led to the defeat of many “Kirkendoll candidates.”
If anybody is following this, it isn’t me since it makes absolutely no sense. Apparently, however, Witten can show that he defeated Butcher in early voting. Said early voting occurred and ended before the Ojeda stomping. Witten wants to throw out all election day ballots in a “best case” scenario and have himself declared the winner by a three-member panel charged with hearing his case.
The possibility of that happening diminished significantly when Governor Earl Ray Tomblin appointed Jim Arnold of Charleston to the panel. Arnold, a Kanawha County lawyer, is noted for his honesty and fairness. It also doesn’t hurt that former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, late a candidate for governor, agreed to be Butcher’s pick for the board.
Although Witten grabbed the opportunity to appoint his campaign treasurer, John Counts, as one member of the panel, it would appear that two solid citizens, Goodwin and Arnold, will outweigh Counts in all decisions.
Thus, it is not likely that this panel will seek to overturn the will of the voters by buying any of Witten’s labored arguments. One says that Butcher’s wife, Jamie, held a sign inside the allowed 300-feet of a polling place. As one pundit said, “if they throw votes out for that, every lawyer in the state will be videotaping precincts to get votes tossed out.”
With Arnold and Goodwin on board, most observers think Witten stands no chance of overturning Butcher’s 59-vote win.
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Here’s a note to those stalwart progressives who somehow think an anti-coal candidate can align herself with another anti-coal candidate and suddenly win the coalfields: the latest polling averages show Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump winning the state by 25 points.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has vowed to “put a lot of coal miners out of work,” chose Virginia’s ex-Governor Tim Kaine as her running mate. If anyone is more anti-coal than Clinton, it’s Kaine.
Progressives may think West Virginia coal miners are going to somehow be persuaded to vote for Hillary, but it will never happen.
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I still urge friends and readers to remain positive in their campaigning. Say something good about YOUR candidate, rather than something negative about the opposition. If you can’t come up with anything good to report, maybe you are supporting the wrong candidate.
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With two of the three Congressional seats on the ballot so lopsided nobody will be interested in the results, many will focus on other statewide and local races in November. While Democrat Mark Hunt is in a tight race with incumbent Republican Alex X. Mooney in the Second Congressional District, the other two seats are safely Republican.
Democrat gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice continues to lead Republican State Senate President Bill Cole in every poll conducted thusfar. The entry of former State Senator Charlotte Pritt into the governor’s race as the representative of the Mountain Party sparks even more interest in this contest.
If Pritt manages to get ten or more percent of the vote (which is likely), she will definitely be a factor in the final outcome between Cole and Justice. While logic would normally dictate that Pritt would take votes from Justice, this is not a normal election year. It’s anybody’s guess where her votes come from.
I supported Pritt all those years ago against both Joe Manchin and Cecil Underwood. She is a compassionate, reasonable candidate who deserves consideration in 2016.
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A statewide race that could be quite close matches current Democrat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and Republican Mac Warner. Coming from a well-known GOP family, Warner is an agressive campaigner who may well capitalize on Tennant’s recent string of defeats for governor and U.S. Senate.
There are those who argue that having one’s name on the ballot is always helpful in future races. I doubt that when the candidate gets trounced by her opponent, as Tennant did in running against Republican Shelley Moore Capito.
The “miracle” of the 2016 primary season, Democrat Mary Ann Claytor, is likely conducting the same type of direct voter contact campaign that she ran earlier. Pundits from Williamson to Chester were shocked, particularly by the margin with with Claytor defeated statehouse darling Jason Pizzatela.
While her opponent had tons of cash, Claytor ran a shoestring campaign focused on attending as many events as she could get her van to take her to. Her Republican opponent, J.R. McCuskey, will be blessed with lots more dollars than she but perhaps lacks the Baptist preacher charisma of Claytor. After the primary performance, I would never count Claytor out of any race.
Veteran Democrat State Treasurer John Perdue should manage a win over Republican Ann Urling. Urling, a banker, is clearly not as well known as Perdue.
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There will be tight races for Commissioner of Agriculture and Attorney General as well. For the Ag job, incumbent Democrat Walt Helmick barely eked out a win over his Republican opponent, Kent Leonhardt, four years ago. Leonhardt is back with four more years of campaigning in place and Helmick may have trouble defending his turf.
Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who suffers from the same carpetbagger image as Congressman Mooney, handles it much better. Morrisey is smooth, friendly and articulate. He can actually appear to be a native West Virginian, although both he and Mooney claimed out-of-state residences prior to their elections. Democrat challenger Doug Reynolds is well-financed, energetic and doesn’t mind the daily grind of Politics 101. This one is clearly up for grabs as summer rolls along.
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Democrats would at least like to reclaim a majority in the State Senate, where they lost power for the first time in 83 years last time out. In our area, there is a solid chance that Democrat Brian Prim could defeat incumbent Republican Mitch Carmichael in District Four. I expect Democrat Rocky Seay to win over the GOP’s Chandler Swope in Cole’s current Sixth District. The power base could change in District Seven, where Republican Jordan Bridges stands a chance against Democrat Richard Ojeda in the district where Art Kirkendoll is the Democrat incumbent.
Other Democrat pickups could take place in District Eight, where incumbent Republican Chris Walters is locked in a close contest with Democrat Glenn Jeffries. I actually expect Democrats to reclaim District Nine, where turncoat Daniel Hall was elected as a D but switched to Republican to give the GOP a majority in the upper chamber. There, I think Democrat Michael Goode will make quick work of Republican Sue Cline.
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Your comments, story ideas, gossip and evidence that all election day results should be tossed out are always welcome. Use my email listed or call my cell, 304-533-5185.