by Ron Gregory
What a breath of fresh air the arrival of Williamson attorney Duke Jewell as Mingo County Prosecutor brings to the courthouse.
Unanimously, all three County Commissioners joined in appointing Jewell, the people’s choice, to the job Monday. Shortly thereafter, Circuit Judge Miki Thompson swore Jewell in.
Most of us believe Jewell’s appointment — after he defeated appointed Prosecutor Teresa Maynard in the May primary — signals a new day for Mingo County justice. I guarantee every reader, and one and all, that I have never spoken with Jewell about any pending case or investigation. Still, compared to Maynard, Jewell will have to be an improvement.
Jewell confessed to being “really excited” when we talked by phone Monday afternoon. He said the “quickness” with which Maynard announced her intention to resign and then officially stepped down “was kind of overwhelming.” Maynard made her resignation effective at midnight Monday. Jewell will assume his new role at the strike of midnight.
I noted, in talking with Jewell, it was the first time I had spoken with a Mingo Prosecutor by telephone. Disgraced former Prosecutor Michael Sparks never took or returned a call from me and neither did Maynard. The fact that each of them had much to hide and little to talk about likely explains that policy.
Jewell noted that he comes to the Prosecutor’s office with a “new perspective. Having been mostly a defense lawyer all my life, I think I can look at things a little differently.” The new Prosecutor said, “it isn’t all about winning, winning and getting convictions. In the long run, my job is to see that justice is fair and equitable for all concerned.”
There has been much speculation since Jewell won the Prosecutor position by easily defeating Maynard in the May primary. It is now time for Jewell to settle in, albeit a few months early, and get on with the job at hand. I am confident Jewell is not the type to drag up all political wounds and try to get even with anyone. He is a fair man, who will pursue justice at every turn. Mingo Countians are safer tonight with Jewell as Prosecutor.
I am also sure Jewell will not be a party to many of the old “tricks” and “deals” that have been cooked up in the Prosecutor’s office over the years. Jewell will shoot straight and call them fair or foul right down the line. He will give Mingo Countians a reason to be proud again.
Jewell said he has no immediate plans regarding office or assistant personnel in the office. He wants time to evaluate everyone’s performance, which is only the right thing to do.
Rest easy, Mingo. You now have an honest prosecutor in the house.
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The West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, piloted by Natalie Tennant, has issued a new letter to County Clerks following the Supreme Court’s decision today in the Erik Wells case.
It was, you may recall, the Secretary of State’s office that earlier gave advice to potential candidates that they could use the procedure employed by Wells to get on the ballot. In this case, a number of candidates have appeared over the past few years using the petition method approved by Madam Secretary. Now, the court has ruled that procedure improper.
It isn’t that nobody ever questioned the Secretary of State’s office about the procedure in years past. I specifically asked Assistant Counsel Tim Leach about it four years ago. He outlined the procedure whereby a potential candidate simply needed to obtain the signatures of one percent of the voters who cast ballots in the last election to get on the current ballot.
When I pointed out to Leach, as I’m certain others did, that the petition method seemed to circumvent the primary election system, he merely shrugged. Leach does a lot of that when he doesn’t really know the answer to a question.
What the SOS has been allowing (how do you like that use of an acronym? I am almost as good as Kyle Lovern and the Band of Gals at the Williamson Daily News) in the past is bizarre in many ways. Let us say that a Democrat, A, wins that party’s primary nomination for Assessor. At the same time, Republican B, wins that group’s nod.
Under Leach and the Secretary’s guidance, anyone in the county could then step forward and take signatures to get on the same ballot those two candidates earned the right to do. If A and B were forced to spend $20,000 to win their nominations, candidate C could emerge from the bushes, pay nothing but a normal filing fee, get one percent of the voters to sign petitions, and be on the same ballot with them.
That has hardly ever seemed fair to me. But Tennant and Leach endorsed it and, until somebody actually challenged it in court, their opinion stood. This time, along comes Wells, a former State Senator who just happens to be Tennant’s husband. After Republican incumbent Vera McCormick went to the trouble and expense of winning her party’s nomination in May, Wells decided to pursue the petition route. No Democrat ran for the job, so Wells would have appeared on the ballot as an Independent. Never mind that he is a registered Democrat.
McCormick cried foul and the rest, as Calvin Coolidge said, is history.
The court ruling likely knocks seven or so other candidates around the state off ballots in various counties.
What the court made no mention of is that there are sitting elected officials who were chosen using the same method Wells just tried to use. Since they did not say anything about it, the ruling is apparently not retroactive. Thus, a County Commissioner such as Diann Hannah, who won her job in the same manner that Wells tried, will presumably continue to serve.
It simply is not fair for someone to get on the ballot so easily when nominees of major parties have to fight for a slot. There were Lincoln County Sheriff candidates four years ago who got on the ballot using the petition method. Leach even told me then he would see nothing wrong with one of those candidates running an ad that declared, “Democrat running as an Independent” for Sheriff. How confusing is that?
What the Supremes actually did was uphold the original order by Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King, declaring that Wells could not be a registered Democrat and appear on the ballot as an Independent. There’s the rub. If Wells or anyone else wants to use the petition plan, he or she must change his or her registration to Independent before starting their petition drive. One cannot be a registered Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or Mountain Party member and run as Independent.
Leach pointed out in his letter to clerks that Judge King’s order did not disqualify registered party members from signing independent certificates of nomination. Generally speaking, Leach’s letter serves as an outline of the new procedures but cautiously advises clerks to check with their county Prosecutor regarding major decisions. Good advice, I’d say.
“If your county has a candidate nominated who remains registered as one of the four political parties, the question presented to you now is what to do about those candidates? We recommend consulting with your prosecutor about whether you should remove any such candidate from the county ballot. If you do remove, you will also have to decide on whether to refund the candidate’s filing fee,” Leach wrote.
The attorney goes on to point out that clerks should remind candidates of the September 20 deadline to register as official write-in candidates.
The court issued its order in order to comply with requirements for printing ballots. The justices said they would issue a more detailed opinion at a later date. Justice Robin Davis disagreed with the court’s decision in the matter.
Hopefully, this ruling will result in a uniform enforcement of the law across the state. I agree with the justice’s decision, although I have nothing against Wells or his potential candidacy. Unfortunately, he became the example of the inconsistencies in the previous petition methodology.
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In a recent attack, state Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey went after his Democrat opponent, Doug Reynolds, for a printing deal Reynolds has with Charleston Newspapers. Morrisey accuses Reynolds of eliminating jobs and forming some sort of “sweetheart” relationship with the Charleston operation by closing the printing department at the Reynolds-owned (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch.
Since March, the H-D (another acronym; are you looking Kyle?) has been printed in Charleston. Morrisey cries foul at that, noting that the old Charleston Gazette editorial and management team has consistently opposed him. Morrisey also says they newspaper refuses to disclose details of the relationship with the H-D.
Reynolds has defended the decision to start in printing in Charleston by explaining that the printing presses at the H-D were becoming archaic. He says a decision by Charleston Newspapers to cease publication of the former Charleston Daily Mail opened a printing spot for his paper.
Truthfully, Morrisey’s complaints here seem as much ado about nothing. One must admit, however, that the incumbent Republican has been relentless in attacking his opponent. Morrisey also travels all across the state, being seen at various parades, fairs and festivals.
It’s a close race between them, but I suspect Morrisey has the edge today.
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I promised an individual look at State Senate races and here it comes. Keep in mind, I do not predict who I WANT to win; I pick who I BELIEVE will. There is one more caveat: there’s still six weeks to election. Much could change. I reserve the right to make final predictions a few days before the election.
In the First Senatorial District, I think incumbent Democrat Jack Yost will hang on to his job. In the Second, look for Republican Mike Maroney to defeat Democrat Lisa Zukoff and Libertarian H. John Rogers. That’s the first GOP pick-up I’ve listed and would put the Republicans up by two votes in the upper chamber if all other races stayed in same party hands.
In the Third Senatorial District, veteran Republican Donna Boley will have little trouble holding on to her seat against Democrat Brady Vanzile. In the Fourth, I expect Democrat Brian Prim to be more than beleagured Republican Mitch Carmichael can handle. This is, of course, a Democrat pick-up and would lower the GOP margin to one.
In the Fifth, Democrat leader Bob Plymale will hold on to his job against Republican challenger Tyson Smith. The Sixth is a toss-up at this point, with Republican Chandler Swope the favorite over Democrat Rocky Seay. This is gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole’s old seat so a Swope win would not trigger any change in the party margin.
Richard Ojeda will likely keep the Seventh District in Democrat hands although Republican Jordan Ray Bridges could spring an upset. Ojeda defeated Senator Art Kirkendoll in the Primary after being beaten two days before the election at a picnic. In the Eighth, I expect a Democrat gain with Glenn Jeffries proving too much for incumbent Republican Chris Walters. That would make the chamber even, if all other races remain in the current party control.
I expect the Ninth District to remain in Democrat hands, where the voters have always had it. Former Senator Daniel Hall, who committed fraud on the voters of the district when he ran as a Democrat and then switched to a Republican, is not running this time. He’s too busy putting guns in the hands of babies to fire at each other. But I am confident the voters will send Democrat Mike Goode to Charleston to replace Hall’s appointed replacement, Sue Cline. That’s a Democrat gain and gives them a one-vote margin.
In the Tenth, Democrats hold on to seat with Dave Perry defeating Republican Kenny Mann. Republican incumbent Greg Boso must withstand a rousing challenge from Democrat Denise Campbell and a representative of the Mountain Party. The Mountain’s Bruce Breuninger could take enough votes from Campbell to assure a Boso win. At this point, I’ll call it for the incumbent but it is very close.
In the Twelfth, incumbent Democrat Doug Facemire will have little problem dispatching Franklin Cornette, the Republican. In the Thirteenth, look for Democrat Roman Prezioso to keep that seat in his party’s hands with a win over Barry Bledsoe of the GOP.
It’s a tight race in the Fourteenth, but I expect Democrat Bob Williams to hold on for a hard-fought win over Republican Randy Smith and Libertarian Matthew Persinger. Republican Craig Blair will keep the Fifteenth in his party’s caucus with a win over Democrat Brad Noll.
The Sixteenth is a GOP pick-up as Republican Patricia Rucker topples Democrat Delegate Stephen Skinner. That win moves the upper chamber into a deadlock for party control. In the toughest race he’s had, Democrat Corey Palumbo will hold onto his Seventeenth District spot with a win over Republican Chris Stansbury.
Republican Mike Azinger should keep the unexpired Third District seat in GOP hands with a win over Democrat Greg Smith. Smith has failed to completely toe the party line causing some lack of support from Democrat faithful. Appointed GOP Senator Bob Ashley opted to challenge Boley in the Primary and lost.
So, if the election was held today, I believe we would end in a dead tie for control of the Senate. It is likely a few of the close races will tilt another way by November and a tie will not result. For the sake of good government, I hope one party or the other manages control, even if by one vote.
That’s how I see it today. Again, remember: there is no chance my predictions match how I would vote or endorse in these races.
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Your comments, story ideas, gossip and reports of newspaper-politician “sweetheart” deals are always welcome. Use my email listed or call my cell, 304-533-5185.