by Ron Gregory
As we mentioned the last time, elections often signal the changing of the guard in public offices and 2016’s results are no different.
Some of the more interesting speculation in recent days is the strong rumors from Washington that Democrat U.S. Senator Joe Manchin will be offered a powerful position by Republican President-elect Donald Trump.
Many readers have asked me if a potential Manchin appointment is really being taken seriously by Trump. I firmly believe the answer to that question is, yes.
In addition to some background information I have on the subject, it would just be sensible for Trump to appoint Manchin as his Energy Secretary. Trump swamped his primary opposition and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election in the Mountain State. For 80 years up until 2014, Democrats had virtually controlled West Virginia governmental positions at all levels. No more. Republicans have significant majorities in the state legislature, the other U.S. Senator is Republican Shelley Moore Capito, the three congressmen are all Republicans, the board of public works has four Republicans and two Democrats, and many local county officials are members of the GOP.
While the transformation from a solid “blue” state to clear “red” is obvious, it can hardly be taken for granted by Republicans. All of us with much West Virginia election experience remember the days when State Senator Donna Boley of St. Marys was the lone GOP member in the state’s upper chamber. There was no opposition to Boley being minority leader in 1991 and 1992 since there were no other Republicans. Boley, who is still a powerhouse in the legislature, WAS the minority then.
I spoke with Boley about the transformation from a one-member minority to control of the Senate, 22-12, now. Coincidentally, she was on her return trip from The Greenbrier Resort, where she had spoken to the State Chamber of Commerce about this very subject. Boley, whose greatest strength is likely her analytical nature, made more sense regarding the developments than I ever could. We’ll get to that in moment, right after I summarize the logic of the Manchin move to Energy.
For years, Manchin has been classified as a “conservative Democrat.” While I do not totally accept that conclusion and completely disagree with those who say Manchin “is more of a Republican than Democrat,” he could work out well with Trump. There is also no question that Manchin is as knowledgeable as any public official about energy. As a legislator, secretary of state, governor and U.S. Senator, he has been at the forefront of energy-related developments. Manchin is, I will agree, a diplomatic Democrat. He will never appear to be stridently partisan in any of his decision-making or public comments.
Manchin and Trump clearly know each other, since as governor, Trump was one of those Manchin contacted about taking over operation of The Greenbrier when it was sinking. Justice, of course, eventually acquired the resort and has done a fantastic job of turning it around. But the very fact that Trump was one of those Manchin approached is likely a positive point for the West Virginian.
It is fairly clear that Trump wants to show a level of bi-partisanship and appointing Manchin would fulfill that goal. Overall, a Manchin appointment would likely be a plus for him as well as the people of West Virginia. Certainly, if there is anything that can be done to revive the coal industry, Manchin would push that more than anyone.
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Senator Boley’s clear recollection of the period from 1986 to the present shows a magnificent example of why she has been in the Senate during all of these 30 years. In our conversation, she recalled the years from 1986 to 1990, when there were four Republicans in the upper chamber.
Boley gives former Governor Jay Rockefeller most of the credit or blame for reducing that number to one. She said Rockefeller spent considerable time and resources proclaiming that, if they had the chance, Senate Republicans would enact right-to-work legislation. Thus, in 1990, she was all there was to show from the GOP. Everyone else had gone the way of what are perceived to be “fringe” candidates.
The senator also fondly recalled the late Bob Gould, who she said first attempted to recruit “solid candidates” for a Republican legislature. In 1992, Gould personally gave incumbent Democrat Attorney General Darrell McGraw a real scare by losing to him by just three percentage points in the race for McGraw’s re-election. With the advent of current AG Patrick Morrisey and Second District Congressman Alex Mooney, it is interesting to recall that “experts” in 1992 pinned Gould’s loss on the fact that he was not a “real West Virginian,” having moved here from out-of-state. Had Gould been a native, those in the know said, he would have easily beaten McGraw that year.
Boley was re-elected by a huge majority of voters in 1992 and there was a GOP pickup of one seat with John Yoder of the 16th District coming aboard. Boley remained minority leader with she and Yoder as the two Republican senators.
Six Republicans joined the group in 1994. That included J. Frank Deem from the Third District; Dr. Tom Scott from the Fifth; Jack Buckalew from the Eighth; Sarah Minear of the 14th; Harry Dugan of the 16th; and Larry Kimble of the 17th.
In 1994, interestingly, McGraw continued to flirt with political disaster, managing just a two-point win over Republican Charlotte Lane. Lane, with a lengthy public career in Kanawha County, did not suffer from the out-of-stater problem, of course. Robert McKenzie of the First District gave Republicans a Senate pickup; Boley retained her seat; and Vic Sprouse added a seat for the GOP in the Eighth. During the 30-year span, Boley said she watched Republican membership fluctuate from one to 13. She credited the switch of Mitch Carmichael and Craig Blair from the House to the Senate as a key component of the GOP comeback. Both pushed further candidate recruitment and the strength of the party increased.
Basically, then, it is Boley’s conclusion that good candidates make for political gains at the polls. Few could argue with that logic. And I must point out that it was former GOP State Chairman Kris Warner, who during his tenure as chair pushed hard to recruit candidates to run for every vacant seat. Perhaps Warner’s actions were a little too early (or too late) for political moods of the day, but they clearly have worked since.
But another bottom line is that Republicans must always realize that they can lose the legislature much like they won it. The pendulum never stops swinging.
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Supreme Court Justice-elect Beth Walker will be sworn in as a member of the state’s highest court at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, December 5.
The ceremony will be in the court chamber, which is located on the third floor of the capitol’s East Wing. Justice Allen Loughry II will deliver the oath. Walker was elected in the first supreme court non-partisan election in May. She will take office January 1, 2017. Until this year, candidates for the court had run as representatives of their political parties. Walker was born in Huron, Ohio and earned her law degree from The Ohio State University. Prior to her election, the new Justice spent 22 years with what is now called the Bowles Rice Law Firm in Charleston.
She is married to Mike Walker and step-mother to Jennifer. They reside in Morgantown. Walker will replace Justice Brent Benjamin, who lost in the May primary.
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On the subject of appointments rumored for incoming administrations, the word is that former House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley is in line to become general counsel to Governor-elect Jim Justice. That, obviously, would open another legislative seat since Miley is now House minority leader. While there are no reports of who might replace Miley if he moves to the governor’s office, another story has Minority Whip Mike Caputo being named Labor Commissioner. That rumor goes further to insist that Justice has already decided to appoint Delegate Tim Manchin, who lost his seat in the November 8 general election, to Caputo’s legislative position. That would keep Manchin in office without interruption, the story goes.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who lost re-election to Republican Mac Warner, will be Justice’s Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner, according to another rumor. Justice officials are said to be “trying to find” a job for Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, who also lost in the November election.
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Among those who would be considered to replace Joe Manchin if he becomes Energy Secretary is former Delegate Mark Hunt of Charleston. Hunt was the Democrat nominee for Congress in the most recent Second District election. Since Hunt ran far better than the two other Congressional Democrat candidates and also won Kanawha by more than 9,000 votes against incumbent Republican Congressman Alex Mooney, some Democrats think Hunt has “earned” the appointment.
There continue to be rumors that Mooney, by the way, is under consideration by the Trump administration to have some official position in this country’s relationship with Cuba. That might make the Second District seat open as well at some point.
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The revolving door also means many long-time public servants are vacating their offices as well. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office, for example, has become a near ghost-town by virtue of all the folks who have already left. Tomblin was term-limited from running again, thus he leaves office in January.
Among those who have already left from Tomblin’s side is former Executive Aide to the Governor, Becky Neal. She “retired” from state government last week, although it is not completely clear what that term means in her case. Generally speaking, a state employee has to have a minimum of 80 years of age and employment to actually retire with benefits. Neal joined state government with Tomblin when he first came to the capitol, but she also spent time employed in the private sector during the past 25 years. Usually, one must be 55 years old to qualify for retirement, and it does not appear from the public record that Neal has reached that threshold.
Regardless, she is no longer in the governor’s office, joining those like former Charleston City Councilman Larry Malone who resigned earlier. Neal, who left government employment to become a lobbyist at one point, is likely to become one again according to statehouse sources. Among those she represented earlier was Brickstreet Insurance, where she became Vice-President of Government Relations.
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Finally (whew!), hats off to Mingo Central and Coach Yogi Kinder on winning their first state Class AA football championship. What a storybook ending to a grand career for Kinder. Congratulations to all Miner players, coaches, parents, fans and partisans.
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Your comments, story idea and suggestions of defeated candidates who can be given continued public employment, is always welcome. Use my email address listed or call my cell, 304-533-5185.