by Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON == A Republican party activist has filed an election complaint against Governor Jim Justice.
Rob Cornelius of Parkersburg confirmed late this week that he filed the complaint late last week. A spokesman for Secretary of State Mac Warner pointed out that his office can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a complaint.
Unlike the state ethics commission, which by law cannot initiate election law complaints within a 30-day window on each side of the election, complaints can be filed at any time with the SOS, Warner said.
In the complaint that Cornelius made public, he alleges that on the morning of September 11, Justice improperly addressed a county clerk training session at Canaan Valley State Park.
Cornelius claims that Justice turned “the event into impromptu political rally … instructing clerks, inappropriately, to ensure that the Road Bond Amendment passes on October 7th.”
Justice has made passage of the bond amendment a cornerstone of his plans for expansion and economic development in the Mountain State. Taking office as a Democrat in January, Justice switched party affiliation to Republican after the legislative session. His party switch has led to widespread confusion as to just which state politicians favor the bond and those who oppose it.
The complaint points out that the training session was previously scheduled, according to law by Warner. It is intended for informational purposes with regard to election conduct only, according to Cornelius. The complaint says elected officials are specifically barred from attending the session to campaign for or against any candidate or ballot issue. It cites West Virginia Code 3-1-46.
The complaint says video of Justice’s remarks are posted on You Tube.
In a telephone interview, Cornelius said he did not “want in any way to criticize” Warner. “He was just doing what the law requires of him as the state’s chief election officer. It is not his fault that the governor chose to violate not only the letter but the spirit of the law.”
Cornelius added, “I don’t see any of this as a political party issue. Democrat or Republican, what Jim Justice did is wrong.”
The complaint says the governor “specifically told clerks how to campaign for the bond to the public in spite of their neutral role.” He also added the pro-bond stance that the issue creates no new taxes, despite the fact that vehicle fees were increased July 1 to help fund the potential bond payment obligation. In his presentation, Cornelius says, Justice asks clerks to repeat the no increased taxes claim.
Justice also outlines to the clerks how his office is coordinating outside expenditures in support of the bond issue, which Cornelius argues violates Code 3-9-1. The governor implies, the complaint says, that Justice is encouraging the officials to assist in violating this statute.
Justice is also accused of violating Code 3-9-15 when he told clerks they may lose budgetary funds if the bond issue does not pass.
“To conclude,” the complaint goes on, “Justice is abusing his poser, public resources and several portions of” Code as it pertains to election conduct.