Gregory’s Web for August 2, 2020
by Ron Gregory
Erika Kolenich is not a household name in West Virginia. Perhaps it should be.
The Libertarian candidate for Governor is well-versed, articulate and a proven leader. She leads the current field in those categories. Mountain Party candidate Danny Lutz is also all three of those but decidedly liberal.
Kolenich is also … well, a Libertarian. That means she and I agree on most issues. What’s more important is that she and West Virginia voters are largely in agreement.
Having coffee with her last week left me impressed. Although her party struggles for recognition nationwide and around the state, she is obviously willing to take on incumbent Republican Governor Jim Justice and Democrat Ben Salango directly. In my opinion, she will stand up for herself, liberty and freedom.
From our conversations, it’s clear to me that nobody would have to force her to call a special legislative session on Covid-19. She believes in our republican form of government. She understands that the legislature represents the people at the grassroots. When $1.2 billion and hundreds of lives are involved, the people’s representatives should be heard from.
A Buckhannon attorney and native, Kolenich knows the state well. She understands the struggles of balancing personal and governmental budgets. While she leads her own firm, it’s safe to say she would not be funneling Covid-19 relief funds to her own companies.
I’m impressed that Kolenich is running as a Libertarian. With her obvious strengths, she could be a player as either a Republican or Democrat. But she has chosen the path less traveled by on principle and that always takes courage.
Eastern Panhandle Delegate S. Marshall Wilson has every right to gather signatures and run for Governor as an Independent, as do others. But the road to the Governor’s office is impossible for Wilson. He can’t get there from here.
Frankly, Kolenich will not win either. The two-party system rules in America. But she is representing a party that has proven its legitimacy by gathering sufficient votes to secure a ballot position. That’s progress.
On the other hand, Wilson was spending the last few hours before a deadline to submit signatures traveling around the state gathering them over the weekend. The deadline is Monday.
As an Independent, Wilson has no automatic path to the November ballot. He has to collect more than 7,000 signatures of registered voters to appear on the lists. It is a daunting challenge but one that Wilson likely will overcome.
My concern is that Kolenich and Wilson are so close philosophically that they will contend for the same voters. Honestly, Wilson should have saved time and energy and supported Kolenich. She represents some hope for eventual real change in West Virginia. His Independent campaign is simply not useful.
Real conservatives who look at their choices for Governor will likely find themselves much more in tune with Kolenich and Wilson than their opponents. One, rather than two, would be more effective in uniting the right wing. The vote total, if nothing else, would be more impressive.
We’ll give Wilson his due but Kolenich is the most logical choice.
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Democrat U.S. Senator Joe Manchin’s comments last week about Justice using the Covid-19 pandemic relief money as a “slush fund” underscores my point of why the Governor should call a special session.
Of course, Justice called Manchin “a liar.” These two may not be forming a mutual admiration society any time soon.
Justice was elected as a Democrat four years ago with Manchin’s support. Then the Governor switched to Republican. Resulting bad blood between the Chief Executive and Manchin’s wife, former First Lady Gayle Manchin, led to her abrupt firing as state Secretary of the Education and the Arts.
Manchin was an early outspoken supporter of Salango, which likely fuels the fires of controversy.
“This is nothing but a slush fund for Governor Jim Justice and other governors around the country that have not let their money go out,” Manchin told MetroNews. His reference is to the previously mentioned $1.2 billion the federal government has provided to West Virginia for assistance during the epidemic.
I had previously mentioned that Justice’s stubborn refusal to call the legislature into special session opened the door for critics to accuse him of financial mismanagement or worse. No checks and balances means the administration is wide open for allegations of favoritism and corruption in disbursing the funds.
At the time, I pointed out that if an investigator ever asked Justice how federal funds made it into his personal business coffers, his best defense would be “the legislature approved it.” But if they never meet and he unilaterally spends the money, that defense is off the table.
“If you start playing with the people’s money, especially when the governor starts playing with the money the Legislature should be involved in dispersing and calling it on his own during an election year, that’s a slush fund,” the Senator and former governor said.
“I mean this, and it’s not political, but the governor is using this as a political slush fund,” Manchin said. “He’s in an election year, and using this as a political slush fund.”
Justice responded during a Covid-19 briefing. “Guys, you know me. I can’t do anything but tell you the truth. It’s a lie. It’s a lie. What Senator Manchin ought to do is concentrate on the job he has in D.C. and get that job done and get that job done properly,” Justice said.
Then he added, “”He ought to not concentrate so much on trying to run Ben Salango’s campaign. It’s grandstanding while running Ben Salango’s campaign and it is exactly what Joe Manchin has been since day one; a politician,” he said.
“It’s no time for us in West Virginia to be a Republican or a Democrat or an independent. We need to be West Virginians. West Virginians trying to come through it in a way that is really tough,” Justice said.
But, again, it is Justice who is setting himself up for criticism by governing like a monarch. He and his legislative buddies can talk all they want about consultation, but the legislature has appropriated not one dime of the epidemic money. Justice continues to rule by executive order. He’s setting himself up for disaster.
After all, his handling of the 2016 Flood of the Century did not exactly win universal praise. And economic development projects like the much-touted Hobet industrial park languish. Pardon me for not having a little confidence in his single-handed policies of dealing with Covid-19.
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“Jim Justice is using his taxpayer-funded press conferences to attack me,” Salango said in an email statement later the same day.
“We’ve asked Jim Justice to step up and help our small businesses, first responders, healthcare providers, and all West Virginians. All he’s done is help himself.”
See? No oversight equals accusations of improper spending — especially for Justice family businesses.
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The Kanawha County Sheriff’s race, pitting incumbent Democrat Mike Rutherford and Republican Sean Crosier, is already heating up.
Crosier, a former Kanawha Deputy who was later elected Sheriff of Monroe County, accused Rutherford of not standing up for deputies and other personnel when pay raises are considered each year.
Crosier posted the accusations on social media and Rutherford quickly fired back. He said his office is given an annual budget he must live with and he has always fought for deputies and others in the sheriff’s office.
There is clearly bad blood here that may get worse over the next 90 days.
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The deadline for Independent and minor party candidates to get sufficient signatures to appear on the general election ballot is tomorrow, as I mentioned (Monday, August 3). That’s why Wilson was criss-crossing the state in search of names over the weekend.
Three Eastern Panhandle residents received enough signatures to get on the fall ballot for legislative seats.
Hedgesville business owner and regular Facebook commentator Patricia “Patch” Adams and communications specialist Robert E. Smith have both filed for the 59th District seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Though aligned with the Mountain Party, Smith appeared to support progressive Stephen Smith in the Democrat primary. He even publicly took the “WV Can’t Wait” pledge associated with Smith in April.
Adams, 57, is not affiliated with any political party, and Smith, 23, also of the Hedgesville area, is the Mountain Party’s nominee.
They will take on Republican Morgan County Commissioner Ken Reed, who defeated incumbent Larry Kump in the June primary.
No Democrat filed in the decidedly GOP district, which is the reason Smith gives for his candidacy.
While Smith brings a progressive face to the race, Adams is staunchly conservative.
Additionally, the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee appointed Elliot Simon to fill a vacancy in District 67. Mark Everhart had filed for the spot and launched a visible social media campaign before withdrawing from the race.
Simon will try to defeat liberal Democrat John Doyle in the general.
Doyle is a veteran legislator, having spent two years on the sidelines when Republican Riley Moore defeated him in 2016. Doyle won the rematch with Moore in 2018, largely on the strength of his opposition to the Rockwool plant being built in the district.
Simon was defeated by Doyle in 2010 and former Del. Stephen Skinner in 2012 in previous campaigns so the odds appear to favor Doyle.
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One thing you’ll learn if you spend much time in the Eastern Panhandle is that there are pockets of some of the strongest philosophical opinions in the state.
From about as far left as one can get to strongly right wing, Eastern Panhandle races often feature pure contrasts.
The differences are much clearer than in other parts of the state.
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Salango has challenged Justice to five debates but the Governor isn’t jumping in quickly.
Justice called Salango “a young guy who doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about,” in response to the challenge.
Justice maintains he’s too busy managing the Covid-19 crisis to get political and debate.
Maybe he could convene the legislature, get some help and have more free time.
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We move on in our initial evaluation of state House of Delegates races.
Mark Dean, a Republican, represents Mingo County’s District 21. He’s being challenged again by former Democrat Delegate Phyllis White.
There was a time when predicting a GOP win in southern West Virginia would have qualified one for the Funny Farm. No more.
Dean, who has occasionally bucked his party leadership, is the favorite in this rematch. Personally, I prefer White but things must break right for her to be in this one.
Republicans Zack Maynard and Joe Jeffries represent District 22. Maynard is a hard-working young delegate who has a bright future and will lead the ticket.
Democrats have nominated former Delegate Jeff Eldridge and Cecil Silva. Eldridge gave up his seat in 2018 to run for Lincoln County Commission.
I expect Eldridge to complete his comeback and return to Charleston in November. Jeffers is too philosophically rigid for this once-strong Democrat district.
District 23 is served by one of the best public servants around, Democrat former Boone Sheriff Rodney Miller. Despite the new Republican coalfields tendencies, Miller should have little trouble disposing of Republican Josh Holstein.
Incumbent Democrat Tim Tomblin is a big favorite in Logan’s District 24. The other incumbent, Ralph Rodighiero, has switched to a run for the State Senate.
That sets up a showdown for the second spot between Republicans Jordan Bridges and Margitta Mazzocchi and Democrat Susan Perry.
Logan is trending Republican and Bridges is a strong candidate. Mazzocchi will not be much of a factor. Overall, I’d expect Perry, wife of a highly popular retired circuit judge, to take the second spot but Bridges definitely has a shot.
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Keep in mind that these early predictions can change. We’ll make our final guesses in the November 1 column.
Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear his political commentary Mondays at 7 a.m. on the Tom Roten Morning Show on NewsRadio 800, WVHU, Huntington (On vacation August 3).