Gregory’s Web for August 9, 2020
by Ron Gregory
As we move (perhaps) toward the beginning of the public school year, watching Governor Jim Justice in action is still a wonder to behold.
Dozens of readers were asking me, as they waited breathlessly, what Justice’s “major” school announcement was going to be last week. When I kept saying nobody seemed to know anything new in the offing, I probably seemed out of touch. But when the Governor next appeared with his big news, it seemed there was no news at all.
If anybody was clear as to what major developments had taken place, it wasn’t the Governor’s audience. But his “teasing” of news to come did its job: parents and others all over the state tuned in to hear the latest.
Although smart ones were disappointed, Justice still got to be gubernatorial. That is likely driving his winning numbers in the race for re-election.
Maybe the best criticism opponents had for Justice has been taken away by Covid-19. It’s difficult to continue maintaining that the Governor is not fully engaged in the state’s business when he spends an hour or more each day reporting to the citizens directly.
That Justice uses some of his government-sponsored report time to attack his Democrat opponent, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, is problematic. But the average viewer likely thinks it’s just part of the process.
Mixing politics and government is inevitable but seldom good public service.
I’m confident that after election day November 3, daily briefings will not be nearly as necessary. In fact, the Governor may forget about masks and social distancing altogether by December 1.
In the meantime, Salango faces the prospect of continuing to see full-scale press coverage of Justice — which likely translates into an even bigger margin for the incumbent.
Face it. It’s easier for a reporter to “attend” a virtual news conference and write a story each day than it is to actually chase down some real news. Thus, Justice dominates.
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Recent statewide internal campaign polling indicates the Democrat disaster of 2020 will likely be election day, November 3.
The statewide and congressional district races are all showing Republican leads that appear insurmountable.
While the GOP already controls the board of public works with the exception of Treasurer, the polls show even that one spot is in serious jeopardy.
Republican Riley Moore leads longtime incumbent Democrat Treasurer John Perdue by what appears to be a safe margin. If Boone Countian Perdue falls, it’s likely Republicans will control all statewide spots beginning in 2021. The lone exception may be holdover incumbent U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat.
Again, as I’ve written before, I don’t necessarily tell readers what I HOPE will happen. I report what I believe WILL occur.
President Trump will carry the state in a landslide as will U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito and the three incumbent House of Representatives members.
With the GOP positioned to win from Governor to Agriculture Commissioner, the legislature and county races may well trend even more Republican.
It was a Republican legislature that foolishly eliminated straight ticket voting or their future might be even brighter this time.
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Speaking of Ag Commissioner and not necessarily wanting what I predict. I am 100% for Democrat Commissioner candidate Bob Beach over GOP incumbent Kent Leonhardt.
If nothing else, except for acknowledging he got it, Leonhardt has stonewalled my Freedom of Information request for records pertaining to his office. He also has been less than impressive in his job as far as I can see.
Beach is a hard-working state senator who will no doubt take the job seriously. He and I are miles apart philosophically but that doesn’t effect my evaluation as a potential Agriculture Commissioner. I believe he would do a great job but will unfortunately get caught in the Republican tidal wave.
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On the subject of stonewalling, our liberty-loving, constitutional patriot Republican state senators have done nothing more to further the call for a special legislative session to deal with Covid-19. Only the ones previously mentioned here seem to be on board.
The next time any of them.tearfully recites their literal support of the constitution, ask him or her where the Governor is given the power to allocate funds and govern indefinitely by executive order. Oh I know they passed a horrific bill that MIGHT seem to give that authority but what does OUR constitution say?
And what sort of political blackmail is it for Justice to tell a reporter that if the legislature calls itself into extraordinary session “I’ll just set back and watch THEM run it. I’ll be done”?
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So let’s get this straight: IF the legislature were to exercise its constitutional right to call a special session and IF they chose to do their constitutional duty to allocate $1.25 billion in Covid-19 funds, the Governor would just quit doing his job?
Great threat, Governor. Actually, we MIGHT be better off if you carried it out.
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Republican Delegate Larry Kump is among legislators beating the drum for a special session.
The Eastern Panhandle Delegate, who lost his re-election bid in the GOP primary, specifically called out Panhandle Republican Senators Craig Blair and Charles Trump for not joining in a petition for the session.
As regular readers know, Trump explained to me that he thinks Justice is doing well in his decision-making and that he’s consulting with legislators regularly.
It’s safe to say that all EP Republican legislators are not feeling warm and fuzzy about each other.
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Count Putnam County Delegate Joshua Higginbotham as one Republican not afraid to stand up to a GOP governor when the chief executive is wrong.
Higginbotham has lobbied and spoken out extensively about the special session need. Voters in the 13th District can be justifiably proud of him.
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Ethics, I have said, is often judged in the eye of the beholder. A recent state Ethics Commission ruling has caused some jaws to drop and questions to be asked.
Two Harpers Ferry town council members got ethics reprimands as a part of one of the already-weirdest elections ever held. And, God knows, we’ve had some weird ones.
The two council.members were publicly reprimanded and fined for their roles in the dispute. It’s why they were reprimanded that raised collective eyebrows.
Hardwick Johnson and Charlotte Thompson reached settlement agreements last week that resulted in both being reprimanded and fined $750.
The pair admitted they violated the Ethics Act by participating in an election contest as members of the Contest Tribunal on August 24, 2019.
The Ethics Act prohibits public officials from voting on matters in which they or a business with which they are associated has a financial interest. The election contest could have resulted in the two council members losing their council seats, thus affecting their government income.
The pair were ordered to undergo training on the Ethics Act as part of the settlement of the complaints against them.
Now, here’s the question: an elected official can’t participate in his or her own election-related duties?
In the past, it’s been common practice for incumbent officials to be involved in vote canvasses, contests and other procedures even if they are candidates themselves. Once, two sitting county commissioners were on the same ballot for re-election. By this decision, were those two violating the Ethics Act by participating in the canvass, as the law actually required them to do? How could there have been a canvass board quorum if two of three members had to recuse themselves?
Will Salango be violating ethics rules if he participates, as a county commissioner, in the 2020 election tabulations and certifications since he is a candidate for governor?
Of course, Salango is not the only one who could be asked that question.
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Bizarre policies have often been the rulings of the state Ethics Commission. For example, they believe a deputy sheriff or incumbent sheriff running for re-election cannot appear in uniform or be pictured with his or her police cruiser in political ads. That’s using public office for private gain, they say. Candidates have been reprimanded and fined for doing so.
But there seems to be no.problem with sitting judges wearing their robes, sitting at their benches or showing their courtrooms as part of their advertising.
Likewise, some sheriff candidates say they’ve been told by the Ethics Commission that it’s okay to announce and advertise who they plan to hire as chief deputy, if elected.
I and every political consultant I know has always believed it’s illegal to promise a job in an upcoming administration. We thought it was the equivalent of buying a vote.
Maybe not? If not, perhaps we’ve found a new way of legal vote gathering.
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Road repair as part of recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic?
Without legislative approval (see liberty-loving constitutionalist Republican Senators above), highway officials announced their plans for using some of the federal pandemic money last week.
The West Virginia Division of Highways plans to use $50 million of the $1.25 billion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds distributed to West Virginia for state, county and municipal coronavirus-related expenses, they say.
The Medical Access Roads program will fund highway projects to improve access to hospitals and other medical facilities, although there is skepticism as to whether this is proper use of the funds.
Ah … who cares? The funded projects must be completed by December 31. What does it matter if you can lose your vehicle in a pothole getting there as long as the final mile to the hospital is as smooth as silk?
And if the State Senate lives in fear of the Governor, who’s going to question the expenditures?
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It turns out conservative Independent Delegate S. Marshall Wilson will likely be forced to run a write-in campaign for governor.
Despite hard work and tremendous effort, he was unable to gather the 7,100 signatures required to be listed on the November ballot.
Although write-ins seldom if ever win, Wilson will not fail for lack of effort.
He is also probably correct in his arguments regarding the signature requirements. He asked that Secretary of State Mac Warner cut the required number of signatures in half because the Covid-19 pandemic made it tremendously difficult to collect names.
He is also correct when he asked Warner to extend the signature deadline 30 days since the Governor postponed the primary from May to June. Finally, Wilson asked Warner to accept digital signatures, which makes sense in the electronic age with Covid-19 still around to prevent interaction.
Wilson is pursuing these and other matters in federal court, asking for an expedited hearing.
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Back to our early look at House races …
Republican Tony Paynter is the unopposed incumbent at this point in the 25th District.
Incumbent Democrat Ed Evans and Republican Wesley Paine square off in the 26th. Evans is the favorite.
Doug Smith, former Delegate Marty Gearheart and incumbent Joe Ellington, all Republicans, represent the party’s hopes to retain the three seats in the 27th.
Incumbent John Shott is retiring and GOP voters were bright enough to.”retire” the other incumbent, controversial Eric Porterfield.
Now, the entire GOP doesn’t have to live with Porterfield’s prejudiced opinions.
Lone Democrat nominee Tina Russell had a genuine chance if Republicans nominated Porterfield. Without him, her enthusiasm and hard work will likely keep her close but I expect the three Republicans to win.
To be continued ….
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Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or email@example.com. Hear his political commentary at 7 a.m., Mondays on the Tom Roten Morning Show on NewsRadio 800, WVHU, Huntington.