Gregory’s Web for September 13, 2020
by Ron Gregory
Politics can be intriguing, which I suppose is one reason I’ve been fascinated for more than 50 years.
There are well-connected political observers who have long believed that U.S. Senator Joe Manchin is a prime example of one who cares only about himself.
One ex-public official, for whom I have the utmost respect, insists that Manchin actually prefers to see other Democrats in West Virginia lose because that helps keep him at the top of the pecking order.
There’s no doubt the Senator is the most recognized leader among state Democrats. That takes nothing from State Democrat Chair Belinda Biafore or State Treasurer John Perdue. But if one is looking for the state Democrat “leader,” he or she is looking for Manchin.
The Senator would be expected to support the Democrat ticket, even when he’s not running. My ex-official friend says Manchin pays lip service to support fellow Democrats “but never actually does a thing for them.”
But one must say the Senator has been pumped up for Democrat gubernatorial nominee Ben Salango from the get-go. Manchin and Perdue more or less toured the state during the primary with Salango. One might call their level of support for a contested primary unprecedented.
Manchin was said to have encouraged Salango, a Kanawha County Commissioner, to run in the first place. Perdue, who makes much of his Boone County roots, went for Salango despite the fact that another Boone Countian, State Senator Ron Stollings, was also seeking the Democrat gubernatorial nomination.
It’s fairly evident that Manchin feels betrayed by Justice. After all, the Senator recruited Justice, then a Democrat, to run in 2016. Among other insults Justice tossed at Manchin, he unceremoniously discharged Gayle Manchin as West Virginia Secretary of Education and the Arts in March 2018. Gayle Manchin is the Senator’s wife and former First Lady when her husband served as Governor.
After rumors circulated that Joe Manchin would leave the Senate and return to run for governor himself, he openly courted Justice as his replacement candidate when he decided against running. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin was term limited from seeking re-election in 2016.
As noted, Justice was a Democrat then and most political observers considered the Manchin support a major factor in his victory while some questioned his party loyalty even then.
It didn’t take long for Justice to appear in Huntington at a Trump rally to announce his registration switch to the GOP. That didn’t sit well with Manchin and the firing of his wife capped the parting of the ways.
Some pundits are surprised that Manchin is standing so strongly with Salango. In my opinion, it’s another case of motivation more by dislike for Justice than love for Salgango.
What else could explain Manchin ripping the Governor for proposing to “co-sponsor” grant applications that Justice and others say will help spread broadband service across West Virginia?
While not opposing such expansion, the Senator ripped Justice for his optimism and said the Governor’s plan will help nothing. He didn’t say it would hurt the growth of broadband, so why criticize the Governor for trying to get something moving?
One state political writer called Salango “a proxy candidate” for Manchin. Most think the Manchins would rather be in the Governor’s Mansion than D.C. That may be true but the politics didn’t work out that way.
Justice still has the support of former State Democrat Chair and Manchin confidante, Larry Puccio. So Manchin and Puccio, a political genius while still close friends with Manchin, have a grudge match going for governor this year. The safe bet is on Justice and Puccio.
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Whoever does the polling that convinces Justice opponents that his tardy bill and tax paying will damage him must convince challengers to dismiss obvious facts.
In 2016, Justice was hammered by his primary and general election opponents for not paying his bills. He won both races.
The outstanding tax bills were brought up repeatedly by his Republican primary opponents this year. He won.
Now Salango is blanketing the airwaves with commercials telling us … (trumpets blasting please) … that the Governor is a slow bill and tax payer.
Wow! That should wrap it up. I never learned the political adage, “if it doesn’t work, just keep trying it over and over and ….”
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One state legislator who has worked long and hard for broadband extension is Cabell County’s Daniel Linville.
While not getting into the Manchin-Justice feud, Linville appeared with fellow legislators when the Governor announced his plan.
A former Republican State Senator, Chris Walters, worked tirelessly during his tenure in the legislature on broadband expansion as well.
Those like Linville and Walters see Internet availability as the key to the state’s economic future.
They point out that a major weakness of in-home schooling during the Covid-19 crisis is that in rural counties, few students even have access to the Internet. Thus, distance learning is impossible.
Regardless of whether Justice’s plan works or not, voters would be wise to re-elect Linville and give Walters a term he’s seeking in the House of Delegates this year.
Those two are dedicated to bringing West Virginia up to speed in terms of modern communications.
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The broadband squabble is not the only public criticism Manchin has saved for Justice. The Senator has accused the Governor of misspending earlier Covid relief funds in addition to other sharp criticism.
Interestingly, in light of his vocal support for Salango, State Treasurer Perdue was among the few Democrats present when Justice announced his broadband plans.
I mentioned last week that Wayne County Democrat Senator Bob Plymale attended and was liberal in his praise for Justice. Plymale has always identified himself as a moderate Democrat. At times, statehouse rumors have had him switching to Republican.
Republican Auditor J.B. McCuskey was also there along with Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael, Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, Democrat Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso and Democrat House Minority Leader Tim Miley.
Neither Prezioso nor Miley are running for re-election. Their terms will end in January.
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Or maybe their terms will end in December. That appears to be what the constitution (remember that old thing?) says but some have not taken office until January.
The new legislator does not begin his or her new term until sworn in. Some have waited until January to do that, leaving their predecessors to enjoy the December perks of office.
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Manchin’s lengthy comments on Justice’s broadband plans caused political writer Steven Allen Adams of the Parkersburg News and Sentinel to point out that Manchin’s broadband experience as governor was not universally applauded either.
Adams brought up several questionable decisions and expenditures on broadband during the years Manchin was governor.
It might be noted that Adams writes for Ogden Newspapers, a traditionally conservative Republican group headquartered in Wheeling.
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In addition to my preference for Governor, Erika Kolenich, the state Libertarian party is fielding other candidates whose names will appear on 2020 ballots.
In State Senate District 4, Libertarian Loyd Butcher says he is gearing up for his race with Republican Amy Nichole Grady and Democrat Bruce Ashworth.
The background in this Jackson-Mason-Putnam County district has all the elements for an exciting outcome.
This is the district where Grady “upset” Republican Senate President Carmichael in the primary. I emphasize “upset” since the outcome didn’t surprise readers of this column. We had been declaring Grady the likely winner for weeks.
Adding to the intrigue, House Delegate Jim Butler, a far-right Republican, gave up his relatively safe seat to run in the primary with Grady and Carmichael.
Thus, Grady, a Mason County school teacher, became the giant slayer by defeating two incumbent legislators. The district is certainly Republican leaning.
Now, she “only” needs to defeat Democrat Bruce Ashworth to become a state senator.
It might not be as easy as it sounds, particularly if Butcher gets his conservative message out.
I’m not silly enough to think Libertarian Butcher is going to win. But factors are clearly shaping up that could change this GOP seat to Democrat.
Let’s face it. Butler and Carmichael, along with their loyal supporters, are not enthusiastic about Grady. After all, she just ended, at least temporarily, their legislative careers.
Butler likely has a political future although his take-no-prisoners attitude led to his third place finish in the primary. His supporters could decide that a Grady win is detrimental to Butler’s future. They may either vote for Butcher or Ashworth. Or they might just stay home, costing Grady traditional Republican votes. Carmichael and his fans likewise will not beat the bushes for Grady.
Since Grady generally sides with her fellow teachers, she is not the darling of far right wingers anyway. Home school advocates say Grady opposes that educational form.
If her pro-union, anti-home school positions become a big factor, Butcher will siphon some votes from Grady. He is a huge proponent of home schooling.
Ashworth is definitely far left and makes his appeal to Bernie Sanders types. He is out of step with 4th District voters although maybe not as far as many think. After all, Carmichael defeated Democrat Brian Prim four years ago by just 900 votes out of 43,000 cast. And that was with the Trump tidal wave behind all GOP candidates.
So, this is one seat Democrats could pick up. We’re going to keep our eyes on it.
In that three-way Republican primary in June, Grady won with 39% of the vote. It’s crucial for her to now attract Carmichael and Butler conservatives.
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I’ve never really thought it fair to compare one person to another. I am regularly told, for example, that I remind readers of Fanny Seller, former statehouse columnist/reporter at UPI and The Charleston Gazette.
I scoff at that. I don’t come close to Seiler nor does any other active journalist. Columns by Seiler were so craved (and feared) by public officials that cars lined up on Virginia Street at midnight Sunday to grab the latest edition in the corner box.
Few crowds ever clamored for my writing. And I haven’t seen the Pulitzer Prize winning Gazette-Mail create a huge gathering on that corner since Seller left.
I do the best I can. So do others. But we’ll not compare to Richard Grimes, Bob Mellace or Seller. We will just keep trying.
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Republican Larry Pack is emphasizing faith in his ads for the House 35th District. That certainly sounds more inclusive than the old “I’m a Christian” slogans some have used.
Additionally, I like the fact that the announcer on the ads says “Kanawha” correctly. It’s two syllables (Kan-awe”) to a native; not the painful-sounding Kan-awe-WAH.
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Now to District 45 in our early look at state House races. Republican Carl Martin presently serves there. He escaped a tough primary and is unopposed in the general.
Another Republican Martin, Patrick represents the 46th District. He filed to run for State Senate against Democrat Doug Facemire in District 12.
Patrick Martin’s retirement from the House leaves my friend, Democrat Robert Stultz as the Democrat nominee and Adam Burkhammer carrying the Republican banner. It’s another possible Democrat pick up with Stultz.
Republican Chris Phillips represents the 47th District. He is facing Democrat Ed Larry in the general. The incumbent is favored.
District 48 is now served by three Republicans and Democrat Tim Miley, who is retiring. The Republicans currently are Terry Waxman, Danny Hamrick and Ben Queen. Hamrick and Queen are running for re-election. Waxman did not file.
Joining Hamrick and Queen are Laura Kimble and Clay Riley. Democrats nominated Ryan Deems, Robert Garcia, Richard Iaquinta and Josh Maxwell.
This race has a Mountain Party candidate, Steve Hamilton and Libertarian Will Hyman.
Iaquinta, a former delegate, gives Democrats a real shot at holding their one seat. Waxman’s retirement might open the door for a Democrat gain of one. Queen is the clear favorite and Hamrick should also win.
Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or email@example.com. Hear his political commentary at 7 a.m., each Monday on the Tom Roten Morning Show on NewsRadio 800, WVHU, Huntington.