Platform Meeting For GOP Alone

WHEELING – Members of the Ohio County Republican Executive Committee asked non-GOP members to leave Thursday night as they planned to discuss the West Virginia GOP’s platform during a meeting in Wheeling.

The platform hearing was held as part of a meeting of the Mountaineers for Responsible Government group, which includes members who are also conservative Democrats and Independents. In the end, an agreement was reached to allow non-Republicans to stay and listen to the proceedings – but not to participate in discussion regarding the platform.

About 25 people attended the event at St. John’s Evangelical Church in Wheeling. The church did not sponsor the political-related event.

Mountaineers for Responsible Government had agreed to host the GOP platform meeting discussion after being asked by Hancock County Republican Party Chairman Patrick McGeehan, but members said Thursday they misunderstood the intention of the forum.

At the start of the Mountaineers for Responsible Government meeting, Sally Wells-Ezell, county party treasurer, stood up and announced executive party members had been informed by state party leaders earlier in the day that no non-Republicans could be present for the GOP platform discussion – and that all non-Republicans should leave.

Jerry Stephens of Mountaineers for Responsible Government took offense at the request, saying he would not ask any members to leave.

“The way this was addressed to me, this was to be an open meeting,” Stephens said. “I’m suggesting if you don’t need us, we don’t need you.”

Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, is chairman of the state Republican platform committee. He said he has presided over a total of nine such meetings in the state, and could assume more than one Democrat had been present at the forums, and “that was fine.”

“The way we deal, we listen to the majority of those at the meeting,” Overington said. “If we’re all conservatives, we basically think Republican.”

County Executive Committee member Greta Swann called Overington a “hypocrite” for his statement, claiming he sent prior e-mails critical of members’ support for Democrat candidates. Ohio County GOP Chairwoman Elgine McArdle was not present at the gathering.

“You’re opening yourselves up to Democratic ideas, and not defending GOP ideas,” Swann added.

Robert Barker of Mountaineers for Responsible Government stood up to say while he has been a Democrat for 30 years, he does have conservative ideals.

“If you don’t want me to help, I’ll leave,” he said.

McGeehan sought to bring accord to the group.

“We need to stick together and cause no unnecessary controversy among conservatives,” he said. “We don’t want to divide – but to unite – come November.”

Jim Swann of the Ohio County Republican Executive Committee said he didn’t want to see anyone leave.

“But if you are a Democrat and you are here, why aren’t you a Republican?” he said.

Stephens continued to become irate.

“You come here as our guests – but apparently the membership can’t be involved,” he said. “I’m about to tell you if you are going to have a meeting, then you’re going to have to have it somewhere else.”

McGeehan and Overington met in the hallway with those on both sides to reach an agreement about how the meeting should next proceed. While they talked, Brian Savilla, GOP candidate for secretary of state, and Kent Leonhardt, a Republican seeking the commissioner of agriculture office, spoke to those present.

McGeehan returned to say non-Republicans could stay to observe and listen to the GOP platform discussion, but could not participate. Most present exited after the first half-hour, as Republicans continued to debate the pre-amble to their platform.