West Virginia Republican Party Picks Mark Harris of Raleigh County as New Chairman
CHARLESTON — West Virginia Republican Party leaders selected Raleigh County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Mark Harris to lead the Grand Old Party as Republicans begin 2021 on the upswing — but not before having their own election issues.
Members of the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee met Saturday afternoon at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center to select a new chair.
Nominations were made for Harris, a healthcare executive and a minister at Memorial Baptist Church in Beckley, and former state party chairman Conrad Lucas.
Harris said he was excited to lead the state party into the 2022 and 2024 elections.
“It is thrilling quite honestly to be able to work with my colleagues in the Republican Party as we move forward,” Harris said Saturday after the nearly four-hour meeting. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re going to make things better for all West Virginians and all Americans.”
Harris was chief of staff at the Beckley VA Medical Center from 2017 to 2019. He was dismissed from that role after an investigation resulted in sexual assault charges against a former doctor at the facility. Jonathan Yates was sentenced to 300 months in federal prison after admitting performing sexual acts on patients.
Harris directly addressed his removal in his remarks to committee members Saturday after emails circulated to committee members included information about the scandal and Harris’ removal.
“A person who worked for me engaged in serious misconduct and was removed,” Harris said. “Shortly thereafter I was replaced as chief of staff and currently I am retired. However, this election is not about me. It’s also not about you … it’s about us. It’s about the Republican Party of West Virginia.
Lucas, twice an unsuccessful candidate for the 3rd Congressional District House of Representatives seat, served as party chairman from 2012-18, stepping down to run in the Republican primary. Lucas is an attorney, lobbyist and political consultant, working with Woody Thrasher’s unsuccessful Republican campaign for governor in 2020.
Saturday’s meeting had 113 members in attendance, with 23 proxies for missing committee members. After an initial roll call vote was requested, Harris defeated Lucas 57-55 with one member abstaining. But after some members complained of having different vote counts from the secretary, a motion to retabulate the vote was made.
During discussion of the motion, it was revealed that the secretary only counted the individual votes but didn’t record who was making each vote. After the outcome of the retabulation motion was made, a new motion was made to have a second roll call vote for chairman, this time with the secretary recording how each member voted. The second roll call vote resulted in Harris defeating Lucas again in a 56-53 vote.
Harris replaces former state party chairwoman Melody Potter, who resigned in January citing the health of her parents. Potter replaced Lucas after a vote by the Republican Executive Committee on Jan. 6, 2018.
Roman Stauffer, the co-chairman of the Republican Executive Committee, served as acting chairman until Saturday’s vote. Stauffer, a longtime Republican organizer, was the campaign manager for Gov. Jim Justice in 2020.
A source within the Governor’s Office who declined to be identified confirmed Saturday that Justice met with both Stauffer and Harris last week to unify behind Harris as party chairman, believing Harris to be the best person to lead the party forward.
The West Virginia Republican Party is sitting tall in 2021, with 445,132 registered voters, making up 37.1 percent of all registered voters compared to 435,694 (36.3 percent) registered voters with the Democratic Party — the first time Republicans have had a plurality in the state since the Great Depression.
Harris said he plans to help continue to build the West Virginia Republican Party on the foundations built by hundreds of volunteers, activists, and elected officials.
“Quite honestly, I owe that to the people who came before me,” Harris said. “A lot of great people have done really good work over the years and it’s up to us to add to the work they’ve already done.”