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It’s Party Time in West Virginia

For the last week or so, “party” has been the key word as West Virginia celebrates 159 years as a state, as I celebrate four years as your state government reporter in Charleston, and as both political parties make news for good and ill.

I was expecting more drama from the West Virginia Democratic Executive Committee when they had a vote on June 18 for a new chair and vice chair. But despite numerous technology issues, the party faithful selected Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, as chair and Delegte Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, as vice chair.

I won’t dwell too much on this, as it is old news and I wrote about the vote that weekend. Pushkin is certainly the most progressive chair in some time. I’d say at least the last three Democratic Party chairs have been individuals close to former governor and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

However, the Democratic Party is heading more leftward nationally, and what’s left of the state Democratic Party base is heading more leftward as well. Pushkin might be a progressive, but his experience being in the Legislature since 2015 — the year the Republicans took the majority — has prepared him for his new role. He knows when to pick a battle over a progressive ideal and when to take a more subdued approach.

Based on what I’ve seen recently in regards to infighting among various subcommittees in the state Democratic Party, the state executive committee could have possibly picked someone far more to the left of Pushkin who could have caused more havoc. Pushkin might be a progressive, but he is a progressive the remaining moderates can work with.

I often tell people that West Virginia has the majority in Republican voter registrations, the supermajorities in the state Senate and House of Delegates, Gov. Jim Justice and all of the Board of Public Works seats, and all of the state’s congressional seats but one (Manchin) despite of the county and state Republican executive committees, not because of them.

My point is if the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee ran a campaign like it runs its internal operations, I’m not sure that candidate could win.

For example: As I reported last week, WVREC Chairman Mark Harris announced he will not seek a full four-year term as chairman when the committee meets July 30 in Charleston. But he will not resign before then as has been demanded by John Findlay, the party’s executive director, and unnamed officers of the committee.

Why has he been asked to resign? Good question. No one has stated publicly what was so inappropriate that his fellow officers and the executive director felt they needed to reach out to another media outlet two hours before midnight on a Saturday and drop a story calling for Harris’ resignation. I’m only aware of the allegations through various third parties, but no one directly connected has been willing to go on the record — or even background — to say what Harris did.

No doubt that Harris has baggage. Last year, he only won to fill the remainder of former chairwoman Melody Potter’s term after two votes (and there is some question as to whether he truly won the first vote), and both of those totals were narrow. He never had a clear mandate and it is likely he was always a seat warmer for someone else down the road. Harris only won due to Brian Abraham, Gov. Jim Justice’s chief of staff, whipping votes.

Harris’ only real notoriety came from being dismissed from the Beckley VA Medical Center as its chief of staff in 2019 due to his handling of an incident that led to charges against a doctor for sexual assault. As one committee member told me, you have to really be a screwup to get fired from the VA. I’m not even sure anyone in management at the Clarksburg VA Medical Center was fired after Reta Mays was convicted of multiple murders at the facility while working as a nurse.

So, if the unknown allegations against Harris are so bad but Harris won’t leave the chairmanship before July 30, why doesn’t the state executive committee hold an emergency meeting to oust Harris prior to July 30? Because ultimately the powers that be got what they wanted, which was to remove Harris as an obstacle next month.

It seems to me this could have been done by simply finding a better candidate for chair and letting the election work. That would have avoided the needless vague charges and allowed everyone to save face. Once again, the state Republican Executive Committee looks bad in its handling of this.

Again, this week marks four years with Ogden Newspapers and covering your state and federal government for you. I’ve been mostly non-stop since starting. If you recall, my first day on the job four years ago was the first day the Legislature gaveled in for the impeachment special session of the entire West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. That feels like ages ago now.

I haven’t worked a day since then. I continue to enjoy every minute providing you breaking news from Charleston and in-depth pieces every weekend plus this weekly column that takes you inside my head as I cover all of these issues. I’m thankful every day for Ogden Newspapers for allowing me to do this, as well as the new “Mountain State Views” podcast I host.

If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.


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