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U.S. Senator Joe Manchin won’t try to reclaim job as West Virginia governor

Decision removes a significant obstacle to Republican Governor Jim Justice’s path to re-election

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — After toying for months with the idea of leaving the U.S. Senate for another shot at West Virginia’s governorship, Democrat Joe Manchin has announced he will not run against Republican Governor Jim Justice in 2020.

The decision deprives Democrats of the most formidable candidate they had to defeat Justice, who bolted to the GOP shortly after winning election as a Democrat in 2016.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin

In a September 3 statement announcing his decision, Manchin called the governorship, which he held from 2005 to 2010, “the best job I ever had.” But he said he decided he “couldn’t focus just on which job I enjoyed the most, but on where I could be the most effective.”

“I believe my role as U.S. Senator allows me to position our state for success for the rest of this century,” he said.

Manchin also went out of his way to mention President Donald Trump, an popular figure in the Mountaineer State who campaigned against his re-election in 2018 and will likely pull out all of the tops for Justice next year.

“As I have done since coming to Washington, I will work with the President to accomplish what best serves our state and our country, and I will speak truth to power when I don’t agree with the path the President has chosen to take,” he said. “That is what West Virginians elected me to do.”

Manchin’s decision came just days after the West Virginia Metro News published a poll showing him with a 10-point lead over Justice in a hypothetical match-up.

The senator has won two statewide contests for governor and three for Senate, surviving in 2018 despite Trump’s vocal support for his Republican opponent, in a state the president carried by 40 points in 2016.

With Manchin out, Democrats in West Virginia have a thin bench of possibilities to take on Justice.

Manchin is the only Democrat holding federal office, Republicans control both houses of the legislature, and the only Democrat holding statewide office is State Treasurer John Perdue, who is running for re-election to his seventh term.

While Manchin’s decision not to run clears a major hurdle for Justice, the governor is facing at least two Republican primary challengers. Pro- and anti-Justice factions have been battling for control of the state party, and the governor’s business dealings have also come under scrutiny, including questions about conflicts of interest and delinquent taxes.

Justice, 68, a billionarie who had never held elected office before winning the governorship, is thought to be the state’s wealthiest individual, with interests in coal mining and agribusiness. He also owns the famed Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs.

In 2015, he switched his party registration from Republican to Democrat to run for governor. Less than seven months after being elected, he announced he was switching parties during a rally with Trump.

The White House has signaled the president’s support for Justice, sending two key aides to West Virginia to advise his campaign.

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4 Southern GOP senators defy Trump on border emergency; North Carolina’s Thom Tillis makes about face to support president

Rubio, Paul, Wicker and Alexander break with Trump in voting to overturn emergency declaration

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of four Southern Republicans and all four Southern Democrats, the U.S. Senate has voted to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to find money for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis

But one GOP senator who had come out publicly in favor of overturning the declaration — Thom Tillis of North Carolina — reversed course and voted no, after intense lobbying from the White House and an avalanche of criticism from Trump partisans back home.

Trump has vowed to veto the resolution overturning the declaration, which passed by a 59-41 margin in the Republican-controlled Senate on March 14. The House passed it in late February by a vote of 254-182.

However, opponents of the declaration do not have enough support in either House to override Trump’s veto, which will be the first of his presidency.

The four Southern Republicans who broke the with president were Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

All four Southern Democrats in the Senate also voted yes — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Doug Jones of Alabama.

Frustrated by the unwillingness of the Democrat-controlled House to vote money for the border wall, Trump declared a national emergency on February 15, which will allow him to shift $8 billion from other federal programs and use it for wall construction. Most of the money will come from appropriations for military construction and drug interdiction.

Alexander

In a floor speech before the vote, Alexander said he objected to Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to provide border wall funding after Congress failed to appropriate the money.

“The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom,” Alexander said.

Rubio

Rubio said he agreed with Trump that an emergency exists at the border but said he objected to shifting money out of the military construction budget to finance the border barrier.

“This would create a precedent a future president may abuse to jumpstart programs like the Green New Deal, especially given the embrace of socialism we are seeing on the political left,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

Paul and Wicker also cited constitutional considerations as the reason for their vote to overturn the declaration.

Wicker

Paul

“I stand with President Trump on the need for a border wall and stronger border security, but the Constitution clearly states that money cannot be spent unless Congress has passed a law to do so,” Paul said in a statement.

Wicker said he regretted “that we were not able to find a solution that would have averted a challenge to the balance of power as defined by the Constitution.”

“The system of checks and balances established by the Founders has preserved our democracy. It is essential that we protect this balance even when it is frustrating or inconvenient,” he said in a statement.

Tillis made a splash when he published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on February 25 saying he would vote to overturn the emergency declaration because it would set a precedent that “future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”

Tillis faced an avalanche of criticism from the president’s supporters in the Tar Heel State and was facing the likelihood of a primary challenge in his 2020 re-election race.

“A lot has changed over the last three weeks — a discussion with the vice president, a number of senior administration officials … a serious discussion about changing the National Emergencies Act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future,” Tillis said.

Republican senators had considered changing the National Emergencies Act to make it more difficult to declare emergencies in the future, but the plan faltered when House Democrats came out against it.

Tillis said he concluded that the crisis at the border was sufficiently serious to warrant the emergency declaration.

“We have narcotics flooding our country, poisoning our children and adults of all ages, and a lot of it has to do with the porous border and the seemingly out of control crossings,” Tillis said.

But Democrats back home pounced on Tillis for his change of heart.

“Tillis again reminded the entire state who he is — a spineless politician who won’t keep his promises and looks out for himself instead of North Carolina,” said Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard in a statement.

Rubio and Paul do not face re-election until 2022; Wicker’s current term lasts through 2024.

Among the Democrats who voted against Trump, Jones is the only one who is running for re-election in 2020. Warner isn’t up for re-election until 2022, and Manchin and Kaine’s current terms last through 2024.

Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Democrats up for election in 2020, in a state where Trump remains popular.

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam “deeply sorry” for posing in racist costume

State GOP, Democratic leaders call on Northam to resign after 1984 photo surfaces

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam says he’s “deeply sorry” for posing in a racist costume while a medical student in 1984, after a photo surfaced Friday on a conservative website, prompting calls from both left and right for his resignation.

“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now,” the Democratic governor said in a statement issued by his office after the photo was published.

Northam poses in 1984 photo

“This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.”

Northam did not directly address his future in office, but he did say that “I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work.”

But the Republican Party  of Virginia called on the governor to resign, as did the liberal activist group Move On.org, the NAACP and at least two 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio.

“Racism has no place in Virginia,” said Jack Wilson, state GOP chairman, in a statement. “These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”

“Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government,” Harris said in tweet. “The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.”

If Northam resigns, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is African American, would take over as the commonwealth’s chief executive.

The photo was published in a yearbook for students at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, from which Northam graduated in 1984.

The yearbook page is headlined with Northam’s name and contains two pictures of Northam, along with a third photo in which one man is wearing blackface and another is dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

Northam’s statement acknowledges that one of the two men in the photo is him, although it did not say which one.

The page also contains a personal quote from Northam: “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.”

The photo first surfaced on a conservative website, Big League Politics, which did not indicate the source of the material.

Northam had come in for blistering criticism from conservatives over the past week for his comments in support of a bill in the Virginia legislature that would have made it easier for a woman to obtain a late-term abortion.

Describing a late-term abortion procedure, Northam said, “so in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

Republicans pounced, saying Northam was endorsing infanticide, a charge the governor denied.

Northam, 59, grew up on a farm on Virginia’s southeastern shore. After graduating from medical school, Northam served as a physician in the Army before entering private practice as a pediatric neurologist.

He was elected as governor in 2017, after serving a term as lieutenant governor and six years in the Virginia Senate. In his four election campaigns for state office, the yearbook photo never surfaced.

Fairfax, 39, was elected lieutenant governor in 2017, after making an unsuccessful run for attorney general in 2013.

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8 Southerners named to panel to hash out deal on border security

Conference committee will have until February 15 to reach agreement to avoid another shutdown

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Congressional leaders have named eight Southerners to a 17-member conference committee that will try to come up with a border security compromise to avoid another government shutdown on February 15.

Six Republicans and two Democrats from the South were named to the joint House-Senate panel, which was set up to hash out an agreement after legislation to reopen the government passed on January 26.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby

The list of Senate conferees includes Richard Shelby of Alabama and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, both Republicans. None of the four Southern Democrats who serve in the Senate were selected.

On the House side, all four of the GOP conferees are from the South — Kay Granger of Texas, Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, Tom Graves of Georgia, and Steve Palazzo of Mississippi.

Two Southern Democrats are among the six Democrats picked for the panel by House Speaker Nancy PelosiDavid Price of North Carolina and Henry Cuellar of Texas.

The conference committee has seven members from the Senate (four Republicans and three Democrats) and 10 members from the House (six Democrats and four Republicans.)

All of the Southern members on the conference committee serve on either the House or Senate appropriations committee, which controls federal spending.

Shelby is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Granger is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which is controlled by Democrats.

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders agreed to reopen the government until February 15 in order to come up with a compromise on funding for border security.

Trump has asked for $5.7 billion to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, an idea which Democratic leaders oppose.

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West Virginia U.S. Senator Joe Manchin breaks with party to support Kavanaugh confirmation

Manchin’s decision all but ensures that President Trump’s nominee will get seat on U.S. Supreme Court

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia says he will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the only Senate Democrat to break with his party to support President Trump’s embattled nominee.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin

Manchin’s decision virtually ensures that Kavanuagh will be confirmed when the Senate takes a final vote on the nomination, a week after the jurist angrily denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a girl when they were teenagers in the 1980s.

The vote on the nomination was delayed a week while the FBI investigated the allegations.

In a statement announcing his decision, Manchin said he has “reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing.”

“My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced sexual assault,” Manchin said. “However, based on all the information I have available to me, including the recently concluded FBI report, I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him.”

But Machin also said he hoped Kavanaugh “would not let the partisan nature this process took follow him on to the court.”

After supporting Kavanaugh in a procedural vote, Manchin had to make he way past a crowd of angry protestors inside the Capitol.

Machin is the only Democratic senator to support Kavanaugh. His vote became more important for the confirmation after one of the Senate’s 51 Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced that she would vote no.

Four other Southern Democrats opposed the nomination — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Doug Jones of Alabama. All 23 Southern Republicans supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Machin — running for re-election in November in a state Trump carried by 40 points in 2016 — was under considerable pressure to back Kavanaugh.  He previously supported Trump’s first nominee to the court, Neil Gorsuch.

Polls have consistently shown Manchin with a lead over his Republican opponent, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

On Twitter, Morrisey accused Manchin of making “a craven political calculation” in supporting Kavanaugh and said he “owes West Virginia an apology for watching, doing nothing, as Democrats sought to destroy Judge Kavanaugh.”

Nelson and Kaine are also up for re-election in November; Warner and Jones will be on the ballot in 2020.

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Blow against corruption or power grab? West Virginia House impeaches entire Supreme Court

Senate removal of justices could allow Governor Jim Justice to cement GOP majority on court

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHALRESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — West Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Delegates has voted to impeach all four members of the Supreme Court of Appeals over allegations of overspending and mismanagement — a move that could cement GOP control of state’s highest court.

The House approved 11 articles of impeachment against Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Robin Davis, Beth Walker and Allen Loughry on August 13. The Senate will now decide whether to convict and remove the justices from office.

Republicans hold 23 of 34 seats in the Senate, one seat short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to remove the justices.

Justice Robin Davis announces her resignation (YouTube)

However, after the impeachment vote, Davis resigned to deprive Republican Governor Jim Justice of the opportunity to appoint a replacement who would sit in her seat without facing election until 2020. She and Democratic leaders blasted the impeachment vote as a partisan power grab.

“The majority members (of the House) have ignored the will of the people who elected the justices of this court,” Davis said at a news conference. “They have erased the line of separation between the branches of government. In fact, the majority in the legislature is positioning to impose their own party preferences.”

Both Workman and Davis said they do not plan to resign and will answer the House’s charges in the Senate

“There is no basis for my impeachment, and I will continue to do the work, both administrative and judicial, that the people of West Virginia elected me to do,” Workman said in a statement. “I look forward to putting all the facts before the Senate in the next phase of this process.”

Republican legislative leaders insisted that removal was warranted over revelations of lavish spending and mismanagement by the justices, which triggered state and federal investigations that have led to criminal charges against two justices.

“After reviewing all the evidence available to us, it became clear that a culture of entitlement and disregard for both the law and taxpayer funds have damaged the reputation of our judicial system – and that all justices had a part in violating the public’s trust,” said Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement.

Justice Menis Ketchum resigned in July after agreeing to plead guilty to one court of mail fraud for misusing a state-owned vehicle. Loughry, who has been suspended from the bench, is facing a 22-count federal indictment in addition to charges brought by the state Judicial Investigation Commission.

Workman, Davis and Ketchum were elected to the Supreme Court as Democrats. Loughry was elected as a Republican; Walker, who was elected after the state switched to non-partisan judicial elections in 2016, is also a Republican.

Ketchum’s resignation led to a 2-to-2 partisan split on the court, pending an election this fall to fill the remainder of his term.

However, if the justices were to be impeached, the justices appointed by Justice to fill those positions who would serve until the 2020 elections because, under state law, vacancies that occur less than 85 days before an election aren’t filled until the next general election.

Davis, by resigning, beat that deadline by one day, which means her seat will also be filled in a special election this fall.

If the three remaining impeached justices are removed and replaced by Justice with members of his party, Republicans would hold at least three of the five seats — and could possibly hold them all by winning the elections for the vacant seats in November.

Justice himself was elected governor as a Democrat in 2016, switching to the GOP in August 2017.

The impeachment votes in the House against Workman, Davis and Walker were along partisan lines, although some Democrats crossed the aisle to support impeaching Loughry.

The Senate is not currently in session, and Senate leaders have not announced a plan for how to proceed with the justices’ impeachment trial.

A flip toward Republicans on the Supreme Court would be the latest bad news for West Virginia Democrats, who have seen their once tight grip of state politics unravel.

Democrats controlled the legislature for more than 80 years before losing control to Republicans in 2014 and also dominated the state’s governorship and congressional delegation.

But the Mountaineer State has experienced a pronounced Republican shift in recent years, capped off by Donald Trump’s 40-point win in 2016, his best showing in any state except Wyoming.

The GOP now holds not only the governorship, but also six of seven statewide partisan offices, a U.S. Senate seat and all three U.S. House seats.

In addition to their margin in the Senate, Republicans control the House of Delegates 64 to 36.

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Don Blankenship denied ballot slot in West Virginia U.S. Senate race

Secretary of state says “sore loser” law prevents Blankenship from running as a minor-party candidate after losing GOP primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Don Blankenship will not be allowed to run as the Constitution Party’s U.S. Senate candidate in West Virginia in November because of a state law that prohibits candidates who lose major-party primaries from making minor-party bids, the state’s top election official has decided.

Don Blankenship

The ruling by Secretary of State Mac Warner is a victory for Mountaineer State Republicans, who feared a third-party bid by Blankenship would siphon off votes from their nominee, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.

However, Blankenship has indicated he would challenge any attempt to keep him off the ballot, and Warner has already hired outside legal counsel for the expected court fight.

Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, spent a year in federal prison for violating mine safety regulations after 29 miners died in an explosion in his company’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010, the deadliest U.S. mine accident in the last 40 years.

Insisting that he was unfairly prosecuted by the Obama Justice Department, he launched a campaign for the Republican nomination for Manchin’s Senate seat. His candidacy unsettled GOP leaders, who feared his nomination would hand Manchin an easy re-election.

During the campaign, Blankenship carried on a nasty public feud with the top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, even airing a TV ad calling him “Cocaine Mitch,” a spurious charge based on a report that cocaine had been found on a ship belonging to a shipping company owned by the family of McConnell’s Chinese-American wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

President Donald Trump also intervened before the May primary, urging his supporters not to vote for Blankenship, even though he had fashioned himself as an enthusiastic supporter of the president.

After finishing third in the Republican primary, Blankenship refused to endorse Morrisey and later accepted an offer from the Constitution Party to be its nominee. Because the party is not recognized as an official party in West Virginia, Blankenship then had to collect at least 4,400 signatures to get on the ballot.

In a July 26 letter to Blankenship, Warner, a Republican, said that while Blankenship did collect enough petition signature to qualify as the Constitution Party’s candidate, his certification was being denied state law does not allow candidates who lose a primary to change their registration to run as a member of a third party.

West Virginia is one of 40 states with “sore loser” or “sour grapes” laws that prohibit primary losers from trying to run in a general election.

Blankenship’s effort to get into the general election after running into primary difficulty is not without precedent in recent U.S. Senate elections.

In 2006, then-U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut created his own party to run in the general election after losing a Democratic primary. He won in November.

In 2010, in Florida, then-Governor Charlie Crist ran for the Senate as a Republican but switched to an independent candidacy after it was clear he would be unlikely to win the GOP primary against Marco Rubio. Rubio won that race; Crist was elected to the U.S. House in 2016.

Manchin — running for re-election as a Democrat in a state Trump won by 40 points in 2016 — is at the top of the Republicans’ target list. However, recent public polling has consistently shown him with a lead over Morrisey

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