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West Virginia Primary: Democrats pick Kanawha Commissioner Ben Salango to take on GOP Governor Jim Justice

 Environmental activist Paula Jean Swearingen wins Democratic U.S. Senate nomination

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — West Virginia Democrats have selected Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango to take on party-switching Republican Governor Jim Justice in November.

Salango won Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary with 39 percent to 33 percent for Stephen Smith, a community organizer and former executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. State Senator Ron Stollings came in third with 14 percent.

Salango addresses supporters in Charleston (From WOWK via YouTube)

“Tomorrow morning, we get to work, and we’re going to win the general election,” Salango told supporters at his victory rally in Charleston. “I’ll be a governor who gets things done. I’ll be a governor who shows up and puts public service ahead of self-serving.”

Justice easily won the Republican primary, carrying 63 percent of the vote against three challengers.

The race against Justice will be a grudge match for Democrats, after the governor infuriated them by jumping to the GOP just seven months after taking office in 2017 — and adding insult to injury by announcing the switch on stage at a rally with President Donald Trump.

Salango had the backing of a slew of labor and teachers unions and was also endorsed by Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who had flirted with running against Justice himself before deciding to take a pass. Smith ran a more grassroots campaign, using the slogan “WV Can’t Wait.”

Also on Tuesday in the primary for U.S. Senate, Democrats selected environmental activist Paula Jean Swearingen, to face Republican U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

Swearingen took 38 percent to 33 percent for former State Senator Richard Ojeda, an outspoken retired Army officer who lost a race for Congress in 2018 and then launched a quixotic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination that failed to gain traction. Coming in third was Richie Robb, the former mayor of South Charleston, at 29 percent.

In 2018, Swearingen ran in the Democratic primary against the state’s other senator, Democrat Joe Manchin, taking 30 percent of the vote. That campaign was profiled in a Netflix documentary “Knock Down The House.”

Capito will be a heavy favorite in November, given the Mountain State’s strong GOP tilt in federal elections.

West Virginia does not have primary runoffs, which means that the leading vote-getter in both the governor’s and Senate races is the nominee.

Also on Tuesday, State Senate President Mitch Carmichael was defeated in the GOP primary by Amy Nichole Grady, a teacher from Leon. Legislative leaders have been at odds with state teachers over pay and education funding, which led to two strikes by teachers.

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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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West Virginia Governor Jim Justice switches from Democrat to Republican

Governor makes dramatic announcement at Donald Trump rally

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

HUNTINGTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Just nine months after winning West Virginia’s top job as a Democrat, Governor Jim Justice has switched to the Republican Party, telling his voters that “I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor.”

Governor Jim Justice

Justice made his announcement in the most public way possible — at August 3 campaign-style Donald Trump rally in Huntington, with the president looking on. And the newly minted Republican, a longtime friend of Trump and his family, offered an unqualified endorsement of his new party’s standard-bearer.

“This man is a good man. He’s got a backbone,” Justice said. “He’s got real ideas. He cares about America. He cares about us in West Virginia.”

Trump carried West Virginia by 42 points in November, his biggest margin of victory in any state except Wyoming, at the same time Justice was keeping the statehouse in Charleston in Democratic hands.

However, Justice told the crowd in Huntington that the decision to bolt to the GOP also stemmed from a dispute he had with Democrats in the legislature after a tax plan he crafted with Republican help went down to defeat.

“At the altar, when we had it done, like or or not, but the Democrats walked away from me,” he said.

In response to Justice’s announcement, West Virginia Democratic chairwoman Belinda Biafore issued a statement accusing the governor of caring more about his own political future than the people of his state.

“During his campaign for governor, Jim Justice said he would never lie to the public; he said he would never be a politician, and he would definitely be a full-time governor. None of those promises were kept,” she said.

“Jim Justice took advantage of Democrats by taking our money and our votes. It’s a slap in the face to all of us who believed in what he was promising. I never thought I would see Jim Justice be anyone’s puppet. Shame on him.”

Republicans control both house of the West Virginia legislature, which means Justice will now be titular head of a party that has complete control of state government for the first time since at least 1931.

Justice, noting that his late parents were both “staunch Republicans,” said he imagined that his mother was in heaven “saying ‘Jimmy, it’s about damn time you came to your senses.”

He also took a shot at those focusing on the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, which has been dominating the conversation in Washington.

“Haven’t we heard enough about the Russians?” Justice said, drawing thunderous applause from the pro-Trump crowd. “I mean, to our God in heaven above, think about it. The stock market’s at 22,000. And this country has hope. And we’re on our way.”

Like Trump, Justice, 66, was a billionaire businessman with no political experience before being elected, a fact the governor also noted while announcing his switch.

“This man and myself are not politicians. We ran to get something done,” he said. “We ran because we want nothing. We ran as our Founding Fathers did years and years ago, to serve.”

A sitting governor changing parties during his term in office is extraordinarily rare. The only recent precedent was former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who switched from Republican to independent in 2010 during an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senator. Crist is now a Democratic member of the U.S. House.

Justice’s switch means that Democrats now hold just three of 14 Southern governorships, in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia. Nationwide, Republicans hold the governor’s office in 34 states, matching their all time high.

Governor: North Carolina still up for grabs; Democrats keep West Virginia

Cooper declares victory in North Carolina, but McCrory refuses to concede; Justice has easy win in West Virginia

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

election-central-16(CFP) –Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper has claimed victory in the North Carolina governor’s race, holding an tiny, unofficial  4,700-vote lead over Governor Pat McCrory with provisional ballots still to be counted.

McCrory, however, is refusing to concede, pending counting of those ballots and a full canvass of the vote.

Meanwhile, in the only other Southern governor’s race this year, in West Virginia, Jim Justice, a billionaire coal mine owner, defeated Republican State Senate President Bill Cole by a margin of 49-42 percent to win an open seat.

Pat McCrory

Pat McCrory

Roy Cooper

Roy Cooper

In North Carolina, Cooper, who had trailed for most of the night, declared victory after late-reporting returns from Durham County put him ahead of McCrory.

“Because of your hard work, we have won this race for everyone in North Carolina,” Cooper told jubilant supporters in Raleigh. “This has been a hard-fought race, but the people of North Carolina have spoken, and they want a change in leadership.”

But McCrory refused to concede defeat, specifically mentioning the late Durham County vote as a concern. He said he would wait until seeing the results of the official canvasses in the state’s 100 counties, which won’t be completed until November 18.

“We’re going to check everything,” he told supporters at a Republican election night party in Raleigh. “We’re going to make sure every vote counts in North Carolina.”

The margin between Cooper and McCrory is less than one-tenth of 1 percent, small enough to allow McCrory to request a full recount under state law.

McCrory rode a GOP wave into office in 2012, but the Republican-controlled legislature’s passage of a controversial voter ID law and measures favored by religious conservatives made the governor a lightning rod.

The issue that has dominated the race was McCrory’s decision to sign a law requiring transgendered students to use bathrooms that match their gender of birth, rather than their gender of identity, in public facilities.

McCrory continued to defend the law, even after a number of businesses scuttled expansion plans and the NCAA, NBA and ACC pulled events from the state.

Cooper not only opposed the measure, but he also refused to defend it in court when students and the federal government took legal action to overturn it.

Jim Justice

Jim Justice

In West Virginia, Justice’s win was good news for Democrats, who have seen their once dominant hold on state politics slipping away. He won the governorship even as Donald Trump was thumping Hillary Clinton 65-29 percent in the Mountaineer State.

Speaking to supporters at the famed Greenbrier result in White Sulphur Springs, which he owns, Justice pulled out a speech from his pocket and began to read, only to discover that it was a concession speech.

Pulling a victory speech from his other pocket, he said, “We won.”

“I can tell you I’ll work as tirelessly as I possibly can,” Justice said. “We will give it everything we have.”

The seat was open because Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin was term-limited.

Voters in North Carolina, West Virginia to pick governors

GOP’s McCrory tries to stay alive in North Carolina; Justice, Cole battle for open seat in West Virginia

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

election-central-16(CFP) — Voters in North Carolina and West Virginia are picking governors in the November 8 election, with polls showing tight races in both states.

In North Carolina, incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is running for a second term against Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper in what has become the nation’s most watched — and most expensive — gubernatorial battle.

Coooper

Coooper

McCrory

McCrory

McCrory rode a GOP wave into office in 2012, but the Republican-controlled legislature’s passage of a controversial voter ID law and measures favored by religious conservatives have made the governor a lightning rod.

The issue that has dominated the race is McCrory’s decision to sign a law requiring transgendered students to use bathrooms that match their gender of birth, rather than their gender of identity.

McCrory has continued to defend the law, even after a number of businesses scuttled expansion plans and the NCAA, NBA and ACC pulled events from the state.

Cooper not only opposed the measure, but he also refused to defend it in court when students and the federal government took legal action to overturn it.

Justice

Justice

Cole

Cole

In West Virginia, Democrats who have seen their once dominant hold on state politics slip away are hoping to revive their fortunes with Jim Justice, a billionaire coal mine owner best known for his efforts to revive the state’s famed Greenbrier Resort.

He faces Republican State Senate President Bill Cole, who an auto dealer from Bluefield who became leader of the chamber in 2015 after the GOP captured a Senate majority for the first time in 83 years.

This seat is open because Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is term-limited. A Republican has not been elected governor in the Mountaineer State since 1996.

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