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A party divided continues to stand

For those wondering if the state Republican Party is cracking, the answer is no. There is a long history of fractionalization in the state party.

The drama between Wood County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Rob Cornelius and West Virginia Republican Party Executive Committee Chairwoman Melody Potter has spilled out onto the pages of this paper.

Potter is using the state committee bylaws to remove Cornelius from his county chairmanship post. According to the WVGOP website, Cornelius has been replaced by Vice Chairman Roger Conley (who hosted a campaign town hall recently for Gov. Jim Justice).

According to an article by Parkersburg News and Sentinel reporter Evan Bevins:

“…The state committee and its chairperson can exercise authority over lower committees in relation to the filling of vacancies, tie votes for officers and ‘any other matter of business of any such committee which in the opinion of the State Executive Committee or the state chairman shall be of sufficient importance to the Republican Party to require removal from local consideration and action by the State Executive Committee.'”

Potter used that bylaw provision to remove Cornelius from his chairman post and as a member of the Wood County Republican Executive Committee, a position that is put on the primary election ballot every four years and voted on by Wood County Republicans.

This isn’t the first time that factions of the Republican Party in West Virginia took to the streets West Side Story-style. There was one heck of a rivalry between supporters of former governors Arch Moore and Cecil Underwood. Moore and granite/media mogul John Raese also openly fought each other. Even in recent years, there has been drama associated with the last several state party chairs.

This also isn’t the first time that Cornelius was pushed out. His own committee tried to oust him as chairman in 2015 after some committee members found his antics inappropriate. An arbitration meeting led by former state party chairman Conrad Lucas (a former candidate for Congress and an advisor to Democrat-turned-Republican former commerce department secretary Woody Thrasher) ruled in favor of Cornelius and restored him as chairman.

What you’re seeing now is a turf war playing out between Republican operatives connected to Lucas, the previous chair, and supporters of Potter. Her big crime? She stopped being critical of Justice after he paid off his state taxes last year and donated to the state party prior to the 2018 midterm elections.

I get it. It’s the problem I’ve talked about for a while. If you are a Republican on the county or state executive committee or simply an activist or volunteer, seeing the guy on the ballot that ran as a Democrat for governor and beat your Republican candidate probably would make your stomach turn a little and make you seethe with anger. Many feel Justice shouldn’t be welcomed into the party with open arms.

Potter certainly was a vocal opponent of Justice’s while he was a registered Democrat. But he is a Republican governor now with the blessings of President Donald Trump. She’s in a very difficult position right now. Should she publicly condemn him? Should she trumpet him as the savior of the party? And Cornelius has certainly been verbally abusive against Potter on social media and has actively worked against her since she stopped being openly critical of Justice.

How will this battle play out? We’ll just have to wait and see. It makes for good drama, but I can’t imagine your average Republican or unaffiliated voter can name an executive committee member, let alone care about inter-party squabbles.

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The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce released some poll data last week. According to the results, Justice has a 41 percent approval rating and a 51 percent approval rating. The chamber talked with 405 likely voters, giving the poll a margin of error of 5 percent.

That’s not too far off from the Morning Consult quarterly governor ranking from January-March, when Justice had a 50 percent favorable rating and 36 percent unfavorable rating. Morning Consult’s second quarter governor rankings should come out a week from today. I’ll be curious how the recent drama regarding state roads, his businesses, and residency play in the new results.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is also considering a run for governor (though I still don’t think he will do it. I think he’s keeping the field clear to give Thrasher a shot at taking Justice out in the May primary). The same chamber poll puts Manchin’s approval at 50 percent and 42 percent disapproval. The Morning Consult numbers released at April put him at 46 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable.

Manchin has had better numbers than that in the past, but he also performed worse than normal during his 2018 re-election effort. If I were Manchin, I’s stay in the Senate.

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Friday marks my one-year anniversary writing for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, and Wheeling Intelligencer/News-Register, The Weirton Daily Times, and Inter-Mountain in Elkins, and the Journal in Martinsburg. I hope we’ve done a good job giving you a front-row seat into your state government. I’ve been honored to do this and I wanted to say thanks for reading.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get ready for today’s 5 p.m. resumption of the special session on education betterment, where the state Senate will take up House Bill 206, the new omnibus bill. You’ll get the full details tomorrow morning.

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