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Grand Old Party unites behind Potter

I spent my Saturday at the Greenbrier Resort covering the West Virginia State Republican Executive Committee’s annual summer meeting.

There were rumors of intrigue, of a coup against Chairwoman Melody Potter, of infighting among committee members.

At the end of the day, none of these things happened. A proposal billed as controversial by some to remove the election of delegates to the RNC Convention from the May 2020 primary ballot passed easily. Five resolutions of support for Potter were combined into one and that was adopted with seemingly no opposition.

In hindsight I can’t say I’m surprised that the summer meeting went as smoothly as it did, but I came just in case the wheels came off. The biggest controversies I saw were a lack of understanding of parliamentary procedure and a failed resolution to prevent non-affiliated voters and independents from voting in the Republican primary. More about that in a moment.

Potter has had a tough year starting in August of 2018 when she sat in the Governor’s Reception Room as Gov. Jim Justice announced his companies had paid their state tax debt (we still don’t know how much he paid or the details of the settlement).

Closer to the November 2018 midterm elections some got mad that Potter accepted campaign donations for the party from Justice and Justice officials. In January the state party through its email system announced Justice’s reelection event at the Greenbrier, which also did not sit well with some. There was also the debacle of WVGOP Day at the last week of the legislative session in March which saw a hate group slide in with a display, setting off Democratic lawmakers, and resulting in the resignation of the House’s sergeant-at-arms and an injured doorkeeper.

All missteps for sure, but Potter has a long history with the state party. She was a long-time Kanawha Count party chairwoman and served most recently as the state’s Republican National Committeewoman. She has a history of service, candidate recruitment, voter registration, and fundraising.

Her only crime to some is not shunning Justice, but when President Donald Trump encourages Justice to switch parties to Republican, has expressed public and behind-the-scenes support for Justice, and even sent some of his own campaign staff to West Virginia to help Justice get reelected, how do you completely turn your back on the guy?

There were plenty of Trump and RNC officials at the Greenbrier on Saturday. I’m told there was much working the committee members to ensure there was no movement against Potter. West Virginia is probably the most solid Trump state there is, with state and county party officials gung-ho for the president. Trump has made it clear Justice is his guy. The RNC made it clear (particularly with a tweet from RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Aug. 8) that Potter is their woman. By the time the business portion of the summer meeting happened Saturday afternoon, most of the dissent was gone.

This is a good sign going into the 2020 elections. It shows that most of the Republican leaders in the state understand that all the public infighting, the votes of no confidence, the letters released to media all make the party as a whole look disorganized and bad.

Do average voters pay attention to this stuff? Maybe not, but if some do, that’s a vote you don’t have. In this day and age, it’s nothing for a voter to go into a booth, vote only for Trump or a handful of others, and vote for no one else. Without straight-ticket voting, you need to get voters excited about your entire slate of candidates. Your party needs to be united or try to keep your disagreements behind closed doors.

Potter still has a rough road, with exiled Wood County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Rob Cornelius suing to get his chairmanship and elected committee position back. While many find Cornelius’ behavior toward Potter and her relationship with Justice abhorrent, many of the same people see his removal by Potter from his county committee a step too far. The courts will have to sort all of that out.

But with the state party giving her, in essence, a vote of confidence, the party can now sit back and watch and see if Justice can survive the May 2020 primary.

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Just quickly, but one of the resolutions that was tabled would have prohibited voters registered as non-affiliated or independents from requesting a Republican primary ballot, otherwise known as a closed primary.

I have a feeling both political party committees debate this issue every four years. It makes sense on its face: only Republicans/Democrats should be allowed to vote in a Republican/Democratic primary. Some believe that the parties play shenanigans with this process, changing their registrations to vote in the other party’s primary, then switching back.

I’m not sure that happens in large enough numbers to warrant closing off a primary completely. Especially when the fastest growing voting bloc in the state isn’t Republicans or Democrats, but un-affiliated voters. Many have left the Democratic Party, not yet willing to put that R by their name but align with Trump’s version of the party.

Fortunately, the state Republican executive committee tabled this resolution, but I imagine someone will try again in four years.

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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