Reporter’s Notebook: The 11th Commandment

While the late President Ronald Reagan didn’t originate it, he is often credited with what’s called the 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Apparently for some state Republican activists, this does not apply to Gov. Jim Justice.

I’ve been a little reluctant to write about the recent vote of no confidence in Justice that took place last week. Not because I like or dislike the governor. I don’t have much of a personal opinion of him, though my direct interactions with him have been pleasant.

I do, however, see some issues with the vote taken by the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee. It appears three other county Republican Executive Committees are meeting this week (two today) to discuss this very issue.

It all appears part of a behind-the-scenes movement of Republican activists who were left in the cold after state Republican Party Chairman Melody Potter cleaned house after former chairman Conrad Lucas stepped down for an ill-fated run for Congress. While their criticisms of Justice are valid, their efforts will hurt the party more than they will do any damage to the governor.

Let’s be honest, Justice was always going to have problems with the rank-and-file Republican activists and volunteers, the ones who keep county executive committees going. You didn’t need a no confidence vote. I’ve pointed out this issue in this very space.

Justice ran and won the primary election in 2016 as a Democrat. The same people who voted for him in that primary will not be the same people to vote for him in the 2020 primary. Any registered Democrat who voted for him in the 2016 primary will have to switch their registration to Republican or unaffiliated to vote for him in the 2020 primary.

Put a high-profile Republican in the primary race who has earned their dues with the party over the years and Justice will have instant problems. If you want to express no confidence in Justice, that’s the best way to do it. Not by holding a publicized no-confidence vote.

While the vast majority of the Kanawha County Repuiblican Party Executive Committee voted for the no-confidence resolution, I find it interesting that a) the resolution wasn’t introduced until after three new members were added to the committee at the same meeting, and b) the vote was promoted through a press release (and even some media were tipped off and attended the meeting) not from the committee chairwoman, but the former chairwoman.

This was a publicity stunt intended to embarrass the governor and spur other county committees to pass their own anti-Justice resolutions. As time goes on, it appears that other committees might be putting on the brakes, realizing this is making the party look bad and disorganized.

This resolution comes from the members of the same county Republican Executive Committee that invited Brenda Arthur, the purported ACT for America organizer who set up the unsanctioned anti-Muslim display at the state Capitol on WVGOP Day. As you recall, that display set off a series of events that resulted in an injured House of Delegates staffer after Democratic delegates let their anger at the display get the best of them.

Ultimately, the gist of the resolution criticizes Justice for not supporting the state Republican Party’s platform, which supports school choice, right-to-work, and paycheck protection. I’ll pay you $5 if you have ever read the platform of the party with which you are registered. You can go to both the state Republican and Democratic party websites and read them now. I bet you’ll agree with some of the planks and disagree with others. By disagreeing, it doesn’t mean you’re not a Republican or a Democrat.

Under Kanawha County’s logic, a number of the elected officials in the county and state could have no confidence resolutions brought against them, including House Speaker Roger Hanshaw and Senate President Mitch Carmichael. Fact of the matter is many elected leaders vote for or against issues that might be on their platforms.

There are many reasons for this, though one is they’re representing their constituents. We might have a Republican governor, Legislature and a majority of the Board of Public Works, but most of the registered voters are still Democrats – mostly conservative Democrats. The voter registration for the Democratic Party continues to shrink, but it’s still the majority. You can have every Republican voter turn out to vote and still lose.

Again, Justice has a lot of work to do if he wants the Republican nomination for governor in 2020. First thing he should do is sit down with all county Republican chairs and committee members (and not just talk to them for 15 minutes and leave). Throwing money at the state committee won’t be enough.

Justice shouldn’t worry about political stunts by activists. He should be worried about those who don’t speak out publicly, but sit at home in 2020 instead of helping turn out the vote.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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