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Controversy erupts over selection process for new delegate

Cutline: Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates are sworn in on the first day of session on Jan. 13. (Photo Provided)

CHARLESTON – The effort to replace the former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates who was charged for taking part in the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol Building three weeks ago has created a controversy of its own.

Jeff Maynard, the chairman of the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee, filed a writ of mandamus with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on Monday asking the court to require Gov. Jim Justice to pick a replacement for former Republican delegate Derrick Evans from the list of three candidates the committee sent to Justice on Jan. 14.

Evans, who was elected to the House in November, resigned Jan. 9 after being charged the day before by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia with one count of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority; and one count of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol Grounds.

The 35-year-old Evans is one of 127 people charged by the Department of Justice for taking part in the mob action at the U.S. Capitol where hundreds push through barriers and Capitol Police officers to break into the building as Congress and Vice President Mike Pence were counting the electoral college ballots in an attempt to stop Joe Biden from being named President-elect. Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States last week.

According to State Code, a county or delegate district political party executive committee has 15 days from the time of the resignation of a delegate or state senator to submit three names of individuals qualified to hold the office to the Governor’s Office. The governor then has five days to select one of the three individuals submitted by the executive committee.

The Wayne County REC is represented by attorney John Bryan, the same attorney representing Evans in his federal criminal case. In a post on his blog, Bryan said the county executive committee submitted the three names well within the 15-day limit. After 15 days, the governor can select any qualified individual he wants.

The county executive committee selected Mark Ross, Chad Shaffer and Jay Marcum as nominees for Justice to choose from. Instead, Bryan alleges that the West Virginia Republican Party removed Marcum’s name and submitted the name of Jeff Booth instead.

“Basically, the State Republican party has usurped the powers and authority of the Wayne County Republican voters, by attempting to take away their authority to choose a list of three qualified candidates to present to the Governor,” Bryan wrote. “Instead, the new Acting Chair of the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee took over the process and created a new list – this time removing one of the three names and inserting a new name.”

A request for comment from the Governor’s Office was not returned. Roman Stauffer, the acting chairman of the state Republican Party after the resignation of former chairwoman Melody Potter Jan. 11, declined to address the specifics of Bryan’s claims.

“We have no comment on any pending litigation at this time,” Stauffer said Tuesday by email.

Bryan said the November election was the first time Wayne County had voted for a Republican delegate in 100 years. The 19th District was previously represented by two Democrats. This year, the district is split, with Republicans holding one seat and Democrat Ric Griffith holding the other seat. Bryan said the Republican in the district should have say over who represents the open seat.

“This disenfranchises the Republican voters of the 19th Delegate District in Wayne County,” Bryan wrote. “West Virginia law is clear and unambiguous that the local party (and this applies to all parties) gets to make the decision on the list of three to present to the Governor. This was put in place for a reason. To allow it to be thrown to the wayside is to allow a transfer of power from the people at the local level to some smoke-filled back room full of politicians and politicos.”

This is the second time the state Republican Party has interfered with a county executive committee. In 2018, Potter removed Wood County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Rob Cornelius from his chairmanship and as an elected member of the committee, citing his negative comments about her and Justice on social media. Cornelius has a lawsuit pending against Potter, the state Republican Party and the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

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