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Reporter’s Notebook: Party over politics

Happy day after West Virginia Day (though if you are a state employee, this makes a second day off and the end of your four-day weekend).

There was a lot of political news over the last seven days, most notably the latest chapter in the case of annoyance among Democratic activists with Belinda Biafore, chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Executive Committee.

As I said in last week’s column, I found most of the drama within the state Democratic Party to be the equivalent of a locker room fight and a bit too much inside baseball. Anyone who has ever been involved in a county or state political party executive committee, regardless of party, know those meetings often get contentious.

I don’t often believe that every bit of contention needs to be printed, but eventually an issue that starts as a snowball has the potential to grow into an avalanche. That’s what happened last week when the Wood County Democratic Executive Committee called for Biafore to resign and issued a vote of no confidence, followed by similar votes in Monongalia and Greenbrier counties.

I wrote about all of this last week, but in short (and you can watch the full video on the state Democratic Party’s YouTube if you wish): The party changed its bylaws in March to create an Affirmative Action Committee consisting of minority and disadvantaged groups, which had the job of creating an affirmative action and outreach plan to stay in compliance with the Democratic National Committee.

The Affirmative Action Committee didn’t really get started until a few weeks ago. They were still getting their sea legs when Biafore informed the committee that the party was going to vote on a draft affirmative action plan to meet a deadline the next day from the DNC. The committee was not happy about this, as they were not even sought out to help develop the draft documents.

In other words, a bunch of white people was going to push for the DEC to vote on a draft affirmative action plan with no input from people of color, Latinos, women, the LGBTQ community, indigenous people, seniors, etc.

According to the DEC’s new bylaws, the plan was supposed to come from the Affirmative Action Committee. Biafore and other committee members tried to explain that the affirmative action plan was only a draft in order to meet the DNC deadline and the Affirmative Action Committee could still develop the final document. But the arguments back and forth were raucous to say the least and available for all to see on YouTube.

DEC members will need to take stock of whether Biafore is in the right or not. Politically speaking, it was handled poorly. As for whether there is a divide in the party as some claim, there’s not much evidence of that. The progressive wing is the most vocal, but they’re a small minority in the party leadership. Others I’ve talked to in the mainstream of the party also want to see Biafore given a golden parachute but fear a takeover by the more extreme fringe of the party.

The problems inside the party mirror the issues U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin faces being one of the few and most prominent moderate Democrats in Congress. He also faces the slings and arrows of progressive activists and members of his own caucus.

Democrats in West Virginia are going to have to navigate the new Republican majority environment in the state, otherwise it might be 80 years before you see headlines trumpeting Democrats taking legislative majorities again.

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Of course, Republicans have their own problems. According to their May Federal Election Commission report, the West Virginia Republican Party only raised $163. Sure, it’s an off-year and I imagine some donors are waiting to see what the redistricting lines will be before opening their wallets.

Yet again, it took a June 8 letter from the FEC notifying the state party they were behind in filing their May report. Unsure if the state party is having staffing issues or not. In the scheme of things, West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Mark Harris is still new, having only been elected (twice) in March. I also suspect there is still a split in the party as he was only elected (twice) narrowly.

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Lastly, Roll Call reported last week that 2nd District Congressman Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., is under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics over a question of campaign finance expenditures that appear to be personal purchases totaling more than $49,000.

These purchases include $19,000 spent at Charles Town gift shops, $6,100 for in-state resorts and outdoor recreation and $1,900 in Chick-fil-A purchases. It’s good chicken to be sure, but goodness, $1,900 worth? It doesn’t appear to be for catering either.

The time is curious as Mooney has been under attack from his right flank. A columnist for American Greatness, which caters to the Trumpian wing of the party, attacked Mooney in April for not doing enough to attack the political left. When Mooney’s chief of staff, Mike Hough, defended his boss, columnist Chuck de Caro pointed out Hough pulls in a six-figure salary as a congressional chief of staff while also being a state Senator in Maryland and seeking a county government seat in the same state.

Mooney, in case anyone forgot, was the former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party prior to moving to the Eastern Panhandle in 2014 to run for Congress. Oddly enough, Roll Call reported Mooney’s point of contact on the ethics investigation is the current chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.

It remains to be seen how the lines will be drawn as the state loses a congressional district going into 2022. But it appears to me someone is setting up the groundwork to make sure Mooney doesn’t get one of those two seats.

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

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