Reporter’s Notebook: Summer at the Capitol potpourri
You’ve probably seen stories over the last week or so regarding Joe Jeffries, a two-term Republican representing the 22nd District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Jeffries, who has a history of being controversial, was discovered on TikTok (a social media app primarily used by high school kids and college students to video themselves dancing as near as I can tell) making fairly vulgar and inappropriate jokes involving sex acts.
As I said above, this isn’t the first time Jeffries has embarrassed fellow House members for crude comments. He made headlines during the 2020 legislative session for accusing members of the Senate during a conference committee to air out differences on a bill dealing with Gov. Jim Justice’s emergency powers of … well … being sexually dominated by the governor.
That’s about the best way I can word that. The one TikTok video that got Jeffries the most infamy I can’t even begin to properly describe in this family-friendly newspaper. The last thing you need this morning is your child reading this column and asking “Daddy, what’s a [blank]?”
Statements of outrage came out against Jeffries, including a quick admonishment from House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who removed Jeffries as the vice chairman of the Committee on Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services and from appointments to the Agriculture/Natural Resources and Energy/Manufacturing committees (he remains on the House Government Organization Committee, as well as two legislative interim committees).
Of note: This was more of a punishment than former Republican Mercer County Delegate Eric Porterfield received for using homophobic slurs during a committee meeting and going on local TV to tell a reporter he would drown his own kids if they came out as gay.
Some Democratic lawmakers last week called for the House to remove Jeffries from all committees and censure him at its earliest convenience. I suspect we won’t see any additional punishment for Jeffries.
One Republican I talked to said he felt Hanshaw’s statement was weak. Quite frankly, anyone who has observed Hanshaw since rising to speaker can see he doesn’t particularly like dealing with drama caused by House members. Hanshaw is the Rain Man of parliamentary procedure, and he seems to prefer running the floor sessions and keeping things flowing. In his defense, this is probably the first time anyone in the House has been punished for social media.
Despite being better at social media than I (I was blogging as early as 2001 at age 19 and jumped both Facebook and Twitter early, but I have no idea about TikTok), Jeffries has been radio-silent. No comments, no posts and no apologies.
Jeffries is one of several Republican lawmakers who drive other Republican lawmakers nuts. Something has creeped into West Virginia politics from congressional politics where some lawmakers prefer not to actually govern. At the D.C. level, you have members of Congress who would much rather do a Fox News hit or troll on social media than draft a bill or show up for a vote.
In the West Virginia Legislature, there are a handful of lawmakers who would much rather make a scene than do their job and represent the interests of their district. Jeffries is only one of several lawmakers who drive Republican House leadership nuts, too. Another is Republican Shannon Kimes, who represents Wirt County and part of Wood County. I heard from several exasperated Republicans annoyed with Kimes’ press releases coming out against bills during the last two special sessions.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time someone from the 22nd District has caused embarrassment. If you recall in the late 2000s, a Democratic delegate from the district proposed banning Barbie dolls in the state. Jeff Eldridge offered legislation in 2009 to ban the blonde bombshell and believed the doll created unrealistic expectations for young girls.
The 22nd District consists of Lincoln County, with parts of Putnam, Boone and Logan counties. The people there might want to take stock of the individuals they keep sending to Charleston.
The announced departure of Bray Cary, senior adviser to Gov. Jim Justice, made me have flashbacks to my one-year stint as a TV news producer for West Virginia Media Holdings, Bray’s former company. I produced “West Virginia Tonight Live,” the company’s daily state news program, and The State Journal’s “Decision Makers,” hosted by Cary himself.
I had been running West Virginia Watching, a project for the libertarian Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, for three years when The State Journal, formerly owned by Cary, named me a 40-under-40 for 2012. I was hired at West Virginia Holdings off of that profile.
As someone who had no experience in TV news, I caught on quickly, but working for Cary was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Cary was prone to frequently changing his mind, making it hard to produce his show. Sometimes Cary would want things done that were impossible to do. After a year, I left news to go work for Senate President Jeff Kessler.
During Cary’s more-than-three-years working in the Governor’s Office, I had been told by some staff that he was just as difficult to work with as when I worked for him. I’ll be curious to see what changes happen in the Governor’s Office with Cary on his way to the WestVirginia University Board of Governors.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.