Gayle Manchin believes she had to throw down the gauntlet.
Manchin was growing increasingly concerned about legislation eliminating the Office of Education and the Arts and folding the programs within that office into other agencies. Governor Jim Justice hired Manchin as Secretary of the Office and she had been pushing hard against the bill.
Mike Hall, Justice’s Chief of Staff, advised Manchin Monday to hold her public comments, that Justice was evaluating the bill. Just earlier that day Justice had said on Talkline that if he concluded that eliminating the agency would make government more efficient—as the proponents say—he would sign it, but if he determined it was simply a political shot at Manchin, he would veto it.
Manchin is a Democrat and wife of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. Justice ran for Governor as a Democrat and had the Manchins’ support. He hired Gayle to the administration position before switching to the Republican Party last August.
But Gayle Manchin was growing impatient, and she decided later Monday to issue her own news release slamming the legislation. “In an obvious rush to score partisan points, the Republican state legislature passed dangerous and destructive legislation to eliminate the Office of Education and the Arts on a mostly party-line vote,” she said.
Manchin then upped the ante by offering to “resign to remove any political pressure to save all these important programs for West Virginians.” As a trusted colleague of mine likes to say, “that’s a career limiting gesture.”
Monday night, Justice fired Manchin. Justice said, “She was told by the Chief of Staff to do nothing based on my public comments this morning, and that my decision to veto or sign this bill has not been made. Later in the day, she decided to defy the Chief of Staff’s instructions and issued a press release.”
Justice said the press release put him in an untenable situation. If he decided to sign the bill to eliminate the office because it was a practical, cost-saving measure, it would be viewed as a political move because Manchin had cast it that way.
Gayle Manchin has always had to live with the criticism that her achievements were a direct result of being married to Joe Manchin. That’s part of the slings and arrows of public life, but it’s also unfair and even sexist. She is accomplished in her own right and was a qualified choice by Justice to lead the office.
She felt a strong allegiance to the people directly impacted by the programs in her office, and that’s admirable. However, as a Secretary in the Justice Cabinet, she served at the will and pleasure of the Governor.
Manchin took a calculated risk by putting her boss in a corner. Justice’s mindset as a leader comes from his years of experience in private business, where insubordination can cost a person their job.
It’s important to remember that throwing down the gauntlet is only part of the story about the tradition of a medieval challenge; the rest of the story is that the offended party is expected to “take up the gauntlet,” and accept the challenge, which is exactly what Governor Justice did when he fired Gayle Manchin.