CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House Speaker Roger Hanshaw says Minority Whip Mike Caputo will lose his committee assignments for the rest of the legislative session after angrily forcing open a door that then hit a young doorkeeper.
Caputo has served on the Energy, Government Organization, Industry and Labor and House Rules committees. Hanshaw said that action was taken over the weekend. Hanshaw said official word will come from the House as a whole.
“His actions were certainly inappropriate and Delegate Caputo has very publicly acknowledged that. That’s beyond dispute,” said Hanshaw, R-Clay.
He continued, “We had an action that resulted in perhaps some form of an injury. There’s a line you just don’t cross.”
Discontent over whether the degree of punishment for Caputo was appropriate resulted in a motion to read bills in their entirety on the House floor. The motion was made by Delegate Patrick Martin, R-Lewis. He did not state a reason but fellow delegates concluded that he believed Caputo was not being punished enough.
The first bill to be read fully was SB 3, Establishing WV Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act, a 23-page bill. Staff from the House Clerk’s office read it aloud, rapidly, while delegates walked around and talked.
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) March 4, 2019
Martin skipped one bill and then started up again with the third.
There was a bipartisan backlash, with some delegates walking up to Martin to discuss his motions.
— Shawn Fluharty (@WVUFLU) March 4, 2019
Anger was sparked Friday in the House of Delegates when a poster with an anti-Muslim message was part of “GOP Day at the Legislature.”
The display prompted an angry scene in which Caputo forced open the door to the chamber during a prayer, a doorkeeper was reportedly injured as a result, the sergeant at arms resigned, and a series of emotional floor speeches unfolded, including one by the House speaker.
Little information has been conveyed about the condition of the young doorkeeper, who had not returned today. House spokesman Jared Hunt, like others, cited medical privacy laws.
“That incident has been referred to the Capitol Police for investigation,” Hunt said. “Because this is a personnel matter, I cannot comment further.”
Caputo, speaking during Friday morning’s floor session, immediately acknowledged being angry enough to force open the chamber door.
“I’m the one who kicked the door open. That’s how angry I was. I went over to that poster and I said it was a racist poster,” said Caputo, D-Marion, on Friday.
During Saturday morning’s floor session, he apologized to the full House of Delegates. He also met privately with the Speaker and the Republican caucus.
Today on “Talkline,” he again described what happened.
“I met with the Republican leadership, I met with Speaker Hanshaw privately, I met with the Republican caucus and expressed my deep regret and deep remorse for losing my cool that day. It was certainly not an action that has ever happened to me in my 23 years in the House of Delegates.”
Caputo said he would like to apologize to the doorkeeper in the presence of Speaker Hanshaw.
He called it “probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my political career.”
Caputo was the top Democrat in the House on Friday because Minority Leader Tim Miley was away. When tempers started to arise over the display, Caputo said he felt pressure to get inside the chamber to warn the Speaker and to cool down his caucus.
He said he stopped outside the front door when it was clear the daily prayer was going on. But then when he saw people moving to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, he again tried to get into the door but found it blocked.
“To be honest, I was a Pledge of Allegiance away from all of this not happening, and I deeply regret that,” he said.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) March 4, 2019
The display that touched raw nerves was part of an official state Republican Party event. Party chairwoman Melody Potter said the event was successful — except for the controversy that erupted.
“My main message is people need to maintain their composure. The concern here really should be, are volunteers or guests safe in the people’s House?” Potter said.
Potter then cast blame on Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, for engaging the woman with the display.
“I’d like to have the Democratic Party to call him out for calling her a racist, a white supremacist and a bigot,” Potter said on “Talkline.”
The woman with the display was South Charleston resident Brenda Arthur. Pushkin said he has known her for years. The delegate said the exchange began when he went to take a picture of the display.
“The discussion got heated,” Pushkin said. “They have their freedom of speech to say what they wanted to me. I have freedom of speech to say I thought that I found the display itself was disgusting and really has no place in the people’s house.”
Gov. Jim Justice, speaking at a press conference about monthly state revenues, said none of this reflects well on West Virginia:
“We have a lot of really good things going on in West Virginia, and we need to stop blowing our own legs off in becoming a national story. That’s just all there is to it. We have worked too hard to have goodness, and we’ve got goodness, and we become the national story in a negative way and it will either drive more people away or keep people from coming, and that’s no good.”
He concluded, “I hope we can just pump the brakes and dial back.”
Strain has run through the House of Delegates this session after ongoing remarks by freshman Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, about gay rights organizations. “The LGBTQ is a modern day version of the Ku Klux Klan, without wearing hoods with their antics of hate,” Porterfield said in several instances.
Democrats have wanted to know why Porterfield hasn’t surrendered his committee assignments. They described continuing anger over Porterfield’s comments as a reason why tempers boiled over on Friday.
“His comments were certainly inflammatory,” Hanshaw said. “I’ve disavowed them before. I’ll disavow them again this morning.”
But, Hanshaw continued, “There is in everyone’s mind, I think, a very clear distinction between words that elicit and provoke anger versus acts of violence. I think it’s an easily distinguishable situation.”
Hanshaw said he wants to get back to the normal business at hand with just a few days until the legislative session ends Saturday.
“Our job here is to focus on the government of the state of West Virginia,” Hanshaw said. “Things like what happened Friday are an unfortunate distraction. We are in the last week of the session here. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”