CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter doesn’t have a lot to say about the largest county’s executive committee issuing a no-confidence vote about Gov. Jim Justice.
“Reagan’s 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans,” Potter said in a very brief telephone interview.
At the county level, though, Republican executive committee leaders are certainly talking about Kanawha County’s resolution of no confidence in the governor.
Some doubt they would follow suit. Some say they need to talk it over with their boards. Some have called meetings as soon as next week to discuss the governor’s performance.
That doesn’t necessarily mean more no confidence votes will spread like wildfire. But it does mean the subject is on a lot of minds at the local level.
“It’s a recent development, and something we’ve never discussed or talked about before,” said Lisa Weese, chairwoman of the Barbour County Republican Executive Committee. “A vote of no confidence in the governor, that’s a pretty drastic action.”
That’s what happened Tuesday night in Kanawha County, when the executive committee made a no-confidence vote in executive session.
The resolution criticized Justice’s positions on education — including his stated opposition to charter schools and other “broad education reforms” plus right-to-work legislation along with concerns about the state’s current road maintenance challenges.
The resolution contends Justice’s positions contradict the party’s platform, with the committee adding the governor has appointed Democrats to judgeships and other positions.
“We’re hoping that the governor will look at this and realize that, even though he has exhibited some random acts of Republicanism, he’s really not being the leader of the Republicans sitting in the governor’s office right now,” former Kanawha Chairwoman Carolyn Stricklin said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Republicans are actually united in their support, said Paul Hartling, a vice chairman for the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee.
“There is a small group of Governor Justice haters that will and are doing all they can to get him to resign. In doing so this small group hurts our party and makes it look like we are divided. Except for them, we are united.”
Hartling added, “The time to voice our concerns is at the ballot box.”
The governor’s recent party affiliation history complicates these matters. Justice was elected governor in 2016 as a Democrat, but changed his registration to become a Republican partway through 2017.
Asked a question about sharing Republican values a few days after the switch, Justice said he would be himself.
“The net-net of the whole thing is just this: Jim isn’t changing. Jim is still going to be Jim. Jim is still going to be the person who stands up for the common, everyday family. That’s all there is to it.”
The Harrison County Republican Executive Committee has a meeting next Monday to discuss how Justice is doing.
“There are issues that I believe we need to clarify,” said Harrison County chairwoman Diana Bartley. “Our governor did not run as a Republican. Perhaps some of what we as a party may want to do is to meet with him to express some of the things that we feel in our platform should be more strategically addressed.”
Either way, she said, “We’re going to discuss how we want to approach whatever we do.”
She said some of those topics could include the state’s approach to flood relief and to road maintenance, both of which have been controversial.
“Road funding, FEMA. There’s a lot of things on the plate right now that we don’t want to just try to smooth over,” Bartley said. “We want to make some intelligent decisions on how we move forward.”
Fayette County also has a Monday meeting. Chairman Austin Haynes said the meeting was already scheduled but that a member suggested discussing the ‘no confidence’ issue in light of what happened in Kanawha.
“I don’t think there’s any support for that in Fayette County. I know I don’t support it, but that’s just me,” Haynes said. “It was more ‘I think it deserves some time to discuss.’”
Upshur County is also preparing for a meeting next week. Chairwoman Patricia Adams didn’t want to speak yet for the rest of the committee, but she acknowledged concerns.
“I don’t know the half of it, but there’s supposedly a lot that he hasn’t been doing. I need to know more,” Adams said.
“I know our roads are in bad shape and there hasn’t been anything done. I understand he stays in Greenbrier County instead of at the mansion. I don’t know the true facts about everything. I just know a lot of people are not happy.”
In Hancock County, Chairwoman Lizbeth Gregg-Baldt made comments to the Intelligencer newspaper in Wheeling that sounded supportive of Kanawha’s no-confidence vote.
But when reached by MetroNews, Gregg-Baldt didn’t go that far.
“The no confidence thing: someone is trying to put him in a corner,” she said of Justice.
She expressed support for school choice policies in a special session called by the governor. And she also wants stronger support for a vote on a convention of states issue.
On Thursday afternoon, though, Gregg-Baldt said it was too soon to take a vote that could torpedo the incumbent Republican governor as the next election cycle starts taking shape.
“No political people should make a stance right now. Is he going to run, is he not going to run, is someone going to run against him? We don’t know. A lot can happen in the next six months. Why should we take a stand if the variables are up for debate?” she said. “We will back the Republican running for governor, whoever that might be.”
Berkeley County seems unlikely to take a stand against the governor, said that county’s chairman, Gary Kelley.
“I think that’s a decision, as a party, I don’t think we want to make that kind of noise at this point,” Kelley said. “If somebody brings it up we’ll discuss it but I’m guessing we won’t go that way. Doesn’t’ mean we’re always 100 percent happy with our governor but I’m not sure we want to go that route either.”
In Raleigh County, where Justice grew up, there’s not much support for a no confidence vote, said county chairman Stan Norman.
“Regardless of who the political figure is, there’s always some dissatisfaction in any party,” Norman said. “But we have an existing candidate that’s a Republican and I don’t think we can walk away from that.”
Norman said he thinks Justice has done an adequate job.
“I think that fire will be put out soon,” he said. “There’s 54 other counties, and I’m sure that’s not the sentiment of the other counties.”