CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate President Mitch Carmichael says the state Republican Party chairwoman went a step too far in removing a county GOP chairman who has been critical of her.
“Probably there were better ways of resolving this dispute than going to DEFCON 4,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson.
Last week, state Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter sent a letter dismissing Wood County Chairman Rob Cornelius from that role.
Cornelius has been publicly critical of Potter and the party’s relationship with Gov. Jim Justice, who was elected as a Democrat before switching his registration to Republican a few months into his term.
Cornelius, like all party chairs, was elected by primary voters to the county GOP committee. Then, he was elected by other members to be the chairman.
“Whether you agree with a particular party chairman or a person who is a member of the executive committee in one of these parties, I don’t think it’s up to someone at the state level to decide,” Carmichael said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“Somebody who is duly elected by the people, absent some extenuating circumstances, should have absolute local control.”
Cornelius has expressed criticism of Potter for months on Twitter, talk radio and other platforms.
Potter’s letter to the Wood County Executive Committee describes the criticism and also contends Cornelius has failed to uphold the duties of the county executive committee.
“Mr. Cornelius has engaged in extensive smear campaign against both myself and the West Virginia Republican Party,” Potter’s letter stated.
Cornelius sent out a statement in response, saying the action sets a dangerous precedent for party politics.
“Despite what she or the Governor believes,a poorly-written letter cannot invalidate an election or established West Virginia code,” he wrote.
Potter cited two passages from the party bylaws.
One gives the State Executive Committee and the chairwoman jurisdiction to intervene in local matters of sufficient importance. Potter was the only one who signed the letter, though, and broader involvement of the rest of the executive committee isn’t clear.
The second describes a power of the chairman to use personal discretion to resolve issues on a temporary basis where “time is of the essence.”
The GOP chairman in Taylor County, Jay Taylor, responded to questions by MetroNews about whether the action was appropriate.
“I don’t believe removing a county chair is within the state chair’s powers, but have not spoken to Melody about what bylaw she is using or with the severed ties of legal advisors,” Taylor stated. “I do have concerns about the precedent it would set and don’t believe this is a road we should go down.”
Taylor described a good relationship with both Potter and Cornelius and expressed disappointment that their feud is having a broader effect.
“Rob has gone too far with his name calling of Melody,” Taylor stated. “I certainly understand Rob’s frustration with the governor, but this in no way means we don’t try to work with whoever is governor.”
He concluded, “Compromise can be hard for those with strong opinions, and political people are some of the most opinionated around.”
Carmichael agreed that the situation has been challenging. The communications director for the Senate, Jacque Bland, is married to Cornelius.
Carmichael said political parties are always going to have differences of opinion and varying ways of expressing those.
“Any time there’s a group of people involved in issues or substantive discussions you’ll have differences of opinions, styles or handling controversy,” he said. “I think there is overwhelming unity in the Republican party for substantive issues.”
Carmichael said there are other ways to work out those issues, though.
“But because we disagree with a style or method, we shouldn’t be closing the door and removing people from offices.”