Tempers flared at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Kanawha County Republican Party Executive Committee. There was shouting, arguments and hurt feelings. As one committee member told MetroNews, “It was awful. Longtime friends have taken separate paths.”
We’ll get to the specifics of Tuesday night’s blow up shortly, but it’s important to first understand how the trouble started.
Back in April, the Party Executive Committees in Kanawha and Harrison Counties passed resolutions of no confidence in Republican Governor Jim Justice. Those behind the uprising questioned the Governor’s commitment to Republican positions, such as education reform.
That opened a split within the party as members began to choose up sides.
State party chair Melody Potter, a Justice supporter,* removed Wood County chairman Rob Cornelius, who had been a frequent critic of both. Cornelius is appealing the decision to the party.
Meanwhile, some dissatisfied members of the Kanawha County GOP Executive Committee organized an effort to oust chair Tresa Howard. She circumvented that effort by replacing committee members with those who support her, leading to Tuesday’s contentious meeting.
These actions are also tangled up in disputes over who has the authority to do what and whether parliamentary procedures and party bylaws are being followed.
It’s a mess.
The question for Republicans now is how to resolve the conflict. That’s not going to be easy because of the hostility and hurt feelings. The party needs one of its leaders to step forward and mediate the dispute.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito is the senior Republican in West Virginia and she has the gravitas to get the factions to calm down and get back on the same page, or at least stop their war of attrition.
However, Capito typically stays above the fray. I suspect her instincts are to not to get directly involved in a fight that she thinks she cannot resolve or that will cause her problems heading into the 2020 election.
That leaves Governor Justice. That will be difficult because the split is about him. Still, he could try to allay fears that he is not Republican enough, while reining in Potter and Howard.
The West Virginia Republican Party is in an enviable position. It holds the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat, all three congressional seats, majorities in both chambers of the legislature and most of the seats on the Board of Public Works. The GOP is in charge in West Virginia right now.
However, this very public dissension represents a crack in the Republican stronghold. Left unrepaired, it could open an even wider fissure within the GOP.
*(Potter pointed out to me that she supports “all elected Republicans because that is part of her job” as party chair and a Republican National Committee member.)