House of Delegates Minority Leader Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha) are both working on legislation that would bar a convicted felon from holding public office in West Virginia.
As of late Wednesday, each had a draft version, but the legislation had not yet been introduced.
Armstead and Palumbo were prompted into action by the ignominious politics of Lincoln County.
By now, you’ve heard the story.
Sheriff Jerry Bowman and County Clerk Donald Whitten have agreed to plead guilty to federal charges stemming from their stuffing of the ballot box with illegal absentee ballots in the 2010 Democratic Primary.
As part of their plea agreement, Bowman and Whitten agree not to run for office or get involved in politics in the future.
That same provision, however, did not apply when Jerry Weaver pleaded guilty in 2005 to election fraud. The former Lincoln County Assessor did a year in prison, was hired by Assessor Tracy Dempsey at the courthouse, and now is running for Sheriff.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s office has researched the state Constitution, the state code and the related court cases. Attorney Tim Leach told the Charleston Daily Mail, “I think our issue here is we don’t see where the law prohibits him from running.”
So, let’s pass a law. That can be done. That’s why we have a Legislature.
Armstead’s rough draft reads, “no person who has been convicted of treason, felony or bribery during an election, and whose conviction thereof has not been reversed, pardoned, or commuted, shall be eligible to run for, be elected to, or appointed to any state, county or municipal office, at any time subsequent to such conviction.”
The inclusion of the prohibition of appointment is significant since there are rumors that the Lincoln County Commission could appoint Weaver to either Sheriff or County Clerk after Bowman and Whitten resign.
It’s hard to believe that could happen, given the results of the most recent investigation and the spotlight on the county, but Lincoln County likes to play by its own rules.
Palumbo’s rough draft is very similar. It should not be hard for the two to get together and agree on language that satisfies Democrats and Republicans, Delegates and Senators.
Meanwhile, state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio has taken a “see no evil” approach to the Lincoln County dilemma.
“We believe in the process in this country and we always encourage folks to run and get involved,” Puccio told the Daily Mail. “We also believe, though, that we have very intelligent voters in this state and that they will study an individual to see if they can support him or not support him.”
In other words, Lincoln County, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, is on its own. Voters there who are fed up with the good ol’ boy system and are afraid to cross the courthouse gang are supposed to work within a corrupt system to make changes.
That’s why the Armstead-Palumbo legislation is important. The long-abused people of Lincoln County need to know they are not alone, that the state is willing to stand with them.