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Gayle Manchin, fired by Governor Justice, says she had to speak out

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gayle Manchin, who the Justice administration fired as secretary for the arts, says she had a responsibility to not back down from making her point about the perils of dismantling the agency she led.

Gayle Manchin

Gayle Manchin, who is also the wife of Senator Joe Manchin, appeared Tuesday on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

She reiterated her belief that her position was targeted by the Republican-led Legislature, endangering a variety of programs in the Department of Education and the Arts.

“To me, they were eliminating it because it was me and it was this cabinet and they were just going to get rid of it,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s just because I’m Joe Manchin’s wife. I believe they think they need to get Democrats out of positions of influence. I think the Republicans of this state believe everybody in a position like this should be a Republican.”

In a press release issued Monday afternoon by the Department of Education and the Arts, she offered her resignation if it would remove political pressure and help save her department.

Gov. Jim Justice

Shortly before 8 p.m., Gov. Jim Justice took her up on it. A news release issued on behalf of Justice said Manchin’s claims that the decisions over the Department of Education and the Arts were purely partisan had put him in a bad spot.

The Justice statement also said Manchin had been asked to do nothing while awaiting more information from the administration.

“If there weren’t any earlier political cloud, now there surely is one. She was very critical, made it political, and put me in a very, very bad position,” Justice stated in his release.

The topic is hot right now because the Legislature on Saturday passed a bill that would do away with the Department of Education and the Arts, moving its offices and programs to other state agencies.

The bill would eliminate the secretary’s position, which pays $95,000 a year.

Gayle Manchin, speaking on “Talkline,” described the timeline of what happened Monday.

Mike Hall

She said she spoke with Justice administration chief of staff Mike Hall, explaining her concerns and those of the employees in her department.

“I get calls, emails, texts constantly” with concerns about the programs in her former agency, Manchin said. “People are scared. These aren’t programs. These are people and people’s lives.”

Hall promised the governor would call her, Manchin said, but two hours went by. “I had heard nothing and I thought ‘The governor’s not going to call me,’ and I put out the press release.”

The news release that went out about 4:30 p.m. communicated in no uncertain terms: “Secretary Manchin calls on Governor Justice to veto politically-motivated legislation that hurts WV; offers to resign to protect programs.”

“I just felt that the gauntlet had to be thrown down on this,” Manchin said. “I was shocked when I spoke with Mike Hall yesterday and found out that he did not have to respond to this bill for 15 days.”

After the press release went out, she said, she heard from Hall again.

“What was said was that I defied the chief of staff. And I reminded him that he told me he would call the governor immediately and call me.

“I’m sorry — I have a husband who was governor. Generally when the chief of staff calls you take the call and you give some kind of an answer or you reach out.”

Manchin says she responded, “I’m sorry I won’t resign under this circumstance.”

And then she was told her services were no longer required.

Manchin said she continues to have major concerns about the future of the Department of Education and the Arts.

One factor in that is whether the programs housed in Education and the Arts could be transferred by the time the bill’s July 1 effective dates go into effect.

Another is how the changes might affect federal funding.

Manchin spoke of the delicacy of the Division of Rehabilitation Services, which employs hundreds and serves thousands. It would move to within the Department of Commerce.

Every day there is a delay on the status of the programs, Manchin said, funding is at risk.

You’re talking about dismantling a cabinet,” Manchin said. “Wouldn’t you think the governor’s office, someone on his staff, might say maybe we should look at what the ramifications are.”

The state Department of Education sent out a series of tweets yesterday meant to assure responsible handling of programs that may be transferred to it.

Manchin said the Department of Education already has responsibility for 700 schools and 300,000 students.

“No. I do not have any assurance they can handle these programs,” she said.

Paul Espinosa

House Finance Chairman Paul Espinosa, who was an earlier guest on “Talkline,” said the bill that would dismantle the Department of Education and the Arts has been in development for two years.

Espinosa said it’s an attempt to reduce bureaucracy and make state government more efficient.

“From our perspective this has never been about the secretary. This has been about trying to provide our education services in the most efficient way possible,” Espinosa said.

Manchin described herself as a lifelong advocate for the arts. She said she hopes her departure from the job will now make Justice’s decision easier.

“These are programs I’ve worked with all my life. I’ll always be an advocate for these programs. I’ve always been an advocate for the arts,” she said.

“It’s been a privilege to serve in this position.”

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