CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Republican Party is dealing with multiple political fires.
New members have been named to the Kanawha County GOP Executive Committee and a dozen others removed, over the protest of a vocal group.
The Wood County GOP Executive Committee chairman’s appeal of his own removal has been rejected, and now he says he’ll sue.
And a state delegate, acting in his capacity as a citizen, is calling for the state Republican Party chairwoman to resign.
The actions represent continued fractures in the state Republican Party, particularly over its relationship with incumbent Gov. Jim Justice. The stresses have manifested in several ways over the past few weeks.
“Where do all the lines converge?” asked Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley. “Melody Potter.”
Wilson says he’s dissatisfied with the condition of the party under Potter’s leadership and wrote a letter saying so.
“We’ve opened discussion,” he said in a telephone interview this morning.
“I think that’s important. It’s a shame it was necessary to bring it out in the public sphere. We should have been able to have an internal conversation rather than out in front of the neighbors.”
But, he said, “I’m simply shining a light. I’m simply saying look, look at this. Do something about this.”
Potter was asked about each of these issues and, in general, declined to comment.
Here’s the latest:
Ousted Wood County chairman says he’ll sue
State Party Chairwoman Melody Potter sent a letter last month removing Wood County Executive Committee Chairman Rob Cornelius from that position. She cited the way he has run the committee and his insulting use of social media.
Cornelius appealed and received a letter of denial last week.
Potter’s letter said Cornelius had not provided signatures of support of half of the members of the Wood County GOP Executive Committee.
She sent a letter last month naming six new members to the committee.
“In addition to your ‘appeal’ being procedurally deficient by the lack of fifty percent support, your removal is and was what is best for the West Virginia Republican Party and the Wood County Republican Party.”
Cornelius has filed 30-day notice to sue the Secretary of State’s office, which accepted an updated roster for the Wood County GOP submitted by Potter.
He says he was elected by Republican voters of Wood County and that the state party’s bylaws don’t supersede that authority.
“The authority to govern the activities of the Wood County Republican Party rests with Wood County,” Cornelius stated.
“This authority is not — and will never be — at Melody Potter’s home in South Charleston or Jim Justice’s home in Lewisburg. Anything else desecrates democracy and the elections we defend in here in Wood County.”
Cornelius called for meetings of the Wood County GOP Executive Committee to be suspended until the matter is resolved.
His statement also suggested similar issues could arise in other counties, as they have in Kanawha.
“As it stands, if Melody Potter is permitted to continue to use a single section of the West Virginia Republican Party’s bylaws as her crutch to support her decisions and completely disregard any state law, ANY member of ANY committee in ANY county can be removed and replaced at her (or Jim Justice’s discretion,” Cornelius wrote.
Potter, reached this morning, said, “I have no comment; this is the first I’ve heard of it.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 15, 2019
Letter calling for Potter to resign
Delegate Marshall Wilson posted an open letter over the weekend, calling on Potter to resign.
Wilson said he was acting in his capacity as a citizen and as a Republican Party member, rather than as a delegate.
“Voters expected a government which would finally give credence to our state motto, but how can the institution function freely while the leader demands obeisance to her whims rather than to our shared principles?” Wilson wrote.
Over the past few years, Wilson has asked others in West Virginia public life to be removed.
He made a motion two years ago for then-Speaker Tim Armstead to vacate the chair, has circulated a motion to begin impeachment of Governor Justice and sponsored a resolution to expel Delegate Mike Caputo.
His dissatisfaction with state party leadership began, he said, with the dismissal of four longtime attorneys who were providing advice for the party.
“You relieve the entire squad of lawyers and you give no reason for it and take no counsel with anyone and you unilaterally get rid of them,” Wilson said in a telephone interview today.
Wilson said he has no personal quarrel with Potter but believes she has overstepped her authority.
“It’s not that I’m mad at Melody Potter. I don’t know the lady,” he said.
“I don’t have a personal relationship with her. What we’re talking about here is an employer, me, a member of the Republican Party, holding his employee, the chair, accountable to the standards of the organization and the requirement that they get the job done.”
Wilson acknowledged he had not talked with Potter before issuing his letter. He said he reached out to her late last year about issues within the Berkeley County Executive Committee and didn’t get much response.
Reached this morning, Potter said little about Wilson’s letter.
“There is no record that Delegate Wilson has ever attempted to contact me or my office with his concerns in relation to this specific situation,” she stated.
“Peddling falsehoods and launching unprovoked public attacks is beneath the dignity of his office. Responding to that is beneath the dignity of mine.”
Wilson said he’s started a discussion.
“I’m wide open to someone telling me the points I made are wrong,” he said. “Instead of addressing the actual points I make, the issues I’ve raised, people are saying, ‘Wilson how dare you hate Potter.’”
“She and the rest of the committee work for us, the Republican voters of the state, and owe us an accounting.”
Kanawha County conflict
Republican Party conflict also continues in Kanawha County.
Sixteen members of the Kanawha County Executive Committee had sent a letter to Chairwoman Tresa Howell, asking her to step down.
They object to the way Howell has handled the committee following an April vote of ‘no confidence’ in Governor Justice.
Last week, Howell sent letters removing a dozen members of the committee. She then named six additional members.
The result was the cancellation of the special meeting to consider Howell’s removal.
The Secretary of State’s Office provided the documents upon request from West Virginia MetroNews.
Some members of the Kanawha GOP Executive Committee have argued that there was no vote on the new members and that the removal of the others was based on meeting attendance from January to June, even though the bylaws refer to a calendar year.
Last Tuesday’s meeting where all of this came to a head was notably contentious.
The meeting started with a prayer: “Let us all look toward you as the patience and resistance to go against one another. Let’s pull together. Let us look toward you as a binding agent.”
After that was an hour of impassioned argument.
Roll call resulted in GOP executive committee member Thorney Lieberman asking, “Would you repeat the names of the people not on the roster?”
Then longtime member Nancy Kogoy arose: “Madam chairman?”
“You’re out of order. Please have a seat,” Howell responded.
“Are you denying me my right to speak?” Kogoy asked. “I have emailed you three times.”
Howell went on. “We have approval of the minutes.”
Kogoy protested. “I’m an elected member of the committee. Are you denying me my right to speak?”
Lieberman then interjected. “She’s not out of order.”
Howell returned to the agenda. “We have minutes to approve.”
Kogoy continued, “Madam chairman, I move immediately to discuss the removal of the 12 members.”
Howell: “No, you’re out of order.”
Kogoy: “You have removed a woman who attended every meeting.”
Howell: “You’re out of order.”
Then Anne Lieberman, a former sergeant at arms for the House of Delegates spoke up: “On what basis is she out of order?”
Howell: “We’re on the agenda. I can contact the sheriff’s department.”
The room then erupted. From the back someone called out, “Go ahead. Please do. God, please.”
The sheriff’s department was not called, and the meeting continued. It was preserved on video by Thorney Lieberman and by Greg Thomas, another member.
Howell plowed through the agenda, often telling members they were out of order when they rose to ask about the process of adding or removing members.
During a portion of the meeting about social media, member Ryan Lemmon rose to say search results have been reflecting poorly on the party’s actions. Lemmon called it “a complete and total embarassment.”
” I move to remove the chairwoman immediately,” Lemmon said.
“No, you’re out of order,” Howell said.
Howell has not responded recently to media requests for comment.
Potter today said, “I have no comments regarding the Kanawha County situation.”