Doug Skaff, who for the past couple of years has served as leader of the Democratic caucus in the House of Delegates, today said he has changed his registration to Republican and will run statewide for Secretary of State.
“I’m not the first person to switch parties, and I won’t be the last,” Skaff said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“Let’s be honest, the Republican Party took the last two registrations by storm, but it wasn’t because 100,000 Republicans just moved to West Virginia. These were hardcore West Virginians who were pro-life, pro-gun, pro-coal, pro-gas and they all switched parties. So like a lot of West Virginians, you know, my ideals never changed. I was always that way as well. I was registered a Democrat, and I’m proud to be on the Republican team and just can’t relate to the national party any more.”
His party switch and candidacy received a skeptical response from the West Virginia Republican Party. A statement from state party chairwoman Elgine McArdle said the GOP welcomes people who join as a matter of priorities and principles. But McArdle’s statement questioned whether that applies to Skaff.
“The West Virginia Republican Party recognizes the philosophical nuances that can exist within the Party and welcomes those who genuinely believe in our cause; however, Republican voters are sometimes tasked with differentiating between ‘philosophical nuances’ and ‘diametric ideological opposition.’ Now that Skaff is labeling himself as a ‘Republican,’ despite his storied liberal record in the House, the upcoming primary is one of those times,” McArdle stated.
The state Democratic Party also ripped into Skaff.
Skaff resigned from the House of Delegates last month, following his decision to step down as minority leader the prior month. All that surrounded speculation that Skaff, the president of HD Media, was considering a switch to the Republican Party and running for Secretary of State. But until now he would neither confirm nor deny the speculation
He now joins the race for Secretary of State that has an opening because the two-term incumbent, Mac Warner, is running for governor. That race also includes announced candidates Ken Reed, who is a former delegate from Berkeley County, current Delegate Chris Pritt of Kanawha County and Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood, all Republicans.
The Secretary of State is West Virginia’s chief elections officer and the office also has responsibilities for business licensing.
“I want to use my past experience in the House of Delegates and look forward to putting my leadership style in place in government,” Skaff said. “The Secretary of State’s process is always one that’s interested me. It’s our elections process. It’s always fascinated me.”
He added, “As Secretary of State you protect the freedom and the fundamental right to vote, and you want to maintain a secure, accessible, fair, efficient election process.”
Skaff served in the House of Delegates as a Democrat from 2008 to 2012. In 2014, he ran for state Senate as a Democrat and was defeated by Republican Tom Takubo. He ran again for House of Delegates as a Democrat in 2018, winning, and remained in that chamber until his resignation. He was chosen to lead the Democratic caucus in the House in 2020.
Today, Skaff contended the national Democratic Party has drifted toward the left but he didn’t make the same distinction about the state Democratic Party.
“It’s one of those things: the people of West Virginia, they were always called West Virginia Democrats or West Virginia Republicans. We were always kind of our own brand, so to speak. Our ideals, like mine and like many others, regardless of what you were registered,” Skaff said on “Talkline.”
“Those moderate Blue Dog Democrats, they helped make the Republican Party what it is today. They’ve all switched their party affiliation because their ideals and beliefs more align with the Republican Party.”
The state Republican Party statement suggested that Skaff had key votes out of line with what the party believes.
“During his tenure as the House Minority Leader, Skaff co-sponsored legislation to institute universal absentee voting, ballot drop boxes, and the elimination of signature match requirements for provisional ballots. Delegate Skaff voted to allow biological men to compete in women’s sports, and he repeatedly voted against Republican, pro-life legislation,” McArdle stated.
“Skaff was a reliable vote for his caucus’ liberal agenda and a regular vote against many pieces of conservative Republican legislation that we now call law.”
The West Virginia Democratic Party also blasted Skaff. Their statement contended Skaff led the Democratic caucus’s opposition to strict abortion restrictions, allowing guns on college campuses and a bill that would have allowed discrimination based on sexual orientation through the exercise of religion.
“While I appreciate Doug finally putting his cards on the table about his long-rumored, politically expedient party switch, I’m surprised he would try to reinvent himself as a right-wing conservative in the process,” stated West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Mike Pushkin, a delegate who sat just a few seats away from Skaff in the minority caucus.
“I know Doug has long been intoxicated by the idea of winning a statewide office. Still, his candidacy could leave Republican primary voters with a hangover when they find out about his actual voting record. Nevertheless, we wish him well in all his affairs.”