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West Virginia editorial roundup

August 29, 2018

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Aug. 28

The Charleston Gazette on partisanship in the state Supreme Court:

For the past few years, when West Virginia voters have picked judges on their ballots, the candidates haven’t had their political parties listed.

As a result, it’s common to say that judicial elections are now “nonpartisan.” But recent events have made it clear that West Virginia’s judiciary is just as partisan as it ever was, if not more so.

The latest evidence came Saturday, when Gov. Jim Justice announced that he was appointing Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins to fill the two open spots on the court left by the “retirement” of Justices Menis Ketchum and Robin Davis.

Ketchum, of course, resigned one day before Supreme Court impeachment proceedings began in the House of Delegates, knowing he would be charged with a federal crime in the near future. Davis left after she and other justices were impeached, saying that she couldn’t get a fair hearing when Republicans in state government were so eager to take over the high court.

Now she and Ketchum — both of whom were elected years ago as Democrats — have been replaced by two men who, as of this time last week, were partisan Republican officeholders.

Justice said he had actually appointed both men to the court on Friday, a day before it was publicly announced. The West Virginia Republican Party had a news release all set up to go within minutes of the governor’s announcement, in which it lauded the appointments. So the GOP knew before the rest of West Virginia. No behind-the-scenes maneuvering here, no sir.

Jenkins and Armstead both indicated Saturday that they didn’t think the Supreme Court appointment process had become partisan. They’re either oblivious or not being truthful, neither of which is a quality you want in a Supreme Court justice.

The three other Supreme Court justices are Allen Loughry (elected as a Republican, suspended while facing federal charges much more serious than Ketchum’s transgressions), Margaret Workman (elected as a Democrat) and Beth Walker (a former Republican candidate elected under the current “nonpartisan” system). Many observers of the impeachment proceedings believe that GOP legislators have been trying to figure out the best way to get rid of Democrat Workman while keeping Republican Walker.

Republicans have already gained control of one of the state’s three branches of government without the voters’ consent. West Virginians elected a Democrat as governor, and Justice lasted all of seven months before rolling over and flipping parties.

Now, West Virginia’s Republican politicians are trying to stack the deck for the court races on the ballot this fall. Come November, state voters should remember it.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com

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Aug. 28

Daily Mail of Charleston on Don Blankenship seeking to re-enter the U.S. Senate race as a Constitution Party member:

After talking a big game during the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, and attracting negative national attention to the state, Don Blankenship finished a distant third.

Now he’s trying to maneuver his way back onto the ballot, this time as the nominee of the Constitution Party in the general election.

The trouble for Blankenship is that West Virginia, like a majority of U.S. states, has what’s colloquially called a “sore-loser law.” As the term suggests, the law prevents candidates who lose in one party’s primary from reappearing on the ballot as the nominee for another party.

Sore-loser laws are common sense, and it doesn’t appear that any court in the nation has ever struck one down.

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West Virginia already had a sore-loser law, but the Legislature added a provision with clearer language — which even Blankenship’s lawyer concedes applies to him — this year.

Blankenship claims that law, which went into effect in June, is improperly retroactive in Blankenship’s case.

But Blankenship tried to file as the Constitution Party’s nominee in July, after the provision had been in effect for weeks. In fact, when the provision took effect in June, Blankenship wasn’t even allowed to file a third-party candidacy — because he had only recently left the Republican Party.

As the Secretary of State’s attorneys argue in his legal brief, the law isn’t retroactive simply because it may have upset some hypothetical plan of Blankenship’s to file a sore-loser candidacy if he lost in the primary.

If upsetting expectations were the test for retroactivity, most laws would be retroactive. After all, every law can affect plans people might have made.

If you get a fishing license with the expectation of opening a fish market, and the government bans fish markets before you start your business, your expectations have been thwarted and you’ll probably be angry.

But good luck getting a court to strike down the law on retroactivity grounds, since it would only apply to future conduct.

Nor is there any general rule that any law pertaining to elections can only be applied in future election cycles. That would be convenient for Don Blankenship, but no such principle exists.

The United States Supreme Court has said that “the function of the election process is ‘to winnow out and finally reject all but the chosen candidates,’ not to provide a forum for ’short-range political goals, pique, or personal quarrel(s).”

West Virginia primary voters rejected Don Blankenship’s Senate candidacy in May. His continued effort to get on the ballot, which is undoubtedly driven by pique, should come to a decisive end this week.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com

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Aug. 29

The Intelligencer Wheeling News-Register on a West Virginia University student accused of threatening a mass shooting:

Only one person can say — and he may not know, really — what would have ensued had police not arrested a West Virginia University student accused of threatening to engage in a shooting spree.

According to witnesses, the 21-year-old Preston County man made the threats during a class last Thursday at the WVU Health Sciences Center. “I honestly feel like going home and getting my gun and killing everybody,” he is alleged to have said.

Witnesses reported the comment to a WVU official, who went on up the ladder to the university’s Office of Student Conduct and Office of Student Life. They contacted police, who arrested the man.

WVU Police Chief W.P. Chedester said the man insisted he does not own a gun. He added that, “We don’t take any chances .”

The student was arraigned and released on $50,000 bond. He is not permitted on university property.

Making threats such as that the student allegedly uttered is a felony under West Virginia law. Those convicted can be sentenced to as much as three years in prison.

Was the student seriously considering an act of violence? Again, only he knows. Would he have actually carried out a shooting? Even he may not know the answer to that. Things said in the heat of the moment do not always lead to action.

But students who reported the threat were right to do so. In this day and age, there can be no doubt about that.

Police were right to make an arrest. Again, no doubt.

Perhaps at some time in the past, such talk could be ignored safely. Not now, however.

That is something anyone subject to hot-tempered outbursts ought to keep in mind.

Online: http://www.theintelligencer.net

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