Session features unseemly wrestling match

March 9, 2019

And in this corner, wearing a tan suit with tan vest and red tie, it’s the minority whip, Del. Mike Caputo! Caputo!

And coming out of the left corner, in a light-blue pantsuit with horn-rimmed glasses, it’s Brenda Arthur! Arthur!

I’m your announcer, Ron Gregory. I’ll be joined for this WV Legislative Wrestling (WLW) extravaganza by color commentator Del. Eric Porterfield, who will entertain us with drowning thoughts and intriguing prejudices. This match is sponsored by your neighborhood Ku Klux Klan. We make white look good again. The match is already underway.

For those living inside a cave the past week, you may have missed the events that got us here. Let’s catch up.

As always, there is no love lost between legislative Republicans and Democrats to begin with. It got worse as the current session wore on. It’s difficult to say when the latest dust-up began. Most would say it started when Del. Porterfield, a Republican from Mercer County, equated members of the LGBTQ community with those in the Ku Klux Klan. The freshman delegate said LGBTQ members use threats and overall intimidation to bully others. The comments were outrageous and brought immediate condemnation from both D’s and R’s.

While new House Speaker Roger Hanshaw condemned Porterfield in no uncertain words, by this midweek there was no other punishment or reprimand. That incensed Democrats, who felt that Porterfield should, at a minimum, be publicly reprimanded by the full House and removed from committee assignments.

Friday a week ago was GOP Day at the capitol. Republicans wanted to call attention to their leadership role in state government. It’s safe to say they succeeded in that effort.

Among the tables set up to showcase the GOP was one, apparently unknown to party leaders like state Chairwoman Melody Potter, promoting an anti-Muslim organization, ACT Charleston. At some point, the table featured a blatantly anti-Muslim poster.

The House was called into late session and the displays were still there. Potter may not have seen it but some already worn-out Democrats did. At least two, Del. Mike Caputo of Marion County and Del. Mike Pushkin of Kanawha, confronted the anti-Muslim booth attendant, Brenda Arthur.

Caputo was apparently enraged. He eventually approached the chamber door while a pre-session prayer and pledge to the flag took place. After trying to open the door a couple of times, Caputo admits he kicked it in, reportedly injuring a young assistant doorkeeper. Both Caputo and Pushkin allegedly used vulgar language on the floor and pushed at least two Republican female House members.

Hanshaw stripped Caputo of his committee assignments, but there was no punishment for Pushkin by Thursday. Porterfield, who is now a minister but is blind because of a reported altercation in the Midwest a few years ago, remains untouched by discipline.

Nobody is especially happy, but Democrats are defending Caputo to the hilt. I am a bit surprised by that, although I guess I shouldn’t be. Republicans, at least, seem universally appalled at Porterfield’s remarks.

Democrats, by and large, appear not to care that Kanawha Dels. Sharon Malcomb and Dianna Graves were verbally and perhaps physically assaulted by two or three male Democrats.

The whole episode is another black eye the state doesn’t need. We’ll let the voters make a final decision on these public officials next year.

In another case, the punishment probably was appropriate for the crime. Readers realize that some time ago I said former Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum is a good man who made a career-ending legal mistake. Sentencing the 78-year-old to three years’ probation, fining him and making him pay restitution are reasonable decisions from federal Judge John Copenhaver.

Ketchum will now remain a contributing member to Huntington’s future as a pro bono paralegal.

Some conservatives are complaining about media coverage of Caputo or lack thereof. I admit, particularly television news seemed light. Arthur was the lady at the anti-Muslim booth and some reports said she could not be identified. She hands her card to anyone who wants one.

Yes, the coverage was light.

Thank God the campus carry gun bill was defeated.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or ronjgregory@gmail.com.