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Mike Caputo: Republicans stalled taking action

August 27, 2018

Ketchup. That’s what got Cabell County attorney Menis Ketchum elected to a 12-year term on the West Virginia Supreme Court.

Before his commercials discussing the similarities his last name had to the popular condiment started airing, it was reported Ketchum’s name was only recognizable to about 4 percent of the state’s population. He won handily.

Four years later, a former Supreme Court clerk won a seat on the state’s highest court, running a television commercial in which he opened a closet in his home to show he didn’t have any “skeletons.” Allen Loughry said “I will serve you with honor.”

Ketchup, then skeletons.

Those gimmicks were used to tout each man’s integrity. Ketchum was described as a “no-nonsense straight shooter who can’t be bought.” Loughry talked up his book that exposed “political corruption.”

Needless to say, West Virginians were sold a bill of goods. As we are all painfully aware, after reports of outrageous spending and wasting of taxpayer dollars for personal benefit, Justice Ketchum has resigned and faces a federal charge. Justice Loughry, though refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing, has been suspended pending federal charges against him, and the West Virginia Senate is currently considering his impeachment. Ketchum resigned mere days before the House Judiciary impeachment hearings were scheduled to begin. He has since agreed to plead guilty to a felony criminal count of wire fraud.

The spending and behavior, outlined in a legislative audit, a report by the Judicial Investigation Commission and in the federal indictments, are shameful. But what is even more troubling is the fact that the Republican legislative leadership and governor ignored those allegations for weeks - weeks that overlapped the regular legislative session, when the impeachment hearings could have been initiated at no additional taxpayer cost.

When House Democrats called for Loughry’s impeachment during the legislative session, Senate President Mitch Carmichael told reporters it “may be the single dumbest most ridiculous political stunt that I’ve seen in my time at the Legislature.” He stated calling for Loughry’s resignation and impeachment had the feel of “a political vendetta.”

When Ketchum resigned in the face of possible impeachment, Carmichael said “We appreciate and respect the decision of Justice Ketchum to step down” Republican Gov. Jim Justice thanked Ketchum, “on behalf of the people of West Virginia, for his public service.”

As a 22-year member of the House, Democratic Minority Whip and a union representative, I issued a statement too. “The abuse of power and the misuse of taxpayer dollars in our state’s highest court is sickening - and Justice Ketchum has played an active role in this corruption. Justice Ketchum has taken advantage of his position in the Supreme Court, and in doing so he has taken advantage of the West Virginia voters who elected him.” I said this despite the fact that Ketchum, who was elected when judicial races were still partisan, is a Democrat.

In addition, I, along with many other Democrats serving in the Legislature, have long called on Loughry, who was also elected in a partisan race as a Republican and whose offenses far overshadow Ketchum’s disgraceful conduct, to resign.

For me, this isn’t about political parties. It’s about the responsible handling of taxpayer money and respect for West Virginia citizens. Unfortunately, Senate President Carmichael, Governor Justice and their Republican leadership have indicated otherwise. They stalled any action against the Supreme Court, only initiating impeachment hearings after repeated, vehement public outcry following the federal indictments.

And while Loughry is a Republican and Ketchum is a Democrat, they have in common a few things other than just this troubling chapter: They both voted to overturn a court injunction halting the state’s so-called “Right to Work” law, which is intended to crush unions and silence workers; they both voted to trample the will of voters in the 9th Senate District, ruling that despite the fact a Democrat was elected to the seat, because the senator holding that seat switched parties then resigned, a Republican should be appointed.

Both of those rulings bolstered the four-year political vendetta the Republicans are pursuing against working West Virginians. That effort is all about a political agenda intended to lower wages and benefits, make workplaces less safe and give tax cuts to wealthy corporations. It’s all part of their culture of corruption.

In June, after weeks of stalling on the Supreme Court issue, Carmichael finally said in order “to repair the public’s trust, there must be a fundamental change and that starts with Justice Loughry stepping down and allowing the Court to move forward without him.”

For once, I agree with him.

But we are never going to repair the public’s trust in state government as a whole if the governor and legislature continue to sacrifice the well-being of working families to pursue their Republican Party-dictated agenda to benefit the wealthy.

The taxpayers deserve nothing less than to see Ketchum handcuffed, shackled and marched off to jail. If the accusations against Loughry are proven, he deserves the same.

These justices managed to get elected using deceit and catch phrases, and they rewarded voters with corruption and criminality. I just hope West Virginians realize that their actions reflect the overall greedy agenda of the current leadership - and vote accordingly in November.

West Virginia Delegate Mike Caputo, a Democrat, represents the 50th District in Marion County.

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