CHARLESTON – Do state Republicans favor the appointment of a union-backed candidate over Danville’s Town Manager? No, according to State Party Chair Conrad Lucas, who said late Friday that “the state Republican party has no position on what state Democrats do as far as internal matters go. That is something we are not going to be involved with.”
But one well-known GOP official apparently has a different view. In an email Friday, August 2, Rob Cornelius of the West Virginia Federation of Young Republicans, told recipients that “strangely, this is what I would prefer as well.”
Cornelius made reference and included attachments with his email that appeared to favor an effort to discredit Danville Town Manager Josh Barker. Barker was appointed Wednesday by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to fill the unexpired term of 22nd Delegate District representative Josh Stowers, who resigned to accept a position in the state Treasurer’s Office.
Barker, one of three names given to the governor by the 22nd Delegate District Democrat Committee, underwent “a thorough background check,” according to the governor’s office. Although questions regarding Barker’s residence surfaced before his appointment, the governor’s staff apparently found no merit to the accusations.
At issue is whether Barker, as an appointee to the post, must be held to the same standard as someone elected to the House. Several attorneys believe he does not since the only specific provisions for appointment are that the candidate live in the district to which he or she is appointed and be of the same political party as the person he or she replaces. In this case, Stowers and Barker are both Democrats.
Barker does not deny, nor has he ever denied, that he moved into the 22nd District about two months ago. He and his family now reside on Big Ugly Road in Boone County. State law concerning a candidate appearing on the ballot for election says that candidate must have lived in the district for a year before the election. Barker acknowledges he did not live in the 22nd District for a year before the 2012 election. But he maintains the provision applies only to candidates who “run for election and are on the ballot.” Barker says that by the time the 2014 election rolls around, he will have lived in the district the required amount of time to run for election.
In his email, however, Cornelius disagrees with that premise. The email, addressed to Michael Queen and copied to this reporter, in part says, “When you can, please pass the attachments below to (House Speaker Tim) Miley. Looks like Tomblin’s people didn’t do their homework on the delegate they’re appointing in Lincoln/Logan Co. on Monday. Dude is probably ineligible. If he’s out, Tim (Miley) can get another union guy in his delegation (Gary McCallister). Strangely this is what I would prefer as well.”
Cornelius, who is not on the state GOP payroll, could not be reached for comment. State Party Chair Conrad Lucas emphatically distanced himself and the state party from Cornelius’ comments. “We simply are not involved in what the Democrats do internally,” Lucas reiterated.
Tomblin waited a full five days, all the time he had according to law, to appoint Barker. The son of the governor’s senior advisor, Raamie Barker, was selected over union organizer McCallister. State union officials, including Kenny Perdue of the AFL-CIO, lobbied heavily for McCallister’s appointment.
It would seem odd for a high-profile Republican such as Cornelius to favor more union membership in the House since the Republicans have largely campaigned against organized unions in the past. Some believe Cornelius is among state Republicans who believe the GOP has a better shot at taking control of the House in 2014 if the Democratic majority is presently made up of more liberal, union-backed legislators. Some in the GOP think state voters will react negatively to union control of the House and vote Democrats out next year.
Barker said late Friday he is not overly concerned with the challenge. “You have to fight for everything you ever get in life,” he said. “I’m confident I’m qualified and the governor’s office determined that I am. I plan to be sworn in on Monday, as planned.”
The new delegate’s swearing-in ceremony is set for 1 p.m., Monday, in the House chambers at the state capitol. Boone County Circuit Judge Will Thompson is scheduled to preside.
— Ron Gregory can be reached at email@example.com