Last updated: April 15. 2014 11:55PM - 2112 Views
By Ron Gregory ronjgregory@gmail.com

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It’s always good to know when a public official has been cleared of any possible criminal wrong-doing. Somehow, that reminds me of the Southern West Virginia politician who ran for re-election to the legislature. In his advertising, he noted that he had “Never been CONVICTED of a felony.” That was so reassuring, voters in his district sent him back to Charleston. Later, he WAS, in fact, CONVICTED of a felony but later ran again and won another election. A second felony conviction was apparently the charm, though, because he withdrew from politics after that.

Would some astute reader now send me a text, email or voice mail to tell me who the legislator was, as if I don’t know. Sometimes, I want to be “mysterious.”

Mingo County Commission President Greg “Hootie” Smith was asked last week to be specific with regard to his radio ads. In the commercials, an announcer proclaims that Smith’s progressive record has not “stopped Lonnie and Team Truman from trying to divert your attention by continuing to spread absolute misinformation and lies about Hootie.” The reference is obviously to one of his opponents, Lonnie Hannah, and veteran State Senator Truman Chafin.

Although Smith uses the majority of his one-minute commercial to accuse Hannah and Chafin of “spreading lies,” nothing in the advertisement says exactly what lies have been circulated.

When I called Smith in his Williamson office, he immediately answered. I must say that, in my experience with him, Smith has always either answered the phone or quickly returned any call. He has never been anything but cordial in his responses, either.

That day, Smith seemed a bit surprised when I asked him what “lies” he was referring to in the spot. After a bit of hesitation, he responded, “you mean specifically?” I told him that I would just like to know ONE of the lies that had been spread by Hannah and/or Chafin,

“They’ve told everybody I’m going to be arrested,” said Smith. “That’s just untrue and there is absolutely nothing to their stories that I was involved in any illegal activities in connection with the election.” Presumably, he is speaking of the 2012 election, where his “Team Mingo” ran a coordinated campaign that was largely successful. Despite the election victories, Team Mingo elected officials have been parading off to prison virtually ever since. Smith emphatically told me he is not being investigated and is “under no cloud” of suspicion.

So, there is a prime example of politics, folks. Someone apparently has the “facts” wrong. Rumors have continued, just as Smith says, that he is under suspicion and a target of federal corruption investigations in Mingo County. Although I have never heard such allegations from either Hannah or Senator Chafin, I surely have heard them from men and women “on the street.” Smith has apparently heard them as well. His long-time feud with Chafin spreads into the rumors, I guess. If someone says something negative about Smith, it is “Team Truman” doing it.

Whatever, Smith has now told me — and the public — that he is NOT under the federal microscope. We now know that he is NOT being looked at by federal officials. That is comforting to know, indeed.

* * * * * *

The reality is, however, that U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has constantly called Smith’s “Team Mingo” political faction “corrupt.” He has said it in press conferences; and he has written it in arguments to the court. Is is, of course, possible that the political faction is corrupt and its leader is not. On the other hand, Smith should not be surprised that rumors are spread, especially when Goodwin consistently says, “the investigation is continuing.”

* * * * * *

In the “is it just me or …” department: I find it amusing that former State Senator Vic Sprouse of Kanawha County is standing on Charleston street corners these days holding signs in his election campaign for the school board. While I might ask how far the mighty have fallen, I am a bit skeptical of Sprouse as a school board candidate. Those familiar with the situation may recall that Sprouse was the subject of constant Internet scrutiny involving a child he had with the daughter of Republican Congressman David McKinley. The mother accused Sprouse, in newspapers and social media, of basically ignoring the child who was born with a severe illness. Although Amy McKinley has been silent during the current campaign, one wonders if Kanawha County voters will reward Sprouse, who apparently abandoned his child, with a position in authority over THEIR children.

* * * * * *

One discerning reader has figured out that I am a … gasp … Republican. It’s as if I haven’t written that about 12 times in this space but I must plead guilty as charged. I have also explained, as last week’s attack on anti-abortion crazed Republicans would show, that this column is not partisan. Here, I call it as I see it, regardless of party affiliation.

I may as well also admit that, as chairman of the Lincoln Public Service District, I was hospitalized for 32 days and the water line at my house sprang a leak. Eventually, I faced a $1,200 water bill due to the leak. I have paid it off in monthly payments. Although utility bills are allegedly private business, that is evidently not true in Lincoln County, where my enemies like to spread lies about it. But, as I have told you, I am willing to confess. Are you?

By the way, anonymous phone calls telling me the caller “knows” I am “in the back pocket of the Logan County commission,” may or may not be true. Nevertheless, the recent rumors being passed on by the caller are NOT correct.

* * * * * *

State Senate President Jeff Kessler did not confirm rumors last week about the sesquicentennial celebration last year in Wheeling but he didn’t quite deny them either. Stories had spread that there was “trouble” in the President’s office involving Kessler paying “transportation” for speaker John Kennedy Shriver out of personal funds while a senate employee was also paid by the state for transporting Shriver.

According to Kessler, the issue became “confused” when he (Kessler) mistakenly thought Shriver would be speaking as a part of the interim legislative session planned in Wheeling to coincide with West Virginia’s alleged birthday. Somehow, apparently, Democrats in control of state government think the Kennedys are responsible for the creation of the Mountain State, since Shriver’s uncle, President John F. Kennedy, spoke at the centennial celebration.

Be that as it may, Kessler says things got confusing when he found out that neither he nor Shriver appeared on the printed program produced for the evening event held by the Wheeling Symphony. “Out of an abundance of caution,” the president said he wrote Steve McElroy of his staff a personal check for expenses in transporting Shriver.

At least four Democrat senators insisted, however, that McElroy submitted a travel voucher for the day after Kessler had paid him personally. They unanimously reported, independent of each other, that Kessler became incensed when he learned what McElroy had done “and ordered the clerk’s office to shred the document.” Kessler told me last week that he had not ever seen such a paper. He did admit, though, that there was the previously mentioned “confusion” and he took “immediate steps” to straighten it all out. One result, he said, was the creation of a new policy on travel that requires all such trips to be approved by him in advance “from my personal email account.” The new rule, which Kessler said was implemented last year, applies to senators and their staffs.

* * * * * *

There was apparently a hot time in the old town last week at Kermit, when a “Meet the Candidate” event was held. The first question came when Delegate Justin Marcum presented a $12,000 grant to the Town of Kermit, its Mayor Johnny Linville and three members of town council. Since the event was apparently limited to Democrat candidates and co-sponsored by the Democrat Ladies club, some wondered if it was appropriate for the incumbent delegate to present a state award at a partisan event. Asked if it was legal last week, the executive director of the state Ethics Commission said the action did “give an appearance of impropriety” but was likely not illegal. The director, Joan Parker, did admit, however, that she had never heard of a partisan political event where government checks were handed out. I dutifully pointed out that she likely had not seen much of Mingo County’s government operations, where “firsts” always seem to be recorded. She said it would be a “stretch” to accuse Marcum of garnering personal gain from his public position.

Katherine Dillon of the Democrat Ladies confirmed that Marcum did, in fact, present the check at the beginning of the forum and that the presentation “didn’t take away from his two minutes to talk about his campaign.”

The gloves were apparently off during the actual event, when Smith declared his innocence of any wrong-doing to the assembled crowd. One attendee said County Clerk “Big Jim” Hatfield gave “the best speech of his life” in responding to Smith. Hatfield is a former county commissioner and a candidate for the job in the primary.Hatfield reportedly responded to Smith’s assertion that there is “no cloud” over him or Team Mingo by quoting the U.S. attorney’s office. Others who attended said appointed Commissioner Mike Carter “sounded more like a preacher than a public official,” repeatedly telling the crowd what “God told him to do.”

* * * * * *

Political polls have shown some interesting results, particularly in the coalfield primaries. A Democrat candidate-sponsored poll has former Delegate Ralph Rodighiero leading the pack in District 24, which includes Logan County. Current Delegate Ted Tomblin is shown in second place with the other incumbent, Rupie Phillips, third. Two are elected from the district. David Graham, a newcomer, is fourth in the survey.

The same poll shows incumbent Delegates Josh Barker and Jeff Eldridge leading the Democrat pack in District 22, which includes parts of Lincoln, Logan, Boone and Putnam counties. Former Lincoln school board member Gary McCallister is third, where two are nominated.

In the 36th district, which is based in Kanawha County, the hotly-contested primary field appears to be led by former Delegate Larry Rowe. Current Delegates Nancy Guthrie and Mark Hunt are shown as second and third, respectively. Delegate Danny Wells would be out of the money, if the poll is true. He is ranked fourth in the three-person district.

I doubt that things will turn out that way, though. I expect Wells to win, for one thing.

And … Graham has my support, if only for the fact that he is sponsoring a pig roast on Friday, May 2, at 5 p.m. The “chef” is Glen “Hound Dog” Adkins at the Logan Elementary School gym. I plan to attend, in case Diane or anyone want to beat me up that day, because Adkins makes the best pig roast in this world. He is also a great friend and I enjoy his company and tall tales. He’s a great guy.

* * * * * *

Your comments, rumors, story ideas and denials of criminal activity are always welcome. As for myself, I just hope not to get caught. Use my email address or call my cell, 304-533-5185.

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