The recent death of Jean Queen, a fine lady who formerly served as both a teacher and then later as a member of the Logan County Board of Education, got me to thinking about how politics has changed in Logan County. Just in the last few years, things have evolved in dramatic fashion, probably for the better. Still, the past must be appreciated, or at least preserved in some written form.
In one way or another, I have been involved in the political realm of Logan County for nearly all of my life. I have witnessed many things, including illegal activities of every manner.
I was there before daybreak on the election grounds of Verdunville Grade School as a pre-teenager when Alvis Porter — a constable and highly liked and efficient politician — placed a pistol at the chest of former state senator Bernard Smith that morning and threatened to shoot him over a political dispute. It is my understanding there would have been very few mourners had the shooting actually occurred.
Porter, the uncle of former Logan County Circuit Clerk Alvis Porter, my friend for whom the younger former clerk was named, was unbeatable at Verdunville precinct. His slate of candidates always carried the day there to the point that the precinct was often referred to as “Porterville.” It wasn’t until Porter was nominated for the County Court (now, the County Commission) that the opposing powers sought his impeachment, partly due to the pistol incident.
Smith, on the other hand, would later serve time in prison and lose his law license after being indicted by a special Kanawha County Grand Jury in 1970 for “taking and giving bribes” while state welfare commissioner. He would return to Logan with a vengeance, always seeking to impeach one of the most popular office holders ever in the county, Tom Godby. Godby, who played the leading role of Boling Baker in the first ever “Aracoma Story” production in, I believe, 1957, was the leading vote-getter in the 1960 election, which also produced President John F. Kennedy.
After successful re-elections bids in 1964 and 1968, a politically instigated impeachment proceeding was filed against him by several persons charging many reasons why he should be removed.
Infamous Circuit Judge C.C. Chambers had finally retired due to major health issues and newly elected Judge Harvey Oakley, after a lengthy trial, ruled against Godby, who was removed from office as assessor. Godby’s case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, and after several months passed, the court ruled Godby should be restored to office.
Godby would in the 1980s face impeachment proceedings again, eventually losing his position to Woodrow Lowe in the election of 1988, a bitter election year in which I believe more money was spent in one way or another than in any election prior to that time period. At Verdunville precinct alone, a very popular and experienced precinct captain I knew well was awarded $10,000 in checks and cash to use as needed to gain victory for one political slate. Godby was not on that preferred slate and the results indicated so.
The history of Logan County politics is truly amazing. One only has to look as the microfilm files of the 1920s through the early 2000s to see how even such legendary names as the Hatfields were bathed in the sins of politics. An in-depth study of Logan County politics tells me that the most corrupt office holder in Logan history was very likely the youngest son of William Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield, Sheriff Tennis Hatfield. He, along with his brother, Joe, ruled Logan County nearly eight years before their illegal exploits were uncovered. That, however, shall be a separate future story.
I feel no need to write about the many things that have occurred over the years, such as one Logan sheriff being kicked out of his home for having an affair, and then having to practically live in his courthouse office. One evening after the courthouse had closed, he accidentally locked his keys up in his office. The echoing of gunshots reverberated off the courthouse walls as he shot the locks off of the door to gain entrance to the sheriff’s office.
There are literally scores of stories of interest that could be told of past and some present politicians of Logan County. The following story relates to myself and unfortunately, I never did tell the late Jean Queen how she very likely did me a favor — even though she probably cost me my first election back in 1988.
I had chosen to seek the office of magistrate that year, even though I was then an employee of Sheriff Tom “Rose” Tomblin’s office. I had already approached the sheriff and offered to resign so as not to provide him any political problems. After all, his chief deputy’s wife was also a candidate for magistrate, although I had filed first. The sheriff asked me not to resign, and I did not.
Tomblin, who was a fantastic businessman, really did not like the position of being sheriff, having to deal with many internal problems resulting from the creation of the correctional officers system that replaced deputies in various job aspects of the jail, which was then located on the fourth floor of the courthouse. He, like I believe everybody on his political slate, would lose in 1988. For the record, I ran as an Independent Democrat and was not on any slate that I was aware of; nor did I expect to be. I simply couldn’t afford it.
To cut to the chase, my late brother Chris was married to Rhonda Moore, the daughter of George Moore, who had been voted in as chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, replacing veteran politico Woodrow Lowe in a meeting that I covered for The Logan Banner. In that meeting, with the vote tied, a young former all-state football player and Triadelphia area executive committee member, Rick Grimmett, cast the deciding vote to oust Lowe.
My brother was helping Grimmett in his bid to be elected to the Logan County Board of Education, likely because of George Moore’s request. Chris had escorted Grimmett to and fro throughout the Mud Fork area for several days. I, on the other hand, had covered Grimmett as an exciting running back and linebacker for Coach Tootie Carter’s Man Hillbillies football team.
As Election Day closed in, Chris telephoned me and said Grimmett and some other people wanted to meet with me at what was the Ranch House club at Stollings. He indicated the group might be interested in helping me in my election bid.
So, I went to meet the guys around the edge of dark, two days before the election, not knowing what to expect.
They were quick to point out they were getting ready to have their slates printed soon and were interested in me for the third magistrate spot on their ticket. I knew that slate would likely mean a victory for me and also would not cost me any money. There was just one catch.
As the deal was pretty much made and I was about to leave, someone posed the question: “Who are you going to be for in the Board race?”
For those who really know me in the true political sense, you know I’m going to tell you the truth, which is not necessarily always a good thing when it comes to politics. At any rate, I should have known better, but I quickly answered, “I like Jean Queen.”
Unfortunately for me, Man High School athletic director Joe Pete Burgess, also a friend of mine, was a candidate for the Board of Education. Needless to say, I, understandably, was not placed on the Triadelphia slate.
As it turned out, I was the surprise leader in the voting on election night for the third magistrate spot, among 16 other candidates for that position. As I listened to the election results on the radio back when that was a truly exciting thing to do, I took a substantial lead into the last precinct, which had not reported its results (Lane precinct of Chapmanville). When the tally finally came in, well after midnight, I had lost by 69 votes in my first campaign bid. I have always suspected foul play in that precinct.
Jean Queen lost by about 10 votes. She never contested the results and would a few years later win a school board seat.
As previously mentioned, Jean Queen did me a favor that she never knew about. Because, you see, I later went to work for Woodrow Lowe in the Assessor’s office, then Rick Grimmett, who was named to replace Tom Godby, after Godby had come back to defeat Lowe, but subsequently died before taking office again.
I became good friends with first Mr. Lowe, and later Grimmett, whom I today classify as a trusted ally and confidant. While in my position in the assessor’s office, I worked with many wonderful people and I also got to meet numerous people throughout the county that I would not have met otherwise.
God has blessed me since I was first elected as magistrate in the year of 2000. I have many people to thank for being allowed the opportunity to serve the citizens of Logan County. I have been blessed again to not face any opposition this year in my last go-around as one of three Logan magistrates.
In an uncanny way, I have Jean to thank. The Lord truly does work in mysterious ways.
The very well-respected and loved Jean Queen left us at the age of 91 on Easter Sunday. She will be missed by all of us who were blessed to have known her.