West Virginia is a small state – and since it’s my wife’s home state (and the late Matt Reese’s), I must speak respectfully – but the political drama unfolding with the impeachment of the entire state supreme court has the makings of a novel. The state’s last flirtation with tossing out an elected official dates back decades when U. S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s uncle surrendered the state treasurer’s office in disgrace.
Let me invite you to light a cigar or brew a pot of coffee and catch up on the latest insights from my Hawthorn colleague (and former West Virginia governor’s press secretary) Steve Cohen:
- A chief justice (who surrendered the title “chief” when the spotlight was on) faces dozens of federal indictments with 400+ years in the pokey triggered by his taking Cass Gilbert-era furniture to his home and using a state car for personal business (and allegedly submitting receipts for fuel reimbursement when the car was returned with an empty tank.) And get this: he wrote a book years ago about the history of political corruption in the state!
- Trial at the Robert C. Byrd U.S. courthouse scheduled for the fall, the same courthouse where coal executive Don Blankenship was convicted for mine safety violations; yes, the same Don Blankenship seeking to skirt the sore loser law for a spot on the ballot this November in the Joe Manchin Senate race.
- A second justice quit on the eve of impeachment proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee. He pled guilty to a federal indictment for evading taxes and personal use of a state car. The three unindicted justices remaining are women.
- But one of those three quit this past week after the full House voted to impeach them all. She was charged with the rest for overspending on renovations to her chambers. This New York Times account references the slippery slope of impeachment for bloated government spending. (West Virginia happens to be the only state where the judicial branch has total control over its budget, but the legislature voted this year to put a Constitutional amendment on the November ballot to give lawmakers that control.) As if any legislative body is heralded for frugality with public funds!
- So, the state senate convenes for an impeachment trial next month. And Congressman Evan Jenkins, (who ran for the court in 2000 and lost to the justice who most recently resigned …and ran for Joe Manchin’s Senate seat this year but lost in the GOP primary) is seen as likely to get a gubernatorial appointment to one of the two vacancies before subsequently seeking election outright.
Not enough drama? President Trump will hold a rally in the state capital Tuesday.
And why does it all matter beyond the Mountain State? Because if there IS a Supreme Court in West Virginia they could play a major role in deciding whether defeated GOP US Senate Nominee (and former prisoner) coal mogul Don Blankenship gets on the ballot as a third-party candidate, helping the Democrats and hurting the Republicans chances to win West Virginia’s Senate seat and control of the U.S. Senate.