Now there’s national attention on our supposed “fracture” in the West Virginia GOP caused by our Governor and the State Party interfering with local voters’ statutory right to choose the candidates for replacement of a legislative vacancy within their county:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — On a beach vacation in South Carolina with his family, Jay Marcum was awaiting a call from the governor of West Virginia. He was a finalist for the vacant seat of a state legislator who resigned after being charged with illegally entering the U.S. Capitol in the Jan. 6 riot. Instead, state Republican leaders ordered a redo on candidate applications and insisted Marcum return home for an in-person interview.
“I don’t really understand why we can’t do a Zoom,” he told them. Nevertheless, the 51-year-old small-business owner packed up his disappointed children and left Myrtle Beach at 6 a.m. for the nine-hour trip home.
Ultimately, his journey was for naught: Republican Gov. Jim Justice ended up appointing neither Marcum nor either of the two other candidates who had been placed on a shortlist by GOP party leaders in Wayne County, where the delegate seat is located. Justice instead appointed a political neophyte, enraging Republicans in the rural county and unleashing accusations of subterfuge and backdoor politics in the Mountain State.
If you want to understand more about this, and even compare what the Republicans have done to their own constituents this past year by attempting to usurp the process with their bylaws, you very well might be outraged at what they’ve done. You’re probably not even aware of it though, because it’s been well hidden in the swamp water.
Yesterday the State GOP responded with their brief against us, after being allowed to “intervene” as an interested party by the Supreme Court. Here’s the WV State GOP’s response brief to our Petition for Writ of Mandamus in the Delegate District 19 Case:
There’s a giant red herring in this case, disguising a massive power grab that is occurring right before our eyes.
The Governor, the Attorney General and the State GOP are either intentionally, or mistakenly, operating under the premise that a county party executive committee in West Virginia is somehow a subcommittee and subservient to the state party executive committee (or as the State GOP terms it, “subordinate”). What’s being lost in the mix – perhaps by design – is that a county party executive committee, or even a delegate or senatorial district committee, is a separate organization – a separate committee – from that of the state party. It is not a subcommittee of the state executive committee. Nor is it subservient to the state executive committee.
Don’t quite understand? Let’s get into the weeds….
The State Republican Executive Committee has its bylaws, which it can amend, revise, or modify. Likewise, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee has its own bylaws. The state committee cannot modify the county committee’s bylaws. Nor can the county committee modify the state committee’s bylaws. Perhaps I need to make a diagram. Let’s try this (not drawn to scale, LOL):
Now…. so if Delegate Sniffy McSniffer resigns his theoretical seat in the WV House of Delegates, and his seat district lies in 2 or more counties (so “multi-county”), the executive committee that would convene and perform the process of choosing 3 qualified candidates for presentment to the Governor for his appointment, would be Sniffy McSniffer’s district executive committee, organized and created under W. Va Code §3-1-9(b) (see above handy diagram), and comprised of elected local members from those districts (in two or more different counties). Since the legislative district is multi-county, it has its own executive committee elected (because it can’t logically or technically be done in just one county executive committee).
Then…. so if Delegate Rusty Shackleford resigns his theoretical seat in the WV House of Delegates shortly after Delegate McSniffer, there’s another legislative vacancy which needs to be filled pursuant to the process outlined by state code in W. Va. Code § 3-10-5. This is the same code section, but different executive committee. Why? Because Delegate Shackleford’s legislative district lies wholly within one county. Therefore, since it’s not a multi-county district, pursuant to W. Va Code §3-1-9(c) (see handy chart above) the elected committee members (still elected by party voters at their local precincts) are all already members of the county executive committee of that particular county.
There is no separate executive committee for those districts. They are technically just subcommittees of the county executive committee (assuming all of the county members don’t reside in the vacant legislative district). Thus, Del. Shackleford’s replacement is chosen by the county executive committee, at a meeting convened of its members who reside in the vacant district. They vote, and then that executive committee conveys the nominees to the Governor for his appointment of one of those qualified individuals.
The state code for legislative vacancy replacement is clear: it’s the elected local committee members who make the nominations, whether via their own multi-county executive committee, or via the county executive committee for single-county districts. Which brings us to the real problem here: the State GOP has engaged in an attempted power grab to give itself a veto and technical control over this vacancy replacement process. This is what the State GOP inserted into their bylaws (i.e., not the bylaws of county and district committees which are separate political committees under state law):
Section 4. Vacancy in the State Legislature: Wherever else public or Party law requires the filling of an elected office by a Party Committee, the State Senate Executive Committee or House of Delegate Executive Committee, whatever the case may be, shall fulfil their obligations in accordance with state law as provided in this rule….
(c) The State Party Chairman, or their designee, shall facilitate the process of conducting interviews and filling such office by whatever means necessary, which shall include but is not limited to, facilitating and conducting the interviews, calling special meetings of the District Vacancy Committee, and certifying the results of such committee meetings to the Governor. The State Chairman shall take care to see that each candidate nominated by the Republican Party for such office is constitutionally eligible.
(d) The State Chairman and State Party Staff shall, in consultation with the elected Chair of the District Vacancy Committee, prepare a list of questions that will be asked of candidates during their interview process. The State Chairman and State Party Staff shall ensure that there is adequate public notice of such vacancy and that there are at least Seventy-two (72) hours between the time that the notice is posted publicly and the time that the application period closes.
a. The nomination of such candidates for a vacancy shall occur in the following manner:
i. If there are three (3) candidates who have applied, the Vacancy Committee need not convene, unless called to do so by the State Chair, the District Vacancy Chair, or upon the application of forty percent (40%) of the members of the District Vacancy Committee. In such cases, should there be only three candidates, and the committee is not called, the State Chairman shall certify those three names to the Governor and shall provide a copy to the Secretary of State.
ii. If there are less than three (3) candidates, the Vacancy District Committee shall convene and endeavor to fill the remaining slots from a list of eligible registered Republicans who are constitutionally eligible to hold such office and are registered to vote in and reside in the District from which the vacancy arises.
iii. If there are more than three (3) candidates who apply for such office, interviews will be conducted in person at a location in the District, unless such district is within twenty-five (25) miles of the State Party Headquarters, at which point the interviews shall be conducted at State Party Headquarters. All interviews will be uniform and no candidate shall be asked different questions, questioned by individual committee members, or be given more or less time. Upon the conclusion of the interviews, the District Vacancy Committee shall deliberate and choose three candidates to submit to the Governor. The District Vacancy Committee shall vote by blank ballot and no name shall be placed on the list submitted to the Governor unless they receive a majority of votes cast. The members of the District Vacancy Committee shall vote for up to three candidates on the first round of balloting. If any candidate receives a majority of votes cast, that candidate shall be nominated and their name shall be removed from the next round of voting. In succeeding rounds of balloting, the committee members shall only be allowed to vote for the number of slots left to nominate. In each succeeding round of balloting, the candidate receiving the fewest votes shall be eliminated for the next round of balloting, unless there are multiple candidates who receive the fewest amounts of votes. This process shall continue indefinitely until a slate of three (3) candidates is nominated.
iv. Upon the conclusion of the committee interviews and action, the State Chairman, District Vacancy Committee Chairman (or Vice Chair in the absence of the Chair), and District Vacancy Committee Secretary shall certify, by letter on State Party letterhead, the list of three (3) names for such vacancy. This letter shall be filed by the State Party Staff within twenty-four (24) hours of the letter being signed by all three officers. All letters and certification papers shall be filed with the Governor of West Virginia and the West Virginia Secretary of State.
v. In any case where there is no Senate Vacancy Committee or Delegate Vacancy Committee due to the district being wholly within one county, the County Chair shall appoint a subcommittee which shall act as the vacancy committee and the process of such committee be facilitated by the County Chair and State Chair. In such case, the names of the three (3) nominated candidates shall be certified by the County Chair, County Secretary, and State Chair.
Note that last subsection….They’ve gone completely power mad. But this is where they’re saying that there’s a requirement that the State Chair must be involved and certify the process, etc. It’s in their own new insane bylaws – not state code, nor in county/district bylaws!
It wasn’t always so. As of 2019 and early 2020, the State GOP bylaws (in place at the time) were mostly silent on the issue of legislative vacancy appointments. Then, in the summer of 2020, they aggressively attempted to steal their little brothers’ authority, and changed their bylaws to include all the stuff the State GOP cited in their brief. Here are the 2020 amended (State Party) bylaws. Now they’ve given themselves authority in the vacancy replacement process, which did not exist previously – as indicated by prior single-county vacancy appointments.
So, can the State GOP do that? They’ve effectively changed W. Va. Code § 3-10-5, which gives the local executive committees (whether county or multi-county local legislative district) the important authority of vetting and nominating their local candidates. W. Va. Code § 3-10-5 does not give the state executive committee that authority. Even the new aggressive State GOP bylaws recognize this authority:
ARTICLE XIII – Regulation of Subordinate Party Executive Committees
Section 1. Jurisdiction. In the interest of effective organization and party harmony, the State Executive Committee and its Chairman shall and will exercise jurisdiction, control and authority over the County, Senatorial, Delegate District, and Congressional Committees of the Republican Party in West Virginia in all matters having to do with: (i) the filling of vacancies when any such Committee is unable to do so, (ii) the election of any officer of the committee in the event of a tie vote, and (iii) of any other matter of the business of any such committee which in the opinion of the State Executive Committee or the State Chairman shall be of sufficient importance to the Republican party to require removal from local consideration and action by the State Executive Committee.
Note that the State GOP uses the word “subordinate” in their new bylaws. That word does not come from W. Va Code §3-1-9 (see chart above). However, it clearly expresses their attitude towards local elected committee members. But even in these outrageous bylaws, they are required to acknowledge that they can only possibly attempt to intervene “when any such Committee is unable to do so,” or some other situation of “sufficient importance” in the opinion of the State GOP. Again, this is authorized nowhere in the State Code, which created a state executive committee and other county and district executive committees separate and apart from each other – not “subordinate.”
Even assuming the questionable legality of these Myanmar style bylaws, there are still due process protections for the peasant local committee members (who mind you, are the only ones elected by the people of that district – unlike the state committee members from the 54 other counties):
Section 2. Temporary Exigent Jurisdiction. If, in the opinion of the Chairman of the State Executive Committee, time is of the essence in regard to the issue or issues in controversy, the Chairman may exercise discretion to resolve the issue or issues in controversy, on a temporary basis by taking such action as they may deem in the best interests of the Republican Party by filling any vacancy, naming any officer, or taking what other action may be provident and they shall notify in writing the members of any subordinate committee of their action within ten (10) days thereafter, which action shall become final and binding upon the County, Senatorial, Delegate District, or Congressional Committees of the Republican Party in West Virginia and their members, unless a notice of appeal in writing filed by no less that 50 percent of the members of any such committee is filed with the Secretary of the State Committee within ten (10) days after the date of mailing of the notice, as herein above provided for, by the said Chairman to the members of such committee. Such notice of appeal to the Secretary shall be sent by certified or registered mail. Any such action taken by the Chairman in accordance with the terms of this section shall be in full force and effect from the date of his action until any appeal therefrom is adjudicated in accordance with the provisions of section three hereof.
Section 3. When any such question or controversy arises in any such County, Senatorial, Delegate District, or Congressional Committee, which the Chairman deems not to require immediate action upon his part as provided for in section two, or if written notice of appeal has been properly filed, as herein before provided for, from any decision of the Chairman made according to the provisions of Article XII, Section 2 of these Bylaws, the Chairman of the State Executive Committee shall appoint a panel of four members who, with such Chairman, shall constitute a Board of Arbitration to hear evidence on the issue. After hearing all the evidence of any and all parties in interest, the Board shall by secret ballot decide the issue in writing and such decision shall be final and binding upon all parties concerned.
Just briefly going back to the questionable legality of this, since the 55 county executive committees, as well as the numerous legislative district executive committees, now have these new rules hoisted upon them, did they consent to this transfer of power? Pursuant to W. Va Code §3-1-9(g), each of these committees, like the state executive committee, has their own independent officers, organization and political divisions. Many, such as the county in dispute in this case, have their own bylaws. Now all of a sudden, the state gets to step in, and there’s an “arbitration board” just to make things really difficult?
County and local legislative district political committees are not subcommittees of the state executive committee, but rather separate political committees, independent and different than the state committee.
According to the state code which created all of these committees, pursuant to W. Va Code §3-1-11, no political committee – state included – can modify their bylaws in such a way as to be “inconsistent” with, or “in contravention” with (e.g. violation of) state code.
So now you understand the red herring here: whether on purpose or by misunderstanding, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee was refused an appointment of their vetted and nominated list of three qualified candidates. This wasn’t just because the Governor and/or the State GOP didn’t like anyone on the list, but more importantly (and more mischievously) because as of the Summer of 2020, the State GOP has engaged in a power grab in the vacancy process, attempting to take authority from local elected committee members, who know their constituents and candidates, and placing that authority in state party political leaders from outside that constituency, and who are un-elected by that constituency.
Why doesn’t the state party just go ahead and substitute themselves in for individual voters in general – at least for the primaries. They know best, right? The voters don’t understand what’s best for the party. It’s about the big picture…. In case you’ve forgotten, by the way, the legal structure of party political committees applies to all political parties. Believe it or not, Democrat voters have not been disenfranchised in this way and strong-armed by their state executive committee. You can review the Democrat state executive committee bylaws here. They don’t contain any attempts by the state party to usurp the authority of the county or district members. In fact, this is all I could find, as far as interference:
4. Vacancies: If a County Executive Committee fails to meet its obligation to fill a vacancy on the committee within 60 days of the vacancy occurring the State Chair may appoint a replacement.
And mind you, that’s for vacancies on the county executive committees – not vacancies for the legislature. They don’t even have any provision whatsoever providing that the state committee can interfere, or even participate, with that process. After all, that would be “in contravention” of state law placing that authority at the county level, would it not?
I’m working hard on reacting to what has been submitted by the State GOP here – and mind you, so I’m told, even the Democrats agree with Wayne County here – so as a part of that process, I am presenting the affidavit of my client, detailing exactly what happened, and providing the troubling details omitted by the State GOP surrounding the execution of the second list of candidates sent to the Governor by the State GOP:
Other links from this case:
Read the Governor’s Response, submitted by the WV Attorney General:
Read our original lawsuit here:
View the Supreme Court’s order staying legislative activity and ordering the case to proceed:
View the way the exact same process was handled in the past, by some of the same individuals involved:
Pingback: We Reply to the State GOP in the Lawsuit Against the Governor | The Civil Rights Lawyer