West Virginia GOP fractured by political appointment feud

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FILE – West Virginia Republican state Del. Derrick Evans exits the Sidney L. Christie U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building after being arraigned, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Huntington, W.Va. Evans has resigned as he faces charges of entering a restricted area of the U.S. Capitol after he livestreamed himself with rioters. In a letter Saturday, Jan. 9, Evans notified GOP Gov. Jim Justice of his resignation, effective immediately. (Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP)

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.

The fracas comes on the heels of a triumphant red wave in the November elections that gave West Virginia’s Republican party a legislative supermajority. For the first time in generations, a Republican won in Wayne County, long dominated by Democrats. But Del. Derrick Evans soon resigned under pressure after he recorded himself joining the violent pro-Trump mob that breached the Capitol.

County Republicans claim the West Virginia GOP — which created its own shortlist for the seat — intervened to anoint a political favorite, a charge the governor denies. County Republican Committee chairman Jeffrey Maynard has gotten the state Supreme Court to temporarily block Justice’s appointment while judges hear a complaint challenging its legality.

State law requires that the governor fill a vacant delegate seat with one of three candidates recommended by party leaders in the seat’s district.

But on Jan. 22, a day after Marcum and the two other candidates on the county’s shortlist were interviewed at the Wayne County courthouse, Justice filled the vacancy with Joshua Booth, 41, an executive at a family-run road contractor who had never run for office. Booth’s name appeared in place of Marcum’s on the list that state GOP officials submitted to Justice.

Marcum says the selection process reminded him of a television sitcom or a third world country, “where the dictator comes in and says, ‘Well, that’s not really the names you choose. … We think you choose these names.’ And everybody knows, you better be quiet.”

The Justice administration, which declined interview requests, has forcefully rejected allegations that Booth was added as a candidate at his behest.

“The governor’s office at no time intervened in this case,” the governor’s chief of staff, Brian Abraham, told MetroNews radio on Friday. Abraham said Maynard even signed off on the second list.

But Maynard said acting state GOP chairman Roman Stauffer — who interviewed applicants one by one as they sat on the witness stand at the courthouse — handed him a blank page to sign. He said he didn’t see it filled out with names until his attorney later sent him a copy.

“My immediate reaction was disgust,” he said.

Stauffer said the party’s legal response will speak for itself. He declined further comment.

The case may come down to whether the first list of candidates from the county was on the wrong letterhead. In a legal filing on Monday, Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey argued the letter had to come from the party’s delegate district committee — not the county committee, as it was signed.

But it remained unclear why, a day after county Republicans sent their list to the governor, the state GOP ran an ad in a local newspaper seeking candidates. The tiny notice appeared in the classifieds, between rental home listings and a now-hiring ad for a restaurant called Jim’s Spaghetti.

“NEW TODAY!” it announced, adding that Republicans interested in joining the legislature should email the state GOP chairman.

Marcum was bewildered at the posting for the $20,000-a-year position.

“We’re not talking about a job at 7-Eleven,” he said.

Booth, whom Stauffer interviewed on Jan. 21 along with the county-recommended candidates, declined interview requests, citing the court case. “I believe I am as Wayne County as they come, and as such, I think that I share the viewpoints and experiences of my fellow residents,” he said in a statement last week.

The dispute has left the two other Republicans recommended by county officials fuming.

“Some of the Republican people throughout the country were talking about how the election was stolen at a national level,” said candidate finalist and teacher Mark Ross, 60. “And then they turn around, and Mr. Stauffer does the same thing in Wayne County. He steals the people’s choice by not taking that first list.”

Chad Shaffer, a 68-year-old former state trooper also on the county’s list, said parts of Stauffer’s questioning disturbed him.

One of the questions was, “If the Republican Party asked me to do something that would violate my conscience, would I go along with what they wanted?” Shaffer recalled. “I looked at him, and I said, ‘No.’ I don’t think they liked that answer.”

Shaffer and Ross both said Stauffer should resign.

“Shame on the Republican Party,” Shaffer said. “I guess the swamp has made its way down to West Virginia.”

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