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West Virginia’s two Republican parties

It was not that many years ago that the Republican Party in West Virginia was an afterthought. Democrats held supermajorities in both the House and Senate. Republicans could fuss and fume, but Democrats had the numbers to do whatever they wanted.

That paradigm has shifted completely in the last two decades. Republicans now hold 89 of the 100 seats in the House and 31 of 34 seats in the Senate. Legislatively, Democratic lawmakers are a nonfactor.

However, just like the Democrats of those bygone years, not all Republicans are of like mind. It stands to reason that, as the number of elected Republicans in the Legislature goes up, so does the diversity of opinions.

Generally, Republicans fall into two camps: center-right and far right. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw and Senate President Craig Blair and their leadership teams fall into the center-right category. They are more interested in pro-business issues than fighting culture wars.

However, the current leadership often finds itself at odds with the far right, and now that most conservative wing of the GOP is getting organized.

This week, Delegate Geoff Foster (R, Putnam) announced the creation of the West Virginia Freedom Caucus (WVFC). A release from Foster said the caucus would be the “spearhead” of the conservative moment in the State Legislature. The WVFC will serve and defend the People of West Virginia and begin to usher in the promise of our Republican government.”

In his release, Foster said their goal is to “protect personal freedoms, shrink the size of government and government control, reinforce traditional family values, reduce spending and taxes, and promote constitutional conservative values as intended by the Founding Fathers of the United States.” Foster said on Talkline this week about 30 members of the House and Senate have joined the caucus.

Long-time Republican campaign consultant Greg Thomas is openly critical of the WVFC. He contends the group members are simply frustrated because they are not running the show.

“If they are denying the facts about how conservative this Legislature is, they are just showing their lack of seriousness,” Thomas said.  “You can go out and promote specific conservative issues that haven’t been addressed yet in a professional manner or you can kind of go and complain and whine about not being in charge.”

Thomas’s criticism is notable because for the last two decades he has been a point man for electing Republicans to the Legislature.  Now he and more right-center Republicans find themselves in the position of fending off pressure from the far right.

Thomas also said some of the far right legislators can expect Primary Election challenges. One example is the 11th Senate district where the more moderate Republican Robbie Morris has been recruited to challenge incumbent Senator Robert Karnes, who is one of the most conservative members of the Senate and frequent critic of Senate leadership.

But the far right is also looking to shake things up in the Primary. Senate President Blair (R, Berkeley) is being challenged by Tom Willis and former House Republican firebrand Mike Folk. Folk said on the radio show Panhandle Live, “We’re spending like drunken sailors at the state and federal level and at the same time promoting some very—well, let’s just call it what it is—people refer to it as ‘woke’.”

The electoral success of Republicans in West Virginia in recent elections is a mirror of the years of Democratic dominance. The Democrats were divided into traditional liberals and pro-business, anti-abortion moderates and conservatives. It was frequently an uneasy, even contentious, bunch.

That comes with one-party dominance, which Republicans are now finding out.



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Late goal lifts WVU over Iowa State, 1-0

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A scoreless stalemate was broken in the 76th minute as the WVU women’s soccer team collected their first Big 12 victory, 1-0 over Iowa State at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.

Maya McCutcheon lifted a shot just inside the post and past Iowa State goalkeeper Avery Gillahan, ending a string of near misses at the Cyclone net. The Mountaineers (3-5-2, 1-1 Big 12) outshot ISU 19-7 and hit the posts three times in the second half.

“You have two choices. You can get frustrated and kind of lose your composure. Or you can grind and get more focused. One of the biggest things I was most proud of was the way we refocused and grinded it out,” said WVU head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown. “We hit three posts tonight. It was just one of those things. I thought the girls just stayed on task and found a way to come away with the result.”

WVU outshot the Cyclones 13-4 in the second half and their goal was a result of better attacks on the Cyclone net after halftime. McCutcheon’s goal was set up by a cross from Isabel Loza. It was McCutcheon’s second goal of the season.

“I was not very confident because this goalkeeper was playing on her head tonight. She was fabulous. But it couldn’t have been any better than Maya McCutcheon. She worked so hard tonight and worked her tail feathers off. So I was happy she was able to finish one.”

WVU goalkeeper Kayza Mazzey made four stops in the Mountaineer net, including a pair of leaping, point blank saves in the 38th and 75th minutes.

“All the credit to Eric [Beltran], our goalkeeping coach. He does a ton of reactive stuff. That’s absolutely what Kayza does so well.”

Gillahan made six saves for Iowa State (3-6-1, 0-2 Big 12).

WVU picked up their first win since August 27. The Mountaineers will host TCU Sunday at noon in a rematch of the 2022 Big 12 Championship game, a contest won by the Mountaineers.

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Escaped inmate in Elkins found nearly one week later

ELKINS, W.Va. — An inmate who escaped custody last week in Upshur County has been captured.

Denver Bennett, 30, was arrested near Buckhannon after escaping from his work crew at the Mountain State Forest Festival Building in Elkins on Friday.

The Randolph County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post that multiple units responded to 253 Upper Childers Run between Elkins and Buckhannon to find Bennett.

Bennett has been transported to the Mt Olive Correctional Center in Fayette County. He will be arraigned in Randolph County, according to the Facebook post.

The U.S. Marshal Service, Upshur and Randolph County Sheriff’s Departments, West Virginia State Police and West Virginia State Parole all assisted in apprehending Bennett.

Beverly Beckner has also been arrested for allegedly helping Bennett while he was on the run, according to the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office.

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Harrison County Board of Education discusses possible consolidation of schools

HARRISON COUNTY, W.Va. — The Harrison County Board of Education was presented with a proposal Thursday that involves consolidating a half dozen schools.

Liberty High School would consolidate with Robert C. Byrd High School and move into the current RCB building, Washington Irving Middle School would consolidate with Mountaineer Middle into the current Liberty High School building, and Salem Elementary School would consolidate with North View Elementary School into the current Mountaineer Middle School building.

Superintendent Dora Stutler said that under the proposal, Harrison County would still have more schools than most counties its size.

“We would have four high schools, four middle schools, and eight elementary,” Stutler said. “That is still more schools than fellow counties around us that have more of an enrollment than we do.”

Harrison County has around 8,900 students, according to Stutler.

Thursday’s meeting was informational and no vote or decision on the consolidation plan was made. The Harrison County Board of Education said they plan on having more public meetings before coming to a vote on the plan.

Catlin Brown, a fourth grade teacher at North View Elementary School and President of the Faculty Senate was present for the informational meeting Thursday. She said it would be a huge hit to the North View community if they are consolidated.

“North View is really important to our community and the staff that work there and the families,” Brown said. “It truly is the heart of our community.”

Brown said initially the talks about consolidating schools only included Liberty High School with Robert C. Byrd High School. She said she attended the meeting to show her support for the community that she teaches in.

“Being a part of the process, I wanted to make sure there’s transparency and that they’re really trying to look at this from all angles,” said Brown.

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Suspended Nicholas County deputy denied home confinement, scheduled for late October trial

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal prosecutor says the mother of an alleged victim in an abuse and pornography case vomited when she saw the images that a suspended Nicholas County sheriff’s deputy shared on Snapchat of her young daughter.

Jarrod Bennett

U.S. Magistrate Judge Omar Aboulhosn said the charges caused him “great concern” and ordered Deputy Jarrod Bennett Thursday afternoon to remain in jail as he awaits his criminal trial.

Aboulhosn heard the prosecution’s evidence during Bennett’s arraignment and detention hearing in U.S. District Court in Charleston. Bennett, 38, of Mount Nebo, was arrested last week after a federal grand jury handed up an 11-count criminal indictment. He was suspended in June. The 18-year law enforcement veteran was in court Thursday in handcuffs and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit.

Bennett’s attorney Tim Carrico argued Aboulhosn should allow Bennett to be on home confinement. He called Bennett’s mother, Amanda Bennett, to the stand. She said her son would stay in her Summersville home and that she would report him if he violated any terms of his release. She said she doesn’t have internet.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Herrald argued against home confinement. She told Aboulhosn there’s evidence that Bennett used his phone to video the private areas of the victim, a young girl, while in a bathroom in his Mount Nebo home and again while she was partially covered with a blanket. Herrald told the judge Bennett took screen shots of his video and posted them on the internet.

Herrald said the girl’s mother has since told authorities she was the person in the images.

“Her initial response is that she said it was her daughter and then vomited and then she changed her story…that’s deeply disturbing,” Herrald told Aboulhosn.

Herrald said there are also five counts against Bennett in connection with his attempted cover-up of what happened including, after he was suspended, twice remotely accessing his sheriff’s department laptop and deleting large amounts of data.

She said Bennett “took advantage of his knowledge of the law” to commit the crimes.

Carrico argued the three children in the home were interviewed by the state Division of Child Protective Services (CPS) and the decision was made by the agency not to open an investigation. He also said the children made no disclosures in previous counseling.

Herrald countered.

“CPS dropped the ball on this case in large part,” she said. “No one did anything to protect this child. CPS has failed her and her own family has failed her and this court must step in,” Herrald said.

Aboulhosn ordered Bennett to stay in jail. He said he wasn’t concerned as much about him being a flight risk as he was about the specifics of the charges.

“The underlying facts are that this defendant sexually abused a young child in his home and in addition took active steps to cover it up when he became aware of the investigation,” Aboulhosn said.

Bennett pleaded not guilty during his arraignment. His trial was scheduled for Oct. 30 with pretrial motions set for Oct. 12.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Bennett, who was crying, told family members he loved them and was escorted out of the courtroom and back to jail.

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One dead, 3 injured in wreck involving South Charleston fire truck

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One person was killed and three firefighters were injured in a collision between a South Charleston fire truck.

The fire truck rolled over at least once on Childress Road not far from the U.S. Route 119 intersection at shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday.

The person who died was a 46-year old man from the Charleston area. He was in the passenger vehicle involved in the crash, according to police.

One of the firefighters had to be cut out of the wreckage. Three firefighters in total were injured with two of them suffering non-life threatening injuries.

Both northbound lanes of the highway were expected to be closed into the nighttime hours.

A number of first responders remain on the scene. Kanawha County Emergency Manager C.W. Sigman said multiple agencies were working late into Thursday night to move debris from the highway.

South Charleston opened a new fire station in that area of the county in recent months after the city annexed the area.

The South Charleston City Council met Thursday night. Mayor Frank Mullens said they are thinking about the family who lost a loved in the crash and the firefighters who were involved.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family who lost someone,” Mullens said. “Our first responders are great people and this is just a tragedy. We’ll get through it.”

The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department is investigating.

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Second suspect charged in Fairmont attempted murder, kidnapping case involving Morgantown victim

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Recently released details from an April shooting in Fairmont reveal the incident involved the kidnapping of an unidentified Morgantown man.

On April 27, Kenyatta Ephraim, 29, of Elyria, Ohio, allegedly fired five times from inside a car on Maple Avenue at the victim, who was standing near a vehicle. Three rounds hit the car, and another hit the rear window and rifled into a home nearby occupied by two adults and two children.

Police said Ephraim, Tyreese Taylor, 29, of Lorain, Ohio, and a third suspect kidnapped a man from a home in Morgantown and took him to Fairmont prior to the shooting incident.

While being held, the trio demanded money and forced the victim to contact a family member in Morgantown.

The shooting happened while the victim remained in custody as the family member went to the Maple Avenue address in Fairmont.

Both Ephraim and the family member were treated for gunshot wounds at a local hospital.

Ephraim has been in the North Central Regional Jail since the April incident, charged with attempted murder and use or presentation of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Taylor was taken into custody Wednesday after an incident in Morgantown and charged with attempted first-degree murder, kidnapping, and use or presentation of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

The U.S. Marshal Service is searching for the third suspect, identified as James Ray Jones, who was driving the car during the Morgantown incident on Wednesday. Jones is considered armed and dangerous; he is 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 162 pounds.

Information about Jones can be left by calling 304-623-0486.

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Morgantown police arrest one after observing downtown drug deal in progress

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Police made one arrest on High Street Wednesday after witnessing a drug deal in progress.

Eric Powell

“We are probably going to be stepping up our efforts in the next several weeks in respect to placing officers into positions where they can make more of those types of arrests,” Morgantown Police Chief Eric Powell said. “We’re going to concentrate more heavily on those street-level type deals in downtown and anywhere else they might be occurring.”

Officers patrolling High Street  Wednesday allege they witnessed Dusty Doman, 35, of Morgantown, hand another person a folded piece of paper in the doorway of a business and also saw cash in Doman’s hand.

When police asked the pair what they were doing, the unidentified person opened the white paper, and a white substance was blown to the ground.

While being questioned, Doran told police the unidentified person asked him for whatever he had because he was getting “dope sick,” and that’s when he handed the folded paper.

Police said the powder is believed to be heroin.

Powell asks residents to report suspected drug activity when they see it if possible.

When they see something report it,” Powell said. “If it is suspicious or they suspect it is suspicious let us know about it as it’s happening as soon as possible so we can get people in those positions to make those types of arrests.”

Doman has been charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and is being held in the North Central Regional Jail on a $10,000 bond.

In the future, Powell expects surveillance cameras that are being installed in the downtown area to be a big help to law enforcement.

“I think they’ll be a very useful tool evidentiary wise as well as initial observations,” Powell said. “We’re working on monitoring the cameras.”

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With Zelenskyy in Washington, Capito reiterates support for Ukraine

As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the U.S. Capitol, Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia expressed her continued support for that country’s efforts to push away Russian forces.

Capito, a Republican, told reporters during a conference call today that she had just come from a briefing with Zelenskyy.

Shelley Moore Capito

“He framed the situation in Ukraine as very difficult, but also an affront to every democracy — not just his, but ours and NATO democracies — and that the strength of our allies and our NATO friends in helping Ukraine push back and weaken (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will help our own national security. I believe this to be true,” Capito said.

“We know that the Chinese are watching what goes on. If we turn our backs now on a fight for freedom in a country that’s been illegally invaded by a dictator who is brutally killing people, we are showing weakness. So I am ready to keep my support for the Ukrainians through our military aid. I know it’s been going on for a while, but I still think the fight is there and it certainly was there with President Zelenskyy.”

Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington, D.C., included an all-senators meeting and and a bipartisan meeting with a group of representatives. President Joe Biden in August asked lawmakers to approve another $24 billion in aid to Ukraine.

There is not unanimity of support in Congress, though. A coalition of 28 GOP lawmakers from the Senate and House signed a letter opposing Biden’s request.

Zelenskyy’s visit came as debate rages in the House of Representatives over federal allocations, including a stopgap continuing resolution that omits aid to Ukraine.

Zelenskyy this week also spoke before the United Nations and accused Russia of waging “a criminal and unprovoked aggression.” Meanwhile, Russia launched a missile barrage across Ukraine that targeted energy infrastructure.

“It is very clear to me that, number one, we’ve got to keep forcing the pressure on Putin to back off, to force him to the negotiating table and the only way to do that is with more weapons. They only understand might, and might is what the Ukrainian people are asking for. They’re asking for munitions; they’re not asking for our men and women on their soil and we wouldn’t do that anyway,” Capito said.

“So in my view, the longer war, a never-ending war would be to let Putin declare victory and then he begins to invade Poland, and then he begins to invade other countries in NATO and then you have a never ending war — because that’s what’s going to happen. President Xi in China is watching this, and I think American strength is what signals to the rest of the world where and how to participate. And it’s important for us to stay strong.”

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Chick-fil-A & WVSSAC Leadership Summit held in Charleston, Fairmont

Students from all across West Virginia were afforded the opportunity to become better leaders within their schools, classes and teams earlier this week during the Chick-fil-A & WVSSAC Leadership Summit.

Monday’s session was conducted at Bible Center Church in Charleston, while Tuesday’s was held at Mollohan Research Center in Fairmont.

Mark Miller, best-selling author and a member of the High Performance Leadership Team at Chick-fil-A, was guest speaker.

There were 250 students and 75 faculty on hand, with attendees chosen by faculty, coaches and staff from their respective schools.

Students were interactive as participants in a program designed to be entertaining, insightful and instructive. 

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