Kanawha County Republicans can’t choose a candidate to replace Delegate Suzette Raines, who decided earlier this month to drop out of the race amid personal concerns and allegations from Democrats.
The State Election Commission declined to vote on a request from the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee at an emergency meeting Wednesday morning.
The commission determined there wasn’t enough proof to show Raines could not have served if re-elected to her current role in the 35th District.
In order for the five-person commission to grant permission to choose a replacement candidate, state law says it needs to determine there are, “extenuating personal circumstances which will prevent the candidate from serving in the office if elected.”
Raines recently cited grief from the death of her mother in March and the end of a relationship as reasons for withdrawing. She didn’t attend the meeting Wednesday but said she followed updates on social media and was disappointed with the commission’s decision.
“The thing that sort of infuriates me, if they wouldn’t grant a replacement under these circumstances, I’m not sure that there’s anything that they would grant one for,” Raines said Wednesday afternoon in a phone interview.
The commission has determined there were extenuating circumstances and granted replacement candidates in the past, but commission Chairman Robert Rupp said the replacements were allowed for “very bold and dramatic reasons.”
“In the past it was death, heart attack and disqualification,” Rupp said after Wednesday morning’s meeting.
The five-member commission must consist of the secretary of state and four people appointed by the governor. No more than two of the people appointed by the governor can be members of the same political party, according to state law.
The commission talked about the request and the circumstances surrounding Raines for a little more than an hour Wednesday morning. All of the commission members said they sympathized with Raines and her personal situation, but said they were concerned about whether the situation warranted allowing a replacement candidate on the ballot.
Commissioner Gary Collias and other commissioners noted Raines didn’t reference any of the Democrats’ allegations against her as a reason to withdraw from the election. The state Democratic Executive Committee recently asked a judge to remove Raines from the ballot, saying she failed to file proper paperwork and lied about her address.
Raines has said she always lived in the 35th District, which covers parts of Charleston, St. Albans and other areas in Kanawha County. She did file financial disclosures with the secretary of state’s office and the state Ethics Commission, but missed deadlines by months.
Appearing on a ballot in an election without filing a financial disclosure form with the state Ethics Commission is a misdemeanor, according to state law. Raines came in second out of six candidates in the May primary.
Several supporters spoke in favor of Raines and allowing a replacement candidate at the meeting.
Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, argued Raines’ reasons for withdrawal were legitimate and it would be a disservice to not allow for a GOP replacement. Thorny Lieberman, speaking on behalf of the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee, said not allowing Raines on the ballot “throws a seat to the Democratic side automatically.”
Attorney Tony Majestro spoke on behalf of Democrats. While he also said he was sympathetic to Raines’ personal issues, he alleged Raines’ tough political fight following the Democrats’ legal action prompted her withdrawal.
He also accused Raines of campaigning recently, echoing an allegation from Democrats of unreported campaign activity by Raines. Majestro pointed to photos of Raines on Facebook at community or political events in recent months.
“I’m trying to be an active participant in life again. Thank you, Tony Majestro, for stalking my Facebook,” Raines said Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m just trying to get out in the real world again. I apologize if he doesn’t think that’s OK.”
After some decision and public comment, Rupp asked for a motion to vote on whether the commission should allow a replacement candidate. No one made the motion.
Rupp said he thought the commission’s decision showed consistency. In late July the commission denied a request from Mingo County Clerk Jim Hatfield, a Democrat, to be replaced as a candidate for Mingo County Commission on the ballot. Hatfield cited health concerns, but there were also questions about where he lived and whether he was a “Trojan candidate,” according to the Williamson Daily News.
State Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said the GOP is disappointed, and is exploring all legal options but has yet to make a decision on how to proceed following Wednesday’s decision.
“It’s sad for the democratic process, but it’s obviously what we would suspect. The party of trial lawyers tried to disqualify Republicans from having an opportunity,” Lucas said.
“The real loser here today is the state of West Virginia.”
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, a Democrat, agreed.
Wednesday afternoon he said he doesn’t doubt the commission followed a literal reading of the law in making the decision. But he thinks the law needs to be changed.
“I would like to see how many legislators would stand up and say this is a good result,” Carper said.
“The people of the 35th District are being denied a choice. And I don’t think that’s right.”
Carper said he wants to include a recommendation to change the law in the county commission’s legislative agenda, which the commission is set to discuss at a meeting tonight. He didn’t mention specific changes, but thought defining “extenuating circumstances” could help.
Republicans currently control three of the four seats in the 35th District. The Democrat in the district, Delegate Doug Skaff, is vacating his seat to run for state Senate.
With the commission’s decision, Delegates Eric Nelson and J.B. McCuskey and local doctor Chris Stansbury remain the GOP’s three choices on the ballot. Instead of Raines’ name the ballot will say “no candidate,” according to the secretary of state’s office.
A person must fill out a form and file it with the secretary of state’s office by Sept. 16 in order to be considered an official “write-in candidate,” secretary of state spokesman Jake Glance said. There is no filing fee, and the person’s name will be displayed at each applicable voting precinct, Glance said.
The election is Nov. 4.
Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.