Ben Fields: WV voters show Porterfield, Carmichael the door (Opinion)

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Ben Fields

Ben Fields

It’s good to see that voters in West Virginia’s 27th District didn’t allow Republican incumbent Eric Porterfield even the slightest chance of retaining his House of Delegates seat in November.

Porterfield embarrassed the entire state last year when he made national headlines by comparing members of the LGBTQ community to the Ku Klux Klan and implying he would drown his own children if they were gay. Those remarks were part of a prolonged media odyssey over an attempt to remove municipal anti-discrimination laws that included sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Tuesday, Porterfield finished dead last in a five-candidate primary where the top three move on to the general election. Good riddance.

If West Virginia expects to grow economically, draw in new residents or keep the young talent it has, it can ill afford government representatives who espouse such views, let alone make those views known in a fashion so vile that it draws the disapproval of the entire nation.

When Porterfield made his remarks, there was a lot of finger-wagging from his GOP compatriots, and many statements of “this is not who we are,” although no formal action to discipline Porterfield was taken. I’m glad voters in the 27th District, which is composed of parts of Mercer and Raleigh counties, showed the rest of the state what Porterfield was peddling is not who they are, anyway.

In other election news, it was viewed as something of an upset as Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, also was ousted in the primary. Some of us who like to think we have an idea of how these things will play out will say we saw it coming.

I certainly thought it was possible, because, if I’ve learned nothing else in my time working in West Virginia, it’s that you don’t mess with teachers. Carmichael fought against the teacher and school service personnel strike in 2018 that sparked a national movement, and practically engineered a strike in 2019 after rigging a process to get a massive and unpopular education bill out of the West Virginia Senate.

A very different version of the bill passed in a special session, after the removal of Senate provisions to punish teachers for striking and to, more or less, break their unions.

Carmichael was, at the very least, gambling on his future, if not outright asking for what happened in the election.

But I don’t take any personal pleasure in Carmichael’s departure. Sure, I disagree with a lot, if not most, of Carmichael’s policies. I thought the process surrounding the omnibus education bill was concocted and enacted in bad faith. I thought he, sometimes blatantly, disregarded the voices of constituents. For all of that, the guy was always available and accessible to the media, at least in my experiences with him, when others who lobbed such political grenades would run and hide.

As many journalists noted on social media Tuesday night, Carmichael was firm in his positions, but he wasn’t rude or dismissive of those in the press who would challenge or question him. Sure, there was plenty of spin. Sure, there were things that were misleading. And, lord yes, there were outside interests pulling the strings at times. But Carmichael ultimately took responsibility for his proposals.

That’s the way it should work. Take your positions, stand behind them, but don’t make it personal. Don’t lash out at other legislators, constituents or the press. Don’t demean others from a position of ignorance, as someone like Porterfield would. Take your stand, and let the voters hold you accountable, as they did Tuesday.

Ben Fields is the Gazette-Mail opinion editor. Reach him at or follow @BenFieldsWV on Twitter.

Funerals for Sunday, July 12, 2020

Cromley, Doris - 2 p.m., Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.

Harrison, Jeffrey - Noon, Coonskin Park, Shelter #18, Charleston.

Hiser, Audrey - Noon, Wallace Memorial Cemetery, Clintonville.

Massey, Paul - 2 p.m., Restlawn Memory Gardens, Victor.