It was telling that one of the first people to call for the resignation of Delegate Derrick Evans, R-Wayne, after Evans videoed himself participating in the riot at the U.S. Capitol, was Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha.
Nelson clearly grasped that anyone participating in a violent attempt to overthrow this country’s democracy was unfit to hold public office in West Virginia. Other Republicans, including Gov. Jim Justice, joined with Democrats in denouncing Evans and amplifying the call for resignation. Evans resigned and has been arrested on federal charges related to the riot.
This moment of national alarm and tragedy offers all Americans, West Virginians and especially those who hold public office, a choice. They can recognize the need to set the country on a path toward recovery and renewal for the good of America. Or they can continue to fight a lost cause based on claims one court after another — including the highest in the land — has found to be specious.
The GOP in West Virginia is at a pivotal point. If it wants to reform itself into a party based in the real world that serves the people, more will have to follow Nelson’s example in standing up for the truth and for the good of America. That will take individual courage, because there’s no real political pressure for change, with Republicans holding a supermajority in both the House of Delegates and state Senate.
State GOP Chairwoman Melody Potter resigned Monday. Potter was one of the most caustic Republicans in the state. She wholeheartedly supported and spread President Trump’s lie that he won the November election. She was one of the earliest practitioners of Jimbothink, immediately embracing Gov. Jim Justice once he switched to the Republican Party, and deleting swaths of her social media posts that attacked the governor. She was the epitome of blind fealty (though even Potter released a statement condemning Evans’ actions). The state party now has a chance at a better way forward.
Many Republicans nationally and in West Virginia viewed last week’s attack as a moment of clarity. But not everyone.
Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, was also at last week’s riot, though he said he did not participate in storming the U.S. Capitol. In an interview with MetroNews, Azinger characterized the event as a run-of-the-mill, old fashioned American protest. Never mind that the Capitol was breached with the purpose of overturning a presidential election. Never mind five people, including a Capitol Police officer, were killed. Never mind the evidence showing many planned on harming members of Congress. Azinger said he hopes Trump calls citizens back again for another event soon.
The West Virginia Democratic Caucus has called for Azinger and his Republican colleagues to condemn the violence that took place. Will they listen? Should anyone who viewed a violent attempt to overthrow an election as “quintessentially American” be allowed to hold office in West Virginia without censure? Will anyone with the power to do something make it happen?
The Democrats can release as many statements and calls to action they want, but it’s not up to them. West Virginia Republicans have to search their souls and decide what is right for their state and country.
Abraham Lincoln, one of the Republicans depicted on Mount Rushmore, famously declared: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Not since Lincoln’s day have the stakes been higher. Will Republicans stand as Lincoln did for the preservation of the Union, or will they, in the name of a lost cause, stand with a president who’d rather see the Union torn asunder than concede the simple fact of his defeat?