CHARLESTON – A national Republican political action committee is running ads in two key judicial West Virginia elections.
The Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative launched a digital and television ad campaign Oct. 19 supporting temporary Justices Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins in their bids for permanent seats on the state Supreme Court.
The 30-second ad says the state Supreme Court is in crisis and that Armstead and Jenkins are “the team to fix it.”
It says they’ll “clean up the mess, bring honesty and integrity back to the court, throw the book at child predators and make drug dealers pay dearly with harsh sentences.”
Armstead and Jenkins were appointed in August by Gov. Jim Justice to temporarily fill the seats left open by the retirements of Justices Menis Ketchum and Robin Jean Davis, respectively. They both seek to fill the remainder of those terms in the Nov. 6 general election. Both are running against nine other candidates for each spot.
“The former justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court failed to uphold the values of honor and integrity that West Virginians expect of their elected officials,” RSLC President Matt Walker said in a statement. “Justices Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins have admirably served the people of West Virginia before and will continue to restore faith in the state’s highest court.
“West Virginians can be safely assured these two public servants will lock up criminals and restore ethical leadership to the court.”
The RSLC also is running advertising in the Kanawha Circuit Court race, promoting the candidacy of appointed Judge Dan Greear against Tera Salango. It also created a website for the ad at www.canttrusttera.gop.
"RSLC has a long history of providing voters with critical details about candidates in down ticket races," RSLC spokesman David James told The West Virginia Record. "Ads like this are necessary in races where voters may know little more about judicial candidates than their names."
On social media, Salango’s campaign posted a response ad and said the RSLC ad makes false claims about her.
“Career politician Dan Greear’s out-of-state buddies are lying about my record as a prosecutor claiming that I’m soft on crime,” Salango said. “After my brother’s murder, I spent over a decade in the prosecutor’s office fighting crime and corruption. That’s why I’ve been endorsed by police, firefighters and first responders. I didn’t back down to career criminals and I won’t back down to career politicians and their dirty money.”
A Kanawha County delegate said he thinks anyone should be able to speak out in a political campaign, including groups such as the RSLC.
“I believe in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Democrat Mike Pushkin told The West Virginia Record. “Anybody can say whatever they want. I’m questioning why a Republican PAC would be inserting themselves into the race since the Legislature made judicial races non-partisan? That’s a hypothetical question. We all know why.”
He said the RSLC ads are exactly why he voted against making judicial elections non-partisan.
“It’s very hard to take the partisanship out of any election,” Pushkin said. “The reason I voted against it has proven itself. My reasoning has been proven true. When you make it a non-partisan election, there’s no primary. For the Supreme Court races, you have 10 candidates in one division and 10 in the other. It’s a very important job and someone can win the election with a very small percentage of the vote.”
He said he plans to introduce a bill that will force an instant runoff election between the top two vote-getters in such a race.
From the way these Supreme Court races have played out, I would hope I’d get some support,” Pushkin said. “The last Supreme Court race in 2016 was the most political and most expensive we’ve ever seen. And now, we recently saw two career politicians appointed to temporary seats on the Supreme Court.
“We haven’t take the partisanship out of judicial elections. We’ve done the exact opposite.”