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Coal Valley News reporter Phil Perry

Welcome back to Wrong Side of the Mountain, my column about what makes Boone County a good or bad place to live depending on your perspective.

Since we last talked, I’m very proud, honored and humbled as the West Virginia Press Association recognized this column and my sports column, “Phil for the Game” with awards in 2020 as best in their division.

I appreciate your reading and giving me feedback and column ideas over the last few years. There is no place I’d rather be living and working than right here in Boone County.

I want to clear up a misunderstanding regarding where my work is seen. HD Media owns the Coal Valley News, but also owns a host of other southern West Virginia papers. If you see my work there, it simply means that our sister papers have picked up the story for their readers. The CVN is my home paper.

Now on to the process of clearing out my election notebook.

I will break down our local races and provide a few of my thoughts on the results.

I want to thank Boone County Clerk Roger Toney, Deputy Clerk Pam Johnson and their staff for running such an organized and concise voting operation at the Boone County Courthouse. Trust me, I’ve been doing this longer than some of you have been alive, and their dedication to their work is unparalleled.

My own white board successfully predicted many of our local races, with the exception of the House 23 race between incumbent Democrat Rodney Miller and Republican challenger Josh Holstein.

Holstein defeated Miller by over 500 votes, and I had the incumbent winning by 350.

I think we all agree that the “Red Wave” of Republican voters coming out in droves to support President Trump was a factor across West Virginia, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I’m not going to insult our winners by claiming that was the only factor. They worked hard and executed strategy across the board. We could debate the integrity of the strategy in some cases, but not the results.

According to the Boone County Clerk’s Office, we had 9,129 total voters in the general election, but we won’t have party totals for a few days.

Now to take a look at some of our local races.

HOUSE 23

I have spent four years developing a relationship with Miller that I feel has been beneficial for our readers and his constituents in the district.

Miller was in the backdrop of many positive things that have taken place in the county as a “connector” of local people to state-level officials and resources, and I trust that Holstein will carry on that same conduit moving forward.

Whether it was a party for a retiring firefighter on Big Coal, a community effort to save a local park in Van or an art walk in Madison — you’d find Rodney Miller there.

I think statewide, Miller is a loss for law enforcement. He was an advocate for our folks in blue and green and that has reverberated across the state over the last few days.

In a stroke of complete irony, Miller is set to receive the “Delegate of the Year” award from the West Virginia Association of Justice on Nov. 14.

For Holstein, he hasn’t held office at any level but is young and eager to make his mark. We had a great conversation on Tuesday night about his immediate course of action, and that includes improving infrastructure (including broadband access), foster care and addiction rehabilitation resources and services.

I look forward to developing a relationship with the new delegate and will continue to inform my readers about his progress along the way. As the Rock Creek Development Park (former Hobet) site continues to appear in the news after Gov. Jim Justice committed $39 million to the development of an access road, intersection and bridge, our delegate’s seat is vastly important as an advocate for the project. Together, I’m excited to see how Holstein and Sen. Dr. Ron Stollings keep their thumb on this and continue to influence further funding for what many are calling our only hope for rebounding our local economy.

I don’t believe this is the only source or our only chance, but that is a subject for another column on another day. I think it is a spoke in a larger wheel that includes successful locally owned shops, businesses and quality housing geared toward young people wearing both blue and white collars. We don’t just need people to WORK here, we need them to LIVE here.

BOONE COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY

Incumbent Democrat Keith Randolph has held the seat for a dozen years and was unseated by Republican Challenger Donna Taylor by nearly 2,000 votes.

My board had Taylor winning by 700 votes.

I think Taylor’s local connection as a 1988 graduate of Scott High and her commitment to living in Boone County were additional primary factors in her victory.

Taylor isn’t afraid to speak her mind and has stated that she will outwork the current administration. Based on our conversations, she believes an overhaul is in order and looks to make the office more “efficient.”

In recent talks I’ve had with Circuit Judge William Thompson and Boone County Commissioner Brett Kuhn, I’m seeing a real effort to facilitate a smooth transition and positive working relationship with Taylor, which is what we need from all sides.

I know Randolph well enough to realize that his level of professionalism will produce a classy exit from the prosecutor’s office.

With a grand jury meeting coming up in a couple of months, it is interesting to see how this transition goes moving forward. I think by spring, we’ll see some bold new changes in place from the office directed by our new prosecutor.

It isn’t something that Taylor is especially vocal about, but she is the very first female and the first Republican prosecutor Boone County has seen in our history. I hope that those who have young daughters will point this out to them. It is significant and we need to use that to inspire and support.

Taylor looks to utilize home confinement more aggressively in the county and dive into a backlog of active cases. She is adamant about bringing back victim’s advocate services.

I was critical of the Boone County Commission for looking to Randolph to lead budget talks/meetings as the county looked to crunch numbers during an unprecedented decline in coal severance tax streams. Not that an “all hands-on deck” approach isn’t needed but, I felt Randolph’s time would be much more effectively used focusing on his own office.

BOONE COUNTY COMMISSIONER

Incumbent Democrat Commission President Eddie Hendricks was unseated in the primary by Dr. Jacob Messer, who was then challenged by Josh Barker in the general election. Barker once lost a re-election bid for the House of Delegates by a single vote and, unfortunately for his supporters, he lost another close one falling to Messer by some 287 votes.

On my board, I had Messer winning this one by 400 votes. I had concerns about Messer in regard to the fact it would put three educators on the commission, setting up what could be seen as a situation that could make the school board superintendent the ultimate puppet master. Not that the two cross paths that often but when they do, I’m not comfortable with this and I feel cards should never be stacked like that, but they are on occasion.

What I know about Messer is this: His time as a journalist gives him the experience to break down a budget and identify red flags. He has proven that he will outwork anyone in his path and when you strip away all of the politics, he is a good person. Generally, my barometer is guided by that.

Messer is the principal at Scott High school and there have been many concerns regarding his ability to do both jobs. I never felt he would struggle with that juggle, so to speak. He has stated that he would give up his position as an online professor at Marshall University if elected.

There have been concerns regarding the professional relationship between Messer and fellow commissioner Brett Kuhn, who works as a teacher under Messer at Scott High.

Acknowledging my previous comment about them both being educators, I think their positive working relationship could benefit a commission that has historically been fractured and at times couldn’t make a decision on where to buy lunch.

Messer is passionate about Boone County and, quite frankly, takes anything he puts his name on personally. I’m ready to see what he can bring to the table.

Personally, I want to thank Randolph, Miller and Hendricks for their service and welcome Taylor, Holstein and Messer to their new seats.

I’ll touch on House 22 and 24 results in a future column.

I want to leave you this week with a favorite political quote.

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” ― Mark Twain

Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at pperry@hdmediallc.com or at 304-307-2401.