History was truly made Nov. 3 in more ways than one when the political “Trump Train” sped through Logan County, as well as surrounding counties. The well-oiled machine rampaged from one polling place to another, mangling nearly all Democrats who happened to be in its way. At day’s end, about the only thing that remained blue in West Virginia was the sky, and darkness quickly covered even it as the polls closed on election evening.
Coal country has been Trump country even before the president was first elected four years ago. However, there were very few political pundits , if any, who could project what happened on a historic Election Day when only two Democratic candidates would win in Logan County, and even they — assistant prosecutor David Wandling (elected prosecutor) and sheriff-to-be P.D. Clemens — will tell you they feel fortunate to have emerged victorious from the billowing Trump Train’s red smoke — coughing and choking, but victorious.
From a look at the voting tabulations, it appears that if you didn’t have an “R” beside your name on the ballot, you were probably doomed, likely considered (wrongly so, in most cases) as not being a Trump supporter. Experience, education, qualifications, none of that seemed to have mattered much to voters who made history by electing Republicans to more positions than at any time in Logan County’s history. One might say, “The worm has turned.”
Republicans have long suffered in Logan County, never recovering from the Democratic landslide of 1932 and the dominance that prevailed by local Democrat leaders for over six decades. It can now be declared that there is a two-party system in Logan, Boone and Mingo counties, although things could turn out to be just as lopsided as the Democrat party used to be.
Growing up and always being on the grounds of the polling place each election at Verdunville Grade School from the time I was in the fourth grade until college, and even beyond, I watched as many people “sold” their votes — sometimes for a $5 bill, and at other times for a half-pint of Mattingly and Moore liquor. (I have never been able to determine why it was always Mattingly and Moore liquor, a beverage I have never tried, and likely never will.)
These illegal transactions, and other dastardly deeds, occurred during primary elections, and it was always competing Democratic factions who were the villains. So, as I witnessed this happen year after year, I was determined that it was the Democrats who were the “bad guys.” In my mind, they had to be. After all, local Republicans never won any countywide elections; even when a U.S. president was elected as a Republican, southern West Virginia, particularly, remained a Democratic stronghold.
When I turned 18 years old in October 1971, I paid the $2.20 fee and hopped on a Trailways bus in Huntington, where I was attending Marshall University, and came back to Logan County to register to vote — as a Republican. After watching all the illegal shenanigans go on at the polling grounds at Verdunville and other places, I decided the Democrats had to be the corrupt side of government. Besides, even as a youngster I was a Sen. Barry Goldwater fan — Goldwater being the unsuccessful Republican candidate for president in 1964, who wanted to completely annihilate North Vietnam.
As a first-time voter in 1971, I quickly discovered there were very few Republicans on the ballot to vote for, particularly on the county level. And, shortly afterwards, I realized the Democrats could not have illegally voted people at polling places throughout the county without the help of the Republicans assigned to work alongside the Democratic poll workers. Recognizing that the entire Logan County political voting system was rigged, I changed my registration to Democrat.
So it is that the guy who once served as an elected member of the Logan County Democrat Executive Committee actually first became a Republican before he chose to mount the donkey rather than the elephant. Today, I am an independent nonpartisan office holder. You might say I am a blue-blooded soul, who, like all humans, bleeds red when pricked by a thorn.
As I said at the beginning of this article, “History was made in more ways than one.” Not only did Republicans win more Logan County offices than ever, but history also was made in another manner. Diana Barnette, who had a front row seat on the Trump Train, became the first woman ever elected to the Logan County Commission, a feat that cannot be ignored.
Barnette, whose Mud Fork family I have known since childhood, defeated a gentleman who I’m certain would also have made a very good commissioner. Dr. Ed White, a longtime friend and the first optometrist to fit me with glasses, was very gracious in defeat, as was Barnette in victory.
Now, I will tell you something that cannot go unmentioned about the race for County Commission. As most people should know, Barnette first entered the political arena as a candidate against Commissioner Danny Godby, just a couple of years back. Godby, widely known former coach and former pro baseball player, maintained his current seat but had to battle to do so.
The reason I tell you this is because — not only did Mrs. Barnette make history, she also saved history — and not once did she in either of her two campaigns use what she accomplished. Here’s the truth:
What is often referred to as the “Don Chafin House” or the “Logan Woman’s Club Library” located at 581 Main Street in Logan was built around 1900 and was considered a mansion. Legendary sheriff Don Chafin was the owner of the home and lived there during the 1921 “Battle of Blair Mountain,” which is a piece of West Virginia history that is relevant in every historical aspect — from the Matewan Massacre to Devil Anse Hatfield’s immediate family, particularly relating to two of Chafin’s deputies, Tennis and Joe Hatfield. Chafin’s life story, from cold-blooded murder to serving as a body guard for world champion boxer Jack Dempsey, is historically amazing.
My point is that despite public efforts to draw attention to the fact that this historic house needed to be saved, as the roof was leaking, wood was rotting, and it was simply a matter of time before the landmark would be unrepairable, no entity tried to save it.
Despite every effort to bring this to the attention of those who might bond together to get grants to make repairs, neither the city nor county government ever intervened. Therefore, although her efforts through unused grants and her own money were described as “anonymous,” Barnette now should receive the credit she deserves, especially since her efforts were never utilized for political gain. The fact of the matter is that without her vision the most historic house in Logan would have by now seen its roof collapse into its interior.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end here. During a recent conversation, Barnette said plumbing and electrical repairs already had been completed at the Chafin House and that the Logan Woman’s Club, which has been revitalized after membership practically disappeared, plans on turning the place that once served as Logan’s only public library, into a museum, which is — in my opinion — the best thing that could happen to the town of Logan since sliced bread came into existence.
Over 13,000 voters went to the polls in Logan County Nov. 3 and exercised their right to choose who they desired to represent them in various governmental fashions — local, state and federal candidates were selected. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the outcome of any political battle, it is appropriate to say that the people have spoken, and we must accept the results.
For the first time since 1960 when John Kennedy scored a resounding victory in Logan and all of West Virginia, Logan County voters turned out by the droves, both in early voting and in-person voting. Throw in the absentee ballots, and it amounts to over a 51% turnout in Logan County.
Here’s the statistical difference between 1960 and 2020. Sixty years ago, there were 77,391 residents of Logan County, including 29,666 registered Democrats. Today, Logan County’s population has dwindled to less than half that amount and there are 14,327 registered Democrats. Interestingly enough, the Logan County Clerk’s office shows there are now 5,235 registered Republican voters, compared to 2,525 independents, and 3,412 nonpartisan voters.
These statistics are important to the extent that they show the decline of population in Logan County, while the election results show one thing, and pretty much one thing only:
LOGAN COUNTY HAS BEEN TRUMPATIZED.