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Marcellus Utica Political Update

  October/November 2018 / Vol 8 Issue 7
Marcellus Utica Political Update
By: Curtis Wilkerson is Principal at Orion Strategies


As the 2018 election comes to a close, there are a number of races and developments around the Marcellus and Utica region that are of interest to the industry. On a national level, prognosticators of the political landscape have suggested that Democrats are likely to take control of the United States House of Representatives, while the upper chamber most likely remains in Republican control.

In Ohio, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown is currently favored over Republican Congressman Jim Rennanci and Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator Bob Casey is favored over Republican Lou Barletta. There is a contested campaign occurring in West Virginia between incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin and current Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

On the state politics front, Pennsylvania incumbent Democratic Governor Wolfe is projected to win re election. Republicans are expected to retain control of the legislative branches in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

West Virginia Supreme Court

Meanwhile on the West Virginia non-campaign political front, the state’s Supreme Court continues to have turmoil while the industry waits to see how a number of cases before that body are resolved – and ultimately, who will even hear the appeals.

The current situation began with an investigative report by WCHS-TV in Charleston when a reporter uncovered excessive spending on renovations including a $32,000 couch in the office of Justice Allen Loughry. Of note was that Justice Loughry was the author of a well-known book on corruption in West Virginia politics – which only fueled the story further.

Public records showed that all five Justices had significant spending on their offices – which ranged from necessary infrastructure issues to the aging space to inlaid wooden floors, contemporary glass shelving and expensive carpets. Adding to this is that the West Virginia Constitution gives the Court the sole oversight of its own budget (something that may change with a Constitutional amendment on the ballot this November).

Investigations were launched by the United States Attorney who alleged that Justices Loughry and Justice Ketchum had both illegally used state vehicles for personal travel. Justice Ketchum pleaded guilty to the charge in federal court and retired/resigned from office. Justice Ketchum’s decision led to an opening to be filled by the voters in the November election for the unexpired term.

Meanwhile, Justice Loughry was suspended by the Supreme Court while he was under indictment for approximately two dozen federal counts stemming from investigation into illegal spending, witness tampering and other associated charges. Recently, he was found guilty in federal court on eleven of the charges and is awaiting sentencing.

To further complicate matters, the West Virginia House of Delegates proceeded to impeach all sitting Justices (Ketchum had already removed himself). Charges ranged from improper spending to maladministration for not keeping each other in check. Because of the timing of when a Justice would be replaced by Governor’s appointment or election was approaching, Justice Davis decided to resign/retire as well – creating an opening that will also be filled by the November ballot for the unexpired term.

Just as the West Virginia Senate was about to take up the case, the House announced that a deal had been struck for a censure of Justices Workman and Walker. However, the Senate rejected the deal and decided to move forward with full case in which the Senate would sit as a jury and be overseen by a temporary Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Farrell. Justice Walker’s case was first – where she was found innocent but censured by the state senate.

Paralleling this effort are appeals by Workman to the West Virginia Supreme Court arguing that the House of Delegates did not follow due-process of their own procedure and were overstepping their constitutional authority since the Court sets its own budget. Because all members of the Court had resigned, retired, were under impeachment or compromised for the case – an entire new bench of Circuit Judges was appointed temporarily to hear the case. That Court found in favor of Justice Workman. The House of Delegates and the West Virginia Senate will look at next steps based on the Court’s decision.

Meanwhile, Governor Justice filled the two vacancies (previously held by Davis and Ketchum) with Republican Congressman Evan Jenkins and Republican Speaker of the House Tim Armstead. The Speaker’s resignation from his office to be appointed then led to a leadership race in which Delegate Roger Hanshaw was chosen to lead the body. Jenkins and Armstead are now both candidates for the unexpired term – along with numerous other candidates (with each slot being its own election).

The Court has begun to hear cases again as of October 4 while all of this is going on. The November 6 election may bring new Justices to the bench for the two slots to be filled by the voters.

Ohio Election 2018 Preview

With Republican Governor John Kasich term limited, Ohioans will be voting for a new Governor in the upcoming November Election. Republican Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is in a tight race with Democrat and former Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Richard Cordray.

Since all statewide incumbents are term limited, Ohioans will also be casting their ballots for a new Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer and Auditor. One of the closest watched down ticket races will be for Ohio Attorney General between Republican Auditor Dave Yost and former United States District Attorney Steve Dettelbach. Four candidates are vying for two vacancies on the Ohio Supreme Court.

In a rematch from the August 2018 Special Election, Congressman Troy Balderson (R) faces Democratic challenger Danny O’Connor to continue to represent Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. Congressman Balderson narrowly defeated O’Connor in August to represent the historically Republican district.

November 7th Planning

Industry leaders in all three states around the Appalachian Basin will be looking to which policies can be expected in each of the three states based on the various elections on November 6th. Nationally, if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, there will be a lame-duck window beginning on November 7th and ending in January – where efforts will be launched to pass last-minute legislation. Many will look to November 7th as a day of rest from the bombardment of campaign ads, but the date only signifies a change in tactics on the political front.

Curtis Wilkerson is Principal at Orion Strategies – a strategic communications firm with offices in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The firm provides public relations, government affairs, polling, research and creative services for a number of energy clients around the country.