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Coloring between the lines

The West Virginia Senate’s Democratic Caucus is losing two members and likely opening up an opportunity for Republicans to take two more seats.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, will resign from his seat representing the 16th Senatorial District to take a position as a magistrate in Berkeley County (news that I broke on Twitter last week. Follow me at @stevenadamswv to find out first about big political scoops.)

Unger is the second longest serving Democratic member of the state Senate, first elected in 1998.

He served as Senate Majority Leader under former Senate President Jeff Kessler until the Republicans took the majority in the Senate after the 2014 elections.

Unger served briefly as Senate Minority Whip until 2017 when retired Marion County state Sen. Roman Prezioso became the new minority leader and appointed former Kanawha County state Sen. Corey Palumbo as minority whip.

Also leaving the Senate is Ohio County Democratic state Sen. William Ihlenfeld, who was nominated again as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia.

The U.S. Senate will still have to confirm the appointment, but I doubt Ihlenfeld will encounter any issues.

By all accounts, he was a well-liked and respected U.S. Attorney, and folks from both political parties have come out to congratulate him.

Gov. Jim Justice will have to appoint Democrats to replace Unger and Ihlenfeld. But with the 2020 wave that gave the Legislature a Republican supermajority in both chambers and a majority Republican voter registration that keeps growing, it will be a tough slog for Democrats to hold those two seats in 2022. Redistricting will also play a role.

There are 11 Democrats in the state Senate. Unger and Ihlenfeld are out. Even Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, told a local media outlet that he hasn’t decided if he is running for re-election in 2022.

Times are indeed tough for Democrats in the state Senate.

•••

Speaking of redistricting, the Legislature is about halfway through with its regional redistricting meetings. The last public meeting takes place Sept. 16 in Parkersburg. The U.S. Census just released new data, with redistricting data expected to be released next week.

With the state losing a congressional district, all eyes are on how the new 1st and 2nd congressional districts will be drawn.

It’s not as simple as drawing a line down vertically or horizontally across the state. Both districts will have to be as equal in population as possible.

The new U.S. Census data continues to show that the fastest growing parts of the state for population are Monongalia County/Preston County and Berkeley County/Jefferson County.

Right now, Monongalia County is in the 1st District and the tip of the Eastern Panhandle is in the 2nd Congressional District.

There is a growing consensus that no matter how the lines are drawn, you can’t have both Monongalia/Preston and Berkeley/Jefferson in the same congressional district.

That would most likely involve having Monongalia/Preston in the new 1st and Berkeley/Jefferson in the new 2nd.

All three of the state’s Republican members of Congress — David McKinley (1st), Alex Mooney (2nd), and Carol Miller (3rd) — have announced intentions to seek re-election.

If the map scenario I describe above comes to fruition, that would leave McKinley (a Wheeling native) a path to his seventh term, but it would pit Mooney (Charles Town) and Miller (Huntington) against each other in a Republican primary in 2022.

While I’m aware that legislative redistricting committee members have been in contact with McKinley, Mooney, and Miller as they consider possible maps, I’m told that Mooney might be lobbying the most aggressively.

He’s also already trying to make himself known in parts of the 1st District, having stopped in Parkersburg for a trip to Blennerhassett Island and to stop by the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

Mooney also met with Matthew Herridge, the co-owner of Charton Management, the owner of several Burger King and Qdoba restaurant franchises in West Virginia and Ohio.

Herridge is also vice chairman of the Government Relations Committee/Political Action Committee for the National Franchisee Association.

Mooney is under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics over questionable campaign finance expenditures.

I’ve reached out to his office, his point of contact for the investigation, and to a possible new attorney representing Mooney regarding some new questions I have. So far, radio silence.

•••

I can’t bring myself to write much about this drama regarding Gov. Jim Justice wanting to return to coaching boys’ basketball at Greenbrier East High School.

He coached the boys until 2017, but he continues to coach the girls’ basketball team.

There is nothing wrong with a governor having an extracurricular activity. Former governor Earl Ray Tomblin had gardening and four-wheel riding. Joe Manchin had his motorcycle and occasional karaoke.

Volunteering with teenagers is probably the least objectionable thing he could be doing.

On the other hand, high school basketball always coincides with the legislative session, when any other governor would be focused on getting their bills through the sausage-making process.

I haven’t written about it because — outside of my 2002 summer internship in the Parkersburg News sports department — I am not a sports reporter and personally not much of a sports fanatic. I’m more interested in Justice’s role in his businesses and his substantial debts while also being governor.

With that said, I do have one issue: what is the point of wanting to coach both teams when Justice has admitted he will only coach the games?

He’s not involved with practices from what I understand. Wouldn’t that make the assistant coaches the real coaches?

I’m sure there is a better way to get court-side seats.

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