MOUTH OF THE ELK - Ross Fighting To Retain Seat, State Party Leaders Full Of Discontent

By Bob Weaver

One of West Virginia's powerful political brokers, Senator Mike Ross-D, has been declared a loser in his bid for re-election in the nine-county 15th Senatorial District.

A canvass this week indicate Republican challenger Clark Barnes defeated Ross by 336 votes.

. Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Ross is fighting for his seat, saying he will ask for a recount in every county.

Ross blamed the close race on "the Bush tidal wave, a strong Republican vote and negative campaigning by his opponent.

Ross is still facing an Ethics Commission inquiry after he financed the purchase of a golf course and then voted for state funding that benefited it.

State economic development money was used by a golf course with which he is associated in Bridgeport.

Ross, a wealthy oil and gas businessman, said "There's no ethics problem..."

Officials associated with the State Ethics Commission say changes need to be made regarding conflict of interest issues. The ethics group is responsible to and funded by the state legislature, where Ross has been a member.

The huge wins by Republicans on election night are apparently not going unnoticed. Democratic leaders in West Virginia are paying attention to some major gains by the Republican Party.

A Beckley newspaper reports that state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey has fired off e-mails to several party officials who backed Republicans.

He is telling them to resign and get out of the way.

Casey's e-mails reportedly say:

"Why did some committee members openly support Republican candidates with yard signs and endorsements? Why did some incumbent Democrat officeholders publicly endorse Republicans? Why did some labor organizations endorse Republicans?

"If you are on a party committee and you did not do your part this time, I urge you to resign and open the way for others to come forward. If you are on a party committee and supported Republicans this time, I urge you to resign and open the way for others to come forward."

Casey is speaking about Republicrats, registered Democrats who support Republican platforms and often vote Republican.

Casey said he believes in a strong two-party system, but he does not think this (Republicrat) system is working well for West Virginia.

Meanwhile, there is discontent in the Republican Party.

Last week's dismissal of party Executive Director Gary Abernathy by state chairperson Kris Warner has stirred up trouble and re-kindled some earlier divisions.

After Abernathy resigned, the entire office staff quit.

Abernathy said major gains was made by the party this year, and was upset with Warner.

Pleasants County Senator Donna Boley says she is among those who advocates calling a meeting to dismiss Chairman Kris Warner. Boley says Warner's leadership has set the party back 15 years.

"Our party was in debt to the tune of $120,000. We're now in debt again," said Boley. "It hurts your party when you're in debt."

Warner says the party actually raised close to $600,000 dollars for candidates and the party. He promises to provide a full accounting of all expenses incurred during the 2004 campaigns and will have it ready at the very latest by the February meetings.

Warner admits there's a struggle for control of the party. He says Boley is from the opposite thinking group.

Warner said Senator Boley is happy being a member of the "permanent minority" in West Virginia.

"It's not important, quite frankly, who the chairman is or who the executive director is," says Warner. "What is important is whether we're going to become the majority party in West Virginia or whether we're going to cater to the special interests that want us to be a permanent minority and play footsies with the Democrats."