By CUNEYT DIL Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s governor on Wednesday picked an executive at a road contractor to take the vacated House of Delegates seat of Derrick Evans, who resigned after he was charged with illegally entering the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Wayne County resident Joshua Booth is vice president of Highway Safety Inc., a family-owned traffic safety and road work firm based in Huntington. A political neophyte, Booth served on the board of the Contractors Association of West Virginia, according to the governor’s office.
But local party members are challenging Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s appointment in the state’s high court. The chair of the Wayne County GOP alleges Justice usurped the selection process by not appointing one of the candidates put forth by the county party.
“Their ability of choosing their legislator is being transferred from their local precincts to some unknown back room in Charleston,” said John Bryan, an attorney for the plaintiff.
Booth would serve the remaining two-year term of Evans, who took office in December 2020 and quit days after livestreaming himself with a mob of Donald Trump supporters storming the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Delegates draw $20,000 annually, plus per diem. Lawmakers will meet Feb. 10 to start a 60-day session.
In a lawsuit, the chair of the Wayne County GOP, Jeff Maynard, said the governor was sent a list of three candidates for the vacancy on Jan. 13. The lawsuit says Justice’s counsel, Brian Abraham, informed Maynard that the governor would draw up a different list because local officials voted on their candidates without the participation of the head of the state Republican party, Roman Stauffer.
The second list was allegedly composed of two of the original candidates and Booth instead of Jay Marcum, a candidate for the same seat in the 19th Delegate District in the 2020 Republican primary.
Bryan said he wants the court to order the governor to fill the vacancy with the local party’s candidates.
Justice disputed concerns over the legality of his pick, saying he has been in “constant contact” with the state attorney general’s office on the matter.
“I feel very, very confident that Joshua Booth will do a wonderful job for the people of West Virginia,” Justice said briefly at his news conference on the coronavirus response.
The district sends two delegates to the statehouse and had been solidly Democratic until last November. Trump’s sky-high popularity in West Virginia helped several little-known Republican candidates stage upsets against Democrats across the state.
Evans won 37% of the vote in the general election. Democrats retained the second seat.
Stauffer, who served as campaign manager for Justice’s re-election bid, did not return a message seeking comment. He ascended to acting chair of the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee on Jan. 11 with the resignation of Melody Potter, who said she sought time to care for her ailing parents.
Meanwhile, Booth’s company, Highway Safety, Inc., is currently over six months delinquent on filing an annual report with the state, opening it up to possible fines and penalties.
The business database maintained by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office says the company is “not in compliance” as of Wednesday.
“The 2020 annual report was due on July 1, 2020. It has not been filed,” Mike Queen, a spokesman for the office, wrote in an email.
The agency’s website warns companies that “failure to file by the July 1 deadline may result in monetary penalties as well as administrative dissolution or revocation.” Companies also need to pay the state a $25 annual fee.
The website for Highway Safety, Inc. says it was founded in 1992 and holds a certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise license in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia for federally funded road work projects. The license gives small firms that are economically and socially disadvantaged a leg-up in bidding for contracts.
An attempt to reach Booth through a business phone was unsuccessful on Wednesday evening.
The governor’s office said in a news release that Booth is a native of Kenova, a small town outside Huntington, and graduated from Marshall University with a business administration degree.