The West Virginia Democratic Party made automated phone calls Sunday to accuse Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney and the national Republican Governors Association of throwing state Republican lawmakers “under the bus.” The calls, which went to homes across the state, did not identify who paid for them.
A top Republican lawmaker called the robocalls “old style tactics” and an act of desperation by Democrats.
The RGA has released two ads in the past two weeks attacking Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for votes on bills that a majority of state House Republicans also voted for.
One RGA ad, released two weeks ago, claims Tomblin is trying to ration health care.
To do so, the ad cites a provision in a bill that’s viewed as one of Tomblin’s greatest legislative achievements: his plan to deal with billions of dollars in future health care costs for retired public workers. The ad claims the bill borrows ideas from President Barack Obama’s health care reform law. While both call for cutting costs, neither call for rationing.
The Tomblin administration received bipartisan support in the Legislature for its plan. The bill was approved by a unanimous vote in the 34-member state Senate and an 83-17 majority in the 100-member House of Delegates, which has 35 Republicans.
A second ad, released late last week, criticized Tomblin for “raising taxes on coal.” The bill, to provide more money to clean up mine sites, was publicly supported by the state Coal Association. The bill passed the Senate unanimously — with one Republican senator not voting — and 85-14-1 in the House.
The robocalls (audio), which went to Republican households in several state House districts, were meant to highlight what Democrats are calling the RGA’s hypocritical message.
“We felt that it was necessary to make these calls because one of two things have taken place,” Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said in an email Monday. “Obviously the Republican Governors Association has thrown the majority of Republican legislators under the bus for Maloney’s personal gain who voted for this responsible legislation or they have purposely attempted to mislead the public by not letting them know that this was bipartisan legislation, supported by most Republican legislators, that they are attacking in their ads.”
Puccio said the party plans to “continue to educate the public about the hypocritical claims in these ads.”
The voice in at least one version of the robocall is that of Democratic Party executive director Derek Scarbro. The message does not identify the party as the source of the ad.
“Bill Maloney and Republican Governors Association are attacking your local Republican delegate, Eric Nelson, on a TV ad over bipartisan bills he supported,” one version of the robocall obtained by the Daily Mail said. “Call Maloney and tell him he doesn’t understand what is good for West Virginia.”
Besides Nelson’s district in Kanawha, Republicans say voters received the calls in districts represented by Delegates Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, and Bob Ashley, R-Roane. Lane and Armstead voted against the health care-related bill, Ashley and Nelson vote for it. The long-term costs were known as “other post-employment benefits,” or OPEB. Democrats also took a similiar line of attack in three Twitter posts on Friday.
The reclamation tax increase was meant to bring in about $17 million next year to clean up mine lands. It raised the tax from 14.4 cents to 27.9 cents per ton mine coal. All four voted for increasing taxes on coal operators.
Armstead, who is the House minority leader, has previously defended the House Republicans who voted for the final health care bill, pointing to a roll call vote that showed 32 of the 35 Republican delegates voted in favor of his amendment stripping the cost-cutting section. He said Republicans who voted for the bill voted for it because of the provisions that dealt with paying down the OPEB liability and not because of the provisions the RGA is attacking.
On Monday, he accused Democrats of “using old style tactics to try to divert attention from the Democrats’ own failure to lead.”
Democrats are trying to get Republicans to decry the RGA’s ads and become at odds with elements of their own party. Armstead did not do that when asked about the RGA’s ads and about the implication that he and other Republicans are being sideswiped by the RGA’s anti-Tomblin effort.
“If the democrats are resorting to using footnotes in an ad that wasn’t even prepared by the Maloney campaign to somehow imply that Bill and
our legislators are not in agreement on supporting coal, they must be pretty desperate,” Armstead said in a text message.