David Welch Charlotte Pritt Joe Manchin and the Politics of Civility in West Virginia

In October 2021, David Welch disappeared from public life.

He took down his Facebook page.

He left his political perch at Talk Radio WRNR in Martinsburg, West Virginia where for years he co-hosted with Rob Mario a popular local current affairs show – Eastern Panhandle Talk with Rob and Dave.

And he stepped down as director of the Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communications at Shepherd University.

An October 14, 2021 press release announcing Greg Fields as the new acting director, says that “Fields replaces David Welch, who recently stepped down after two years with the Institute.”

Without explanation.

At WRNR, there was no explanation other than to say — “we chose to take the show in a different direction.”

Anything more?

“We are not at liberty to say.”

Welch lived in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia for years and was a member of the Town of Bath council before moving to Martinsburg.

A Republican political consultant who had worked with Mike Pence in Indiana, Welch was notably involved in a high profile West Virginia political fight in 1996.

It was the Governor’s race between Democratic State Senator Charlotte Pritt and the Republican former Governor Cecil Underwood.

The race was a dead heat two months before election day. 

Pritt had defeated Joe Manchin in the May primary. 

Pritt believes that Manchin was responsible in large part for an organization called Democrats for Underwood that sprang up after the primary.

Manchin “was really kind of like a petulant spoiled child,” Pritt told Status Coup in an interview last year. “I didn’t realize it, but it was the first time that Joe Manchin had ever been defeated – and by a woman. I think it was a great blow. He couldn’t handle it.”

In 1989, Senator Pritt introduced a bill that would require students to take “human growth and development classes.” And she voted against a failed 1990 state Senate bill that would have required warning stickers on unrated videos.

According to an October 25, 1996 report from the Associated Press titled GOP Plans to Go Negative, a Republican political action committee was about to launch an ad campaign accusing Pritt of “teaching first graders about condoms” and voting “to permit the sale of pornographic videos to children.”

“The ad was prepared by David Welch Associates, a Republican consulting firm which also worked for David McKinley, a challenger to GOP nominee Cecil Underwood in the May primary,” the AP reported.

“Behind Charlotte Pritt’s campaign smile is a liberal voting record she can’t hide from,” the ad said. “In the State Senate, Charlotte Pritt proposed teaching first graders about condoms. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Senator Pritt also proposed to permit the sale of pornographic videos to children. She voted to allow convicted drug abusers to work in our public schools. Look behind the smile. Charlotte Pritt — wrong on the issues. Wrong for West Virginia.”

Pritt lost by five percentage points – 51 to 46.

“Manchin is a corporatist and I’m an FDR Democrat,” Pritt told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview in 2016 when she was running for Governor of West Virginia on the Mountain Party ticket. “There has been a Moore Manchin faction in West Virginia that has been for corporations. The Manchins and the Moores have always supported one another. The Manchin family has been traditionally Republicans in Democratic clothing.”

Both of West Virginia’s current U.S. Senators — Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito — attended the dedication of the Stubblefield Institute in Shepherdstown in October 2019.

Is Pritt convinced that Manchin made the difference in that election?

“I sued the Republican National Committee for putting up false television ads,” Pritt said. “And in depositions, Manchin’s name was mentioned over 100 times. They were trying to say that Joe Manchin was the cause, not the ads that I sued them over.”

After a years-long battle in the courts, Pritt lost the defamation case against the Republicans.

“I sued them over these negative ads,” Pritt said. “They were saying I was trying to make first graders wear condoms, that I was for children watching R rated videos. The Republican Senatorial Committee came in the last week of the campaign and flooded the state with these outrageously false ads.”

In August 2019, as director of the Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communications, Welch wrote an opinion piece for the Charleston Gazette titled “Rediscovering Civility and Compromise.”

“Elected officials might think they are serving us with their negative name calling and over the top rhetoric,” Welch wrote. “But in truth they are drowning our spirit through their churlish, boorish behavior. While their personal attacks and equally personal counter attacks on one another may serve to excite their most fervent followers, their lack of civility threatens the unified foundation of our country. Have they forgotten our nation’s motto, ‘e pluribus unum,’ out of many comes one?”

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