[The Operative]WV Senate confirms GOP operative, corporate lobbyist to EBA on party line votes
The Senate on Thursday confirmed two appointees to the state Educational Broadcasting Authority, over objections from Democrats who question whether they will be strong advocates for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
“I think we need real champions of Public Broadcasting, not any sort of politicalization,” Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said of the appointments of longtime Republican operative Greg Thomas and lawyer/U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Danielle Waltz to the EBA.
The full Senate confirmed Thomas and Waltz on party-line 22-6 and 21-6 votes, respectively. Five of the 11 Senate Democrats were absent Thursday.
During questioning by the Senate Confirmations Committee, Thomas said, “I want West Virginia Public Broadcasting to be the type of thing I’d be a champion for. There’s probably plenty of things they do that I’m sure I’ll be a champion for.”
Gov. Jim Justice’s appointments of Thomas, a longtime associate of former coal executive Don Blankenship, and Waltz, a lobbyist who has advocated for pro-business issues that include right-to-work and an intermediate appeals court, raised concern that the Republican governor is trying to stack the board with political conservatives.
As of June 30, Justice will be in position to replace all seven appointed members of the 11-member EBA.
Asked last week about the appointments, Justice said he is attempting to bring “diversity” and “balance” to the board, which oversees West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
During questioning, both appointees admitted they don’t know a great deal about the EBA or Public Broadcasting. Waltz offered that she regularly attends Mountain Stage tapings.
Thomas said he does not watch or own a television, and said he gets about 99% of his news from social media.
Part of the committee meeting Thursday focused on Thomas’ use of social media to criticize the mainstream news media, including a tweet stating: “@wvpublicnews the liberals never miss an opportunity to advance their globalist anti-WV agenda.”
Thomas suggested he is not alone in criticizing the media, saying, “I wish I could say I coined the phrase ‘fake news,’ but I didn’t.”
Asked to elaborate, Thomas said of the media, “It tends to be a little bit of a club that tends to veer to the liberal side … . Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they’re a little lazy.”
Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, concurred, saying of Public Broadcasting, “Most of their reporting is quite left-wing … . I sometimes worry if that left-wing ideology bleeds over into their educational programming.”
Likewise, on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Tim Takubo, R-Kanawha, responded to concerns from Senate Democrats that the appointments would politicize the EBA, saying, “I think there are many in the state who feel it is already a very politicized organization.”
On the Senate floor, Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, noted that none of the Republican senators had provided any evidence to support their claims that the EBA is a leftist organization.
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said both appointments will harm what is supposed to be an independent, nonpolitical organization, saying of Thomas’ appointment, “To put someone like this on the board that governs our Public Broadcasting system is a real travesty.”
During Thursday’s Confirmation Committee hearing, Thomas said his experience with Public Broadcasting, including participating in a 2005 documentary about Blankenship, has been generally positive.
“Quite honestly, it was very fair,” Thomas said of “The Kingmaker,” about how Blankenship spent $5 million on a campaign to help elect Brent Benjamin to the West Virginia Supreme Court.
Waltz is a former board member of the Cardinal Institute, an American Legislative Exchange Council-affiliated and Koch Brothers-funded institute that advocates for deregulation, tax cuts and limited government services, and which has declared funding for West Virginia Public Broadcasting to be wasteful state spending.
Waltz on Thursday distanced herself from that report, “Wild and Wasteful West Virginia,” saying, “That was not a publication I drafted or approved.”
Asked by Baldwin if she would support defunding or cutting state funding for Public Broadcasting, Waltz said, “It’s impossible for me to stand here and give a reasonable response to that question without having access to all the information.”
Thomas said he agrees with Justice on the need to diversify the EBA.
“Diversity is more than male-female or Democrat-Republican,” Thomas said.
He told committee members, “I think my West Virginia experience, although it’s interwoven with Linsly [a private prep school in Wheeling], Republican politics and Don Blankenship, doesn’t make it any less of a West Virginia experience. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I think I can bring a lot to the board.”
The Justice administration has provided biographical information to the Senate regarding a third pending EBA appointee, Ron Hughes of Pikewood Media Group, the company that operates the MetroNews radio network. However, Hughes’ nomination had not been formally submitted to the Senate as of Thursday.