March 05, 2019

Fallout Continues From Anti-Muslim Display At WV Capitol | The Charleston Gazette

The Democratic House Minority Whip apologized Saturday after apparently losing his temper and injuring a staffer.

The Republican Speaker of the House condemned an anti-Muslim display outside the chamber as part of “WV GOP Day” that triggered the event.

Despite his apology, Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, could still face punitive action, according to House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who said the House needs to work on how it maintains its civil discourse.

In light of potential punishment of Caputo, House Democrats are pointing to the lack of any punitive action against Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, who has established a reputation for inflammatory and anti-gay remarks in his first legislative session.

With the Legislature in the national spotlight after Friday’s incidents, a short seven days left in the session, and more bills to consider than there is time to pass them, Hanshaw, while calling the anti-Muslim display “inappropriate under any set of facts,” said the body needs to go back to basics.

“We’re going to be talking about this a lot this week, not just the events of yesterday, but about the entirety of this session and how we interact with one another, how we maintain civil discourse here in this body, and probably in this state,” he said.

House leadership originally scheduled an 8 a.m. Rules Committee hearing Saturday and was expected to debate a punishment for Caputo. On Friday, when Caputo grew upset over the display that implied a connection between a Muslim congresswoman and a terrorist attack, he tried to enter the House chamber to air his grievances with Hanshaw.

House Assistant Doorkeeper Logan Casterline was allegedly holding the door shut during the prayer session that precedes the floor session. Caputo, by his own account, kicked in the door, hitting Casterline.

The 8 a.m. hearing was cancelled without explanation. During Saturday’s floor session, Caputo, known for fiery floor speeches, took a subdued tone in apology.

“I’m not gonna rehash why I came through that door in a forceful way, I don’t think we need to deal with that right now,” Caputo said. “I let my emotions overload my good sense.”

He apologized to Casterline, to Hanshaw, to the chamber and to others.

“I know there’s a lot of you that think less of me today than you did yesterday,” Caputo said. “I certainly understand that. I will do my best to rebuild your trust and your confidence in me, because that’s who Mike Caputo is.”

Citing personnel and medical reasons, Hanshaw said he could not offer much of an update on Casterline, despite rumors bouncing around the Capitol.

“I can tell you that I did meet with him yesterday afternoon, and that he left my office to be examined further by a physician,” he said. “I said to him he should take any and all action he thought was appropriate for his own well-being as our employee.”

Hanshaw said he believed the sincerity of Caputo’s apology, although the question remains over what the appropriate course of action is.

No matter the facts that precede it, Hanshaw said, violence is never an acceptable outcome in political discourse.

“Never for a second do I believe [Caputo] intended to hurt anyone. I would never attribute that to either he, or for that matter, anyone in this set of facts,” he said. “It was, as I understand it, a heated situation there in front of the chamber that gave rise to the events of yesterday. I have no reason to believe he was anything but sincere. I’ve spoken to him before the session today, he indicated he wanted to offer a sincere apology. As far as I’m concerned, he did so.”

With discriminatory incidents involving gay people and Muslims making national news in the session, Hanshaw said in his time in office, this session has been the most bruising.

“I do not remember in five years it ever feeling like it feels now, and that’s unfortunate and it’s not something that we can or ever even should try to sustain,” he said. “Ours is a small state, and for that reason, people are a lot more alike than they are different.” 

U.S. senators

With discrimination at the state Legislature rising to a national level, including coverage of Friday’s events in publications like USA Today and the Washington Post, both of West Virginia’s U.S. senators weighed in on the goings on of the statehouse.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said there’s no reason to insult people for the god they pray to.

“I just think we have to adopt the attitude that we’ve got to be accepting of all ideas and all faiths and train our collective offensive energies towards people who want to harm us, not people in our own country who love freedom like we do,” she said.

Along with the nastiness, there’s a political cost — the actions of a few can tar an entire party.

“To me, it doesn’t represent the Republican Party, it certainly doesn’t represent my views,” she said. “We keep saying love is stronger than hate, but when you see things like that and then the visceral reaction to it, it concerns me, because it was on Republican Day. I don’t want it to reflect on all the Republicans in the state and country.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the display was nothing short of “pure, unadulterated hatred” that has no place in politics.

“There’s not a whole lot to say, I’m just so sorry that in our state, people believe they can behave that way and show that type of hostility and that anger and that hatred and think that it’s the norm,” he said.

He said the people who put up the sign, Porterfield and anyone else who disseminates that kind of ignorance needs to reconsider what brought them to politics in the first place.

“Maybe they need to re-evaluate why in the world they’re even there, because they’re sure not representing the state they come from and the people that love them and the people that voted for them,” he said.

A spokesman for the House of Delegates said Friday the state party was responsible for approving booths as they set up. GOP Chairwoman Melody Potter did not return a request for comment Friday night, but five minutes after Caputo’s punitive hearing was scheduled to begin Saturday, the state party issued the following statement:

“The West Virginia Republican Party does not approve, condone, or support hate speech. One of the exhibitors at our West Virginia Republican Party Day at the Capitol displayed a sign that we did not approve, were not aware of before the day started, and we do not support. Upon learning about the sign, we immediately asked this exhibitor to remove the sign.

“Our Party supports freedom of speech, but we do not endorse speech that advances intolerant and hateful views. We have shown that when West Virginians are united, when we respect each other, embrace our differences and focus on moving our state forward what we can accomplish.”


By:  Jake Zuckerman