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Editorial: Mingo’s scummy legacy

As far back as anyone can remember, West Virginia’s southern coal counties — Mingo, McDowell, Logan, Lincoln, etc. — have been cesspools of two-bit local political corruption. Wave after wave of federal prosecutions have sent courthouse politicos to prison. Vote-stealing has been so rampant it’s a topic of sour jokes.

We recall a Logan candidate whose campaign posters bragged, “Never Indicted.” A Daily Mail columnist once quipped that Congress was “casting more votes than a Lincoln County cemetery.”

Former Gazette Editor Don Marsh, a Logan native, sometimes said that out-of-state coal corporations bleed away mineral wealth of those counties, and hometown opportunists scuffle for crumbs that are left. It’s a sorry picture.

Now that former Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury is off to prison, it’s time to reflect on the disgusting county empire he ruled for many years. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin likened him to “Boss Hogg,” the grubby local political kingpin in a TV show.

Thornsbury cold-bloodedly framed people to get what he wanted. Federal agents say he tried to have his secretary’s husband jailed on dope charges after she rejected his sexual advances.

He was surrounded by fellow scumbags. County Commissioner Dave Baisden pleaded guilty to petty extortion. Prosecutor Michael Sparks confessed to corruption. Magistrate Dallas Toler admitted vote fraud — then was arrested on drug charges. They’re merely the latest group in a long parade of jailed pols.

Meanwhile, some Mingo coal executives and bankers are accused of hiding money transfers to pay miners under the table and duck workers’ compensation costs.

Thank heaven for federal agents, the only independent force capable of cleansing the cesspool. Local prosecutors lack enough power — and some, like Sparks, are part of the mess.

Lawyer Allen Loughry, now a state Supreme Court justice, wrote a 2006 book subtitled “The Sordid and Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia.” At the beginning, he remarked:

“I certainly recognize that every state in the union has low-level political hacks who are petty thieves. Unfortunately though, West Virginia has had much more than its share of corrupt political felons as countless state, county and city elected officials have spent time in federal and state penitentiaries.”

Keeping government clean is a never-ending challenge. Former Gazette Publisher W.E. “Ned” Chilton III demanded “sustained outrage” against all sorts of political chicanery. Hurrah for the feds who wage this battle.


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