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Virginia priest steps down after revealing he was a Ku Klux Klan member decades ago

Virginia priest steps down after revealing he was a Ku Klux Klan member decades ago

William Aitcheson

The Rev. William Aitcheson, a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., is taking a leave of absence after disclosing he once was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

(AP)

A Catholic priest in Arlington, Va., is temporarily stepping down after revealing he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and burned crosses more than 40 years ago before joining the clergy.

In an editorial published Monday in the Arlington Catholic Herald, the Rev. William Aitcheson described himself as "an impressionable young man" when he became a member of the hate group. He wrote that images from the deadly white supremacist and white nationalist rally in Charlottesville "brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget."

"My actions were despicable," wrote Aitcheson, 62. "When I think back on burning crosses, a threatening letter, and so on, I feel as though I am speaking of somebody else. It’s hard to believe that was me."

In a statement, Catholic Diocese of Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge called Aitcheson’s past with the Ku Klux Klan "sad and deeply troubling."

Aitcheson served with the Catholic church in Nevada before being transferred to Arlington, where he is originally from, church officials said in a statement. He was ordained in 1988 and has served in a variety of positions at parishes in Nevada; Arlington; Fredericksburg, Va.; and Woodstock, Md. His latest assignment was as parochial vicar, or assistant to the pastor, at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax City.

The Arlington diocese said Aitcheson would not be available for comment. Attempts to reach him Tuesday were unsuccessful.

According to a March 1977 story in The Washington Post, Aitcheson, then a 23-year-old University of Maryland student, was identified as an "exalted cyclops" of a KKK lodge. He was charged in several cross-burnings in Prince George’s County, Md., and other counts, including making bomb threats and manufacturing pipe bombs.

According to the 1977 Post story, state police in Maryland said Aitcheson was a leader of the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the KKK, which had planned to recruit people to blow up facilities at Fort Meade near Laurel.

When officers searched his home in the 1970s, they found 9 pounds of black powder, weapons and bomb parts in Aitcheson’s bedroom and basement. His parents told authorities they didn’t know the explosives and weapons were in their home.

At the time of his arrest, Aitcheson’s father, William W. Aitcheson, said his son was a member of the hate group, adding, "My son, along with others, are just caught up in it. … I don’t know what their thoughts are."

Aitcheson pleaded guilty to several cross burnings, including one in the front yard of an African-American family in the College Park Woods neighborhood and others at B’nai B’rith Hillel at the University of Maryland and the Beth Torah Congregation in Hyattsville. He was convicted and sentenced to 90 days, and ordered to pay a judgment of about $20,000.

The African-American couple, who were newlyweds at the time of the incident, declined to talk Tuesday about the burning cross from 40 years ago. A woman who answered the door at their home said it was so long ago, and thinking about it would bring back difficult memories.

Five years after Aitcheson’s involvement in the cross-burning incident at their home, President Ronald Reagan visited the couple and their young daughter, saying the incident "is not something that should have happened in America," according to a May 4, 1982, article in the Post.

Aitcheson also pleaded guilty to charges that he threatened to kill Coretta King, the widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. He told a U.S. District Court judge that he wrote to King in February 1976, telling her to "stay off the University of Maryland campus or you will die." According to a Post story, investigators said he wrote "Africa or death by lynching, take your pick, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan." He was a University of Maryland. student studying broadcasting at the time.

Aitcheson was described in a 1977 Post article as "speaking calmly, with his head bowed slightly" at a hearing on the King case. He told a judge he was pleading guilty because "well, ah, because I’m guilty." He also faced charges in Maryland’s Howard and Carroll counties of illegal possession of firearms and manufacturing explosives.

He was convicted in U.S. District Court in Baltimore of mailing threatening communications. A judge sentenced him to 60 days in prison and four years of probation.

In his editorial published this week, Aitcheson apologized and said the recent violence in Charlottesville prompted him to share information about his past. He called the images from Charlottesville "embarrassing," adding that "for those who have repented from a damaging and destructive past, the images should bring us to our knees in prayer."

Aitcheson went on: "Racists have polluted minds, twisted by an ideology that reinforces the false belief that they are superior to others." Aitcheson also wrote that "the irony that" he "left an anti-Catholic hate group to rejoin the Catholic Church is not lost on me."

"It is a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy," he wrote.

Billy Atwell, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, said the diocese had received information about Aitcheson’s history when he was accepted for ministry under Bishop John Keating. He didn’t provide details on what information was known.

Aitcheson attended seminary at the North American College in Rome from 1984 to 1988, according to the diocese.

Atwell said he didn’t know if a criminal-background check was conducted when Aitcheson came to the Arlington diocese in 1993, although he said more in-depth background reviews have been done routinely on staff and priests since the mid-2000s.

Since the mid-2000’s "all staff and clergy have had in-depth background checks" under policies of the Virginia State Police, according to Atwell. The checks are also done using a national criminal check system of the FBI and fingerprinting tracking databases. It wasn’t clear if his criminal record would have eliminated his ability to become a priest, either in Nevada or Virginia.

Atwell said Tuesday that Aitcheson’s "story of repentance is authentic."

Al Leightley, head usher at Saint Leo the Great, said Aitcheson never discussed his past involvement with the KKK. Leightley found out about his past Tuesday morning, but said Aitcheson repented appropriately in his Monday letter.

"He is a very good priest, very dedicated to his profession," he said. "It’s hard to see all the commotion going on with the gentleman."

Some public Catholic figures began speaking out on Aitcheson on Tuesday, including conservative legal scholar Matthew Franck, a Princeton University lecturer.

"I hope this evidently good man returns to active ministry," Franck tweeted. "He could do important work, especially with his history."

On the diocese’s Facebook page, multiple supporters of the priest praised his decision to go public, and called him a gifted pastor. "A true story of redemption. May God continue to work in and through Fr. Aitcheson," one wrote.

In a phone interview, Franck said, "Sometimes people get involved in a hate group and then have been reborn, and have an interesting story to tell. … It would be a loss for him to just vanish."

A note at the bottom of Aitcheson’s editorial on Monday said he had "voluntarily asked to step away from public ministry, for the well being of the Church and parish community."

Burbidge said "there have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against [Aitcheson] at the Arlington diocese during his time." He said Aitcheson’s request to step away from public ministry was approved.

The Washington Post’s Peter Hermann, Ellie Silverman, Justin Jouvenal and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

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After Virginia violence, far right and white nationalists turn to a familiar target: California

After Virginia violence, far right and white nationalists turn to a familiar target: California

Anti-fascists and far-right protesters clash during a protest that turned into a series of rolling street brawls in Berkeley earlier this year. (David Butow / For The Times)

When far-right activist Kyle Chapman took to Facebook last week urging followers to attend upcoming rallies in the Bay Area, he was downright gleeful about taking the fight to the celebrated liberal bastion.

“Talk about kicking the hornets nest! This is sure to be barn burner,” wrote Chapman, who became a hero to the extreme-right and earned the nickname “Based Stickman” when he battled counter-protesters armed with a shield and staff earlier this year. “Let’s show these intolerant Communist we will not be silenced or intimidated!”

Left-leaning, multicultural California might not seem like an ideal place for the extreme-right and white-nationalist groups to make a stand. But the movement has increasingly targeted the state in recent years, with optics as much as membership in mind.

Seeking media attention and validation for their “us vs. the world” narrative, far-right activists find desired attention and conflict in California, leading to clashes that often end in blood and bruises, experts say.

Some of the biggest clashes have been in Berkeley, where a swath of far-right combatants ranging from ardent supporters of President Trump to avowed white nationalists have engaged in rolling street brawls with masked anti-fascists and anarchists who also see violence as the only way to defeat their rivals.

In the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Va., that left one woman dead and sparked furious debate about the limits of free speech and the need to condemn white supremacists, some of these groups are again turning to California, to the dismay of some local officials.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that Berkeley is being targeted. The home of the free-speech movement. The home of liberalism in academia. A place where they don’t feel welcome,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “This is about battles over symbology and turf.”

There have been at least two dozen political events that ended in violent conflict in California in the past two years, including Trump campaign events that devolved into pugilism and clashes between white supremacists and anti-fascists, said Levin, who has been tracking the events.

Officials in San Francisco and Berkeley are trying to stop far-right protests planned for this month. And the American Civil Liberties Union of California this week took the unusual step of releasing a statement saying the First Amendment does not support activists bent on violence.

“If white supremacists march into our towns armed to the teeth and with the intent to harm people, they are not engaging in activity protected by the United States Constitution,” the statement said. “The 1st Amendment should never be used as a shield or sword to justify violence.”

While the organizer of the San Francisco event has disavowed white nationalists, far-right figures linked to past violence and the Charlottesville fiasco have said they will attend. Anti-fascist groups in the Bay Area — who have been criticized by police for their violent behavior — have already condemned the events as white-supremacist gatherings and vowed to disrupt them.

Experts say those who identify as white nationalists or white supremacists often travel to diverse, liberal areas hoping to prompt a violent reaction. Footage of their members being physically assaulted makes for effective propaganda videos, experts say.

Members of the Loyal White Knights, the largest segment of the Ku Klux Klan in the U.S., staged a demonstration in Anaheim that resulted in several stabbings last year after counter-protesters assaulted the Klan members, law enforcement officials have said. Seven people, all counter-protesters, were charged with crimes.

A bloody street battle between anti-fascists and members of the Golden State Skinheads and Traditionalist Worker Party, a well-known white-nationalist group, ended with seven people stabbed last summer near the state Capitol. Earlier this year, four people were criminally charged in that spasm of violence.

Joey Gibson, who is organizing the Aug. 26 rally near Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, said the event has nothing to do with white supremacy. Gibson is Asian, and the list of speakers for his event includes a black man and a transgender woman. He said he has disavowed white nationalist groups in the past and is simply aiming at San Francisco to reach people whose politics may be at odds with his own.

“There’s no point in going into areas where there’s not a bunch of hatred and there’s not a bunch of misunderstanding,” said Gibson, of Vancouver, Wash. “You’ve got to go into these areas where the kids have been lied to, where the kids have been deceived.”

Gibson distanced himself from violence and the events of Charlottesville, but also acknowledged that added media attention could attract extremists. At least two of the figures expected to speak at the weekend rallies have also been linked to violence in the past.

Chapman, who did not respond to a request for comment, gained notoriety for filmed brawls with anti-fascists and has formed a group called the “Fraternal Order of The Alt-Knights” with the purpose of fighting off counter-protesters.

Augustus Invictus, described by the Anti-Defamation League as a Florida-based white supremacist, has said on Twitter that he plans to speak at the Aug. 27 rally in Berkeley. Invictus filmed himself among a mob of torch-carrying demonstrators chanting “blood and soil,” a known Nazi refrain, in Charlottesville last weekend.

Joanna Mendelson, an investigative researcher with the California branch of the Anti-Defamation League, said far-right groups hold events in historically liberal cities because they expect, and desire, a confrontational response. When their events gain strong media coverage, they tend to return, according to Mendelson, who said such tactics have made several cities in California, as well as Seattle and Portland, Ore., prime targets.

“Targeting progressive bastions is a strategic approach by these groups,” she said. “For where there are flashpoints and conflict, there is media attention and publicity.”

The Bay Area is certainly familiar with that result. In April, hundreds of protesters representing forces aligned with and opposed to President Trump clashed before a “Patriot’s Day” rally that ended with 21 arrested and countless people injured by pepper spray, improvised weapons or thrown rocks. A similar clash erupted in March, and violent protests at UC Berkeley led to the cancellation of a speech by far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

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Virginia violence adds to push to remove Confederate statues

Virginia violence adds to push to remove Confederate statues

As a descendant of Civil War soldiers who wore both the blue and the gray, a Kentucky mayor said he’s taking his own stand — marshalling support to remove two Confederate statutes from prominent spots in his city.

Violence that erupted over the weekend at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, added momentum to a wave of efforts across the South to remove or relocate Confederate monuments.

Lexington, Kentucky, Mayor Jim Gray moved up his announcement in reaction to the bloodshed, which saw a vehicle plow into a group of counter-protesters, killing one woman. The memorials to John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan are perched outside a former courthouse that was the site of slave auctions before the Civil War.

"It’s just not right that we would continue to honor these Confederate men who fought to preserve slavery on the same ground as men, women and even children were once sold into a life of slavery," Gray said in a YouTube video Sunday. "Relocating these statues and explaining them is the right thing to do."

A crowd in Durham, North Carolina, used a rope to topple a statue of a Confederate soldier Monday evening outside an old courthouse building that now houses local government offices. Seconds after the monument fell, protesters — some white, some black — began kicking the crumpled bronze monument as dozens cheered and chanted.

"I feel like this is going to send shockwaves through the country and hopefully they can bring down other racist symbols," said protester Isaiah Wallace, who is black.

Removing Confederate monuments is complicated in Tennessee, where lawmakers enacted a law last year that made any push to remove historical markers harder.

That didn’t stop dozens of protesters from gathering in the Tennessee Capitol on Monday to renew calls to remove a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate cavalry general and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Protesters draped a black jacket over the head of the bust while cheering, "Tear it down!"

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam later said he didn’t think Forrest should be honored at the Capitol.

State lawmakers responded to a previous push to remove the bust in the aftermath of the slaying of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina by passing the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. The 2016 law requires that two-thirds of Tennessee Historical Commission members agree to change or remove historical markers, up from a simple majority.

In Memphis, Tennessee, city attorney Bruce McMullen said Monday that he plans to file a petition to remove a statue of Forrest from a park.

The Memphis City Council voted in 2015 to relocate the statue, but the state historical commission blocked the move under the Heritage Protection Act.

The statue is at a park where the Sons of Confederate Veterans celebrate Forrest’s birthday each year, with men and women dressed in Civil War-era garb and waving Confederate flags. The remains of Forrest and his wife are buried under the statue. The city has said it wants to move the remains to a cemetery.

The violence in Charlottesville has spurred debates and action on the fate of Confederate memorials elsewhere across the South.

In Florida, sounds of a jackhammer echoed in downtown Gainesville as workers tore out the foundation of a Confederate statue known as "Old Joe" in front of the Alachua County Administration Building, The Gainesville Sun reported Monday.

The monument will be returned to a chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy — the same group that erected it in 1904.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said she has contacted two contractors about removing that city’s Confederate monuments.

In Louisville, Kentucky, a statue of a Confederate officer was splattered with orange paint. Police said no suspects have been identified. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced Monday that a panel will review the city’s public art and make a list of places linked to bigotry, racism or slavery.

Elsewhere in Kentucky, an NAACP leader said the group will step up efforts to remove a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the state Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort.

"He was a traitor," said the activist, Raoul Cunningham.

In Lexington, meanwhile, Gray proposes moving the statues to a veterans’ park, and wants to add two Union memorials there — to symbolize Kentucky’s divided allegiance during the Civil War.

Gray said he understands the value of preserving history, noting that he grew up hearing stories of his great-great uncles who fought at the Battle of Shiloh — two for the Union and one for the Confederacy.

But he said "it’s time to stand up for what’s right. Let’s remember what our country is all about — liberty, freedom and justice for all. And that means for everyone."

___

Associated Press Writer Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee and Jonathan Drew in Durham, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

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Seeing Hope for Flagging Economy, West Virginia Revamps Vocational Track

Seeing Hope for Flagging Economy, West Virginia Revamps Vocational Track

Teachers troubleshooting a miniature steam engine during a training program at Marshall University. West Virginia is leading the way in transforming vocational education.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — In a sleek laboratory at Marshall University last month, four high school teachers hunched over a miniature steam-electric boiler, a tabletop replica of the gigantic machinery found in power plants.

They hooked the boiler to a small, whirring generator and tinkered with valves and knobs, looking for the most efficient way to turn coal, natural gas, nuclear or solar energy into electricity.

The teachers, who were attending a summer training program, are helping West Virginia in another kind of transformation. Long one of the poorest states, it is now leading the way in turning vocational education from a Plan B for underachieving students into what policy makers hope will be a fuel source for the state’s economic revival.

Simulated workplaces, overseen by teachers newly trained in important state industries like health, coal and even fracking, are now operating in schools across the state. Students punch a time clock, are assigned professional roles like foreman or safety supervisor, and are even offered several vacation days of their choice in addition to regular school breaks. (Many take time off during deer hunting season.)

Traditional math and English teachers have been reassigned to technical high schools, to make sure students on the vocational track still gain reading, writing and math skills.

And this fall, students enrolled in simulated workplaces will need to participate in one of the program’s boldest elements: random drug testing.

Given the extent of the state’s opioid crisis, employers “wouldn’t take anything we were doing seriously until we passed that hurdle,” said Barry Crist, principal of the Fayette Institute of Technology in Oak Hill.

Tommy Nguyen experimented with building a generator.

West Virginia’s heavy push on vocational education comes as leaders of both parties have talked about making it a priority, a shift from the No Child Left Behind era of education reform, in which college for everyone was often the goal. In 2015, fewer than half of 25- to 34-year-olds nationwide had earned an associate or bachelor’s degree, according to census figures.

“Vocational training is a great thing,” President Trump said a week before Election Day. “We’re going to start it up big league.” In June, he signed an executive order that redirected federal job training funds toward apprenticeships, in which students learn skills at actual work sites.

Democrats, too, are talking about vocational training. The agenda they introduced in July, “A Better Deal,” speaks of increasing support for “technical education that leads to a good job.”

But Mr. Trump’s budget calls for $166 million in cuts, a 15 percent reduction, in Perkins Act grants to the states, the government’s main funding stream for technical education in high school and college. The House passed a bipartisan reauthorization of the Perkins program in June, but the bill has not moved forward in the Senate. Even if it passes, the legislation will represent a tweak to the program, not a substantial new commitment of the type Mr. Trump and Democrats have touted.

When it comes to technical education, the United States is an outlier compared with other developed nations. Only 6 percent of American high school students were enrolled in a vocational course of study, according to a 2013 Department of Education report. In the United Kingdom, 42 percent were on the vocational track; in Germany, it was 59 percent; in the Netherlands, 67 percent; and in Japan, 25 percent.

“We are so focused on academic routes as opposed to other routes that can be high quality,” said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills at New America and a former official at the Education and Labor Departments. “There’s a desperate need.”

West Virginia has especially big challenges transitioning students to life after high school. According to the Social Science Research Council, 17 percent of the state’s young adults are “disconnected,” neither working nor in school, the second-highest rate among states, behind only New Mexico.

But in few other states have the changes in vocational education — now rebranded as “career and technical education” — been as dramatic. Thirty-seven percent of West Virginia high school seniors completed a technical course of study in 2016, up from 18 percent in 2010.

Julie Greenlee preparing for an experiment to find alternate methods in ethanol production.

Many are now in simulated workplaces where they learn to work with stethoscopes, welding torches and drafting tables as well as more sophisticated technology.

As an eighth grader, Dillon Brasse, who will be a senior this fall, planned to enter the vocational track to learn masonry. But on a tour of the Fayette Institute, he was fascinated by the computer-assisted drafting classroom, where students work with a 3-D printer, a laser engraver, a vinyl cutter and professional computer software like AutoDesk’s Inventor, which is used in product development.

In his classroom, Dillon said, music plays and students are permitted breaks throughout the day, like employees at a real work site. He and his classmates have designed and produced objects like saltshakers and fidget spinners, the faddish hand-held toys.

“It’s a great experience,” Dillon said, because “you’re treated like an adult.”

That treatment now includes drug testing. West Virginia policy makers say such testing prepares students for the work force, where employers are increasingly checking for drug use, though the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes mandatory testing, citing a “lack of solid evidence” for its effectiveness in helping teenagers avoid substances.

Rachel Peal, who graduated this spring from the pre-engineering simulated workplace program at the Fayette Institute, said the protocol kicked up little protest among her peers. They are well aware that opioid users can’t get or hold down jobs, she said.

“A lot of kids and their families saw the struggle,” she said. “It’s an epidemic here.”

Ron Foster, president of Foster Supply Inc., an 80-employee construction and fabrication firm, has hired eight graduates of the state’s high school simulated workplace program over the past two years. They can earn as much as $15 per hour doing jobs such as welding and machinery repair.

Compared with previous hires, this group is more punctual and focused on building a career, Mr. Foster said. “If you’re dedicated enough to go through that program, you’re more apt to do a good, quality job,” he said.

But far from being strictly a job training program for teenagers, classes like Advanced Career Energy and Power, the four-course sequence for which teachers were training at Marshall University, require math and physics instruction as rigorous as in the College Board’s Advanced Placement track. Of the four teachers tinkering with the miniature boiler, three came from traditional math and science departments.

Kathy D’Antoni, the state director for career and technical education, said a better-educated work force would attract new jobs to the state.

The hope is to prepare students for higher-skilled work. In the fracking industry, for example, they might qualify for jobs in equipment maintenance or environmental compliance instead of laying pipeline, an entry-level and sometimes dangerous job.

About half of the state’s technical-track graduates go on to two- or four-year colleges. Dillon Brasse, for example, is now planning to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering or architecture.

“There’s so much technical information that’s needed today,” said Jeri Matheney, communications director for Appalachian Power, which runs coal, natural gas and hydropower plants in West Virginia. “Where we counted on just on-the-job training 50 years ago, that has changed.”

The classes mimic the workplace in another way, one perhaps not intended. According to federal data from the 2015-16 school year, 90 percent of West Virginia high school technical students concentrating in science fields were male, while 89 percent of those concentrating in health fields were female.

And economists debate whether better vocational education, at either the high school or college level, can be a large-scale fix for underemployment. After all, if firms aren’t hiring, even a highly skilled worker will struggle to land a job.

The energy sector is especially cyclical, a challenge for the Appalachian region. Nationwide, the number of jobs in coal and gas fell by more than a quarter between 2014 and 2016, and hiring is only now beginning to creep back up.

Still, West Virginia educators and policy makers are believers in the “skills gap” hypothesis.

Kathy D’Antoni, the state director for career and technical education since 2010, said a better-educated work force would attract new types of jobs to the state. And she would like to see more support from Washington targeted toward struggling rural states. West Virginia delivered the largest pro-Trump majority in the November election, a margin of 42 percentage points.

Adjusted for inflation, West Virginia’s funding through the Perkins Act has been flat since the program’s inception in 1984, according to the state. Asked about the president’s proposed cuts to Perkins, Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Education, said innovation in career and technical education would continue locally through “public-private partnerships” between schools and industry.

Ms. D’Antoni said she appreciated the attention Mr. Trump had given to vocational education. But, she said, “I want to see the action.”

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West Virginia Defection Complicates Democrats’ Long Climb Back

West Virginia Defection Complicates Democrats’ Long Climb Back

Governors’ ranks are near an all-time low as party sets sights on 2017 and 2018 elections

By Janet Hook, The Wall Street Journal

When West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice switched parties to the GOP, the Democratic Party lost more than a state leader. It also lost some mojo in an urgent battle to rebuild the tattered party from the state level up.

Republicans now hold governors’ seats in 34 states—matching a record high for the GOP—while Democrats have 15 governorships. One state is led by an independent.

The West Virginia switch was an unexpected blow for Democrats, who have pinned high hopes on governors races in 2017 and 2018. Many Democrats see those races as a crucial to political recovery in the wake of the devastating 2016 presidential-election loss and the erosion of power at the state level over the past eight years.

Governors will “lay the foundation for how the Democrats will rebuild,” said Kelly Ward, executive director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an arm of the party focused on state races. “They provide the leadership in both policy and politics. They are the bench.”

The 2017-18 political map gives Democrats a promising battleground: Of the 38 governors’ seats on the ballot, 27 are held by Republicans, including 14 open seats.

Republicans say the West Virginia governor’s defection is a warning that Democrats shouldn’t be overconfident.

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Should You Visit Virginia For The History Or The Romance?

Should You Visit Virginia For The History Or The Romance?

Deciding to take a vacation is certainly an easy choice to make. Most working-age American adults don’t take all their available vacation time every given year, so chances are you have some time accumulated waiting for you.

Where to go on your vacation is another choice. Something that many couples find is that one person in the relationship wants to go some place romantic, and the other one wants to go to see historic places.

Virginia can handle both sides of this vacation. Virginia said for years, and still does at times, that “Virginia Is For Lovers.” From the sand and surf of Virginia Beach to the soaring vistas of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the state is full of places to spend time with someone you love.

As one of the original 13 colonies, Virginia is also replete with history. Many national monuments and museums sit outside Washington, D.C. in and around Arlington. Richmond, the state capital, was the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. There is a historic reproduction of Jamestown, a pre-Revolutionary War colony that was among the first Anglo settlements on the continent. Historic Williamsburg is full of character and charm. Yorktown was the site of the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

Virginia is also a common vacation destination due to its proximity relatively central in the East Coast and Atlantic Seaboard. It’s about as far from Maine as it is Miami, so it’s a convenient middle ground for family reunions of those spread up and down this part of the country, which is still home to roughly a quarter to a third of the national population.

The fact that that Virginia has geographic diversity also helps, as there are sandy beaches and wetlands to one side and tall mountains to the other, with gently rolling hills and farms in between.

Virginia Homeowner Honors Country with Revolutionary War Flag Display

Virginia Homeowner Honors Country with Revolutionary War Flag Display

Revolutionary War-era flags stand in Eric Monday’s front yard in Martinsville, Va. (Courtesty Eric Monday)

Patriotism runs high in one small southern Virginia town where one homeowner’s Fourth of July includes a display of flags from the Revolutionary War period.

There are 13 historic flags flying in Eric Monday’s yard in Martinsville–one for each of the original colonies and the modern-day Old Glory, the Martinsville Bulletin reported Tuesday.

“It’s the anniversary of the independence of our country,” Monday told the paper. “It just makes me happy to see them swaying in the breeze.”

(Courtesy Eric Monday)

Out of all the flags in his yard, Monday’s favorite is the George Rogers Clark flag.

Monday is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution who traces his lineage back to Capt. Leonard Helms who fought under George Rogers Clark in the northwestern frontier, according to the paper.

“It’s a green and red flag,” Monday, the Martinsville City Attorney, told the paper. “It was designed by my ancestor, Leonard Helms, who helped George Rogers Clark conquer the old western frontier. They didn’t have any white or blue material, so he designed it using green and red.”

Monday takes down all the flags after the Fourth but not the American flag which he displays year-round.

(Courtesy Eric Monday)

“To me, the American flag represents all of the great and good things about our country,” he told the paper. “Yes, we’ve had our problems and some regrets, but we are without a doubt the most fantastic country on Earth. I’m proud to fly that flag all the time and I’m proud to be an American.”

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This week in West Virginia History

This week in West Virginia History

CHARLESTON — The following events happened on these dates in West Virginia history. To read more, go to e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia at www.wvencyclopedia.org.

June 28, 1936: Athlete Charles Louis ‘‘Chuck’’ Howley was born in Wheeling, Howley played linebacker for 12 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. He was named All-Pro six times and named to six Pro Bowls.

June 28, 2010: Robert C. Byrd died at the age of 92. He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958, and he served until his death.

June 29, 1845: George Wesley Atkinson was born in Charleston. In 1896, Atkinson was elected governor in an upset victory over Cornelius C. Watts of Charleston which ended 26 years of Democratic rule.

June 29, 1952: Writer Breece D’J Pancake was born in South Charleston and grew up in Milton. Many of Pancake’s stories are set in Milton, fictionalized as ‘‘Rock Camp.’’

June 29, 2012: A violent storm called a derecho raced across West Virginia, leaving downed trees and damaged homes in its wake. About 688,000 homes and businesses lost power for a week during a widespread heat wave.

June 30, 1914: Statewide prohibition became law years before it became law for the whole nation.

June 30, 1929: The Wheeling Symphony Orchestra gave its first concert at Oglebay Park.

June 30, 1944: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park was authorized as a national monument, the first in West Virginia.

July 1, 1861: Francis Pierpont, governor of the Reorganized Government of Virginia, called the legislature into session. The general assembly re-established governmental functions, provided for the raising of military units, and elected new U.S. senators and representatives.

July 1, 1937: Watoga State Park was opened to the public. The park in Pocahontas County is the largest of the state parks and among the oldest.

July 1, 1971: Southern West Virginia Community College was formed by joining the Marshall University branch campuses at Logan and Williamson. In 1995, the name changed to Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.

July 2, 1829: Potter and businessman Alexander Polk Donaghho was born. He began a pottery operation in Parkersburg, creating hand-thrown, salt-glazed crocks, jars and other pottery that are avidly collected today.

July 3, 1863: At Gettysburg, Union troopers in the 1st West Virginia Cavalry took part in a fruitless cavalry charge against Confederate infantrymen during the waning moments of that great battle.

July 4, 1882: The steamboats Scioto and John Lomas collided on the Ohio River as they were returning from holiday excursions. The Scioto sank almost instantly, and 70 people drowned.

July 4, 1918: Poet Muriel Miller Dressler was born in Kanawha County. Her poem ‘‘Appalachia,’’ published in 1970, was her signature piece.

July 4, 1928: West Virginia dedicated Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. Droop Mountain was the site of one of the most important Civil War battles fought on West Virginia soil.

July 4, 1938: Musician Bill Withers Jr. was born into a miner’s family of 13 children in Slab Fork. In 1971, Withers released his first album, Just As I Am, including his first Grammy-winning song, “Ain’t No Sunshine.” In 2015 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia is a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council. For more information, contact the West Virginia Humanities Council, 1310 Kanawha Blvd. E., Charleston, WV 25301; 304-346-8500; or visit e-WV at www.wvencyclopedia.org.

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The Latest: West Virginia Recalls Deadly Flood as Cindy Near

The Latest: West Virginia Recalls Deadly Flood as Cindy Near

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Latest on Tropical Depression Cindy (all times local):

4:15 p.m.

West Virginia residents and authorities have marked the anniversary of last year’s fatal flooding in that state even as they are bracing for a bout of severe weather associated with the remnants of a tropical storm.

A brief ceremony marking last year’s fatal flooding was held at noon Friday at the West Virginia Police Academy in Dunbar, where a bell was rung 23 times for those who died.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin went to White Sulphur Springs for the dedication of a memorial for eight people who died there.

On Friday evening, Gov. Jim Justice planned to attend a candlelight service at Rainelle United Methodist Church in the area hardest-hit by the flooding. Five people in the town of 1,500 died.

Labeled a 1,000-year flood by the National Weather Service, the storm destroyed more than 2,100 homes statewide and damaged another 2,000.

“As time goes on we’re struggling to get through the after effects of what took place in the flood,” John Wyatt, a pastor from Rainelle, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

He’s been rebuilding his home the past year.

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2:40 p.m.

Heavy rainfall from the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy has caused scattered street flooding across central and southern Indiana.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for most of the southern two-thirds of the state, with more than 3 inches of rain falling in places by midday Friday and minor flooding expected along some rivers.

Emergency crews helped some people from stranded vehicles in Muncie, including a nearly submerged SUV at a railroad underpass. Low-lying roads in many areas were being covered with water.

High winds early Friday peeled off part of the roof from New Prairie High School near South Bend. The school district’s superintendent says about 10 classrooms were damaged. No injuries were reported.

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2:35 p.m.

Remnants of Tropical Depression Cindy and a cold front moving into the Appalachian region from the northwest have knock down trees and caused scattered power outages in Tennessee and West Virginia.

Memphis Light Gas and Water reported that as many as 10,000 customers were without power Friday morning. Crews in Memphis cleared storm drains Thursday to help prevent flooding.

Appalachian Power reports 1,800 without electricity in West Virginia’s northern panhandle, where heavy rain fell Friday morning, and another 800 in Charleston.

Rain mixed with clouds and sunshine across the region.

The National Weather Service predicts more rain Friday afternoon and evening from the two systems colliding.

Flash flood watches remain in effect for All of Kentucky, most of West Virginia and north central and western Tennessee..

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10:40 a.m.

Flash flood watches are in effect until early Saturday in north central Tennessee, all of Kentucky and most of West Virginia as the remnants of a tropical storm head deeper inland. Others are in effect in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys.

The National Weather Service said Tropical Depression Cindy is continuing to produce heavy rain around the Mississippi Valley. It was centered about 75 miles (115 kilometers) north-northeast of Memphis at midday Friday.

Cindy formed as a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico earlier in the week, made landfall Thursday on the Texas-Louisiana line and was downgraded as it took aim at the nation’s interior and moved inland. A boy killed by debris in storm surf off Alabama was the only fatality reported so far in the storm, which spun off tornadoes and caused street flooding in many coastal areas.

In West Virginia, meteorologist Mike Zwier says about a half inch (12 millimeters) of rain has already fallen around the state recently.

Heavy rain is forecast to begin in West Virginia by late Friday afternoon, with general forecasts of 1-3 inches (25-75 millimeters) and up to 5 inches (125 millimeters) in spots. That’s from cold air from the Great Lakes colliding with Cindy’s remnants, clearing them from the region by Saturday.

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10:30 a.m.

Louisiana’s Office of State Parks says high water or damage from Tropical Storm Cindy has closed six parks in southern Louisiana.

A news release Friday said there was minimal damage, but crews are assessing repair needs.

Two parks south of Lafayette are closed because of high water over roads the parks. Those are Palmetto Island State Park in Abbeville and Cypremort (SIP-ruh-mort) Point State Park on Vermilion Bay.

In southeast Louisiana, affected parks are Tickfaw State Park in Springfield, Grand Isle State Park, Fairview-Riverside State Park in Madisonville, and day use at Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville. Fontainebleau’s cabins, campground and group camps remain open.

Officials say five parks should reopen Monday, with Tickfaw State Park reopening Tuesday.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says two boat launches at Pointe-aux-Chenes (point oh SHEN) Wildlife Management Area near Houma (HOH-much) are closed because of flooding.

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9 a.m.

Remnants of Tropical Depression Cindy began moving through Tennessee, knocking down trees and causing power outages.

Memphis Light Gas and Water reported that as many as 10,000 customers were without power Friday morning. Media report heavy rain and winds also were causing traffic problems. Crews in Memphis cleared storm drains Thursday to help prevent flooding.

The National Weather Service has predicted rainfall totals of 2 to 4 inches (50 to 100 millimeters) in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia, though isolated amounts of up to 6 inches (150 millimeters) are possible.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency is staffing its operations center in Nashville on Friday and Saturday to coordinate any requests for assistance.

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8:15 a.m.

Forecasters are trying to determine how many tornadoes touched down in Alabama as remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy moved north from the Gulf Coast.

The National Weather Service says an EF-2 twister with winds as strong as 120 mph (120 kph) struck just outside Birmingham on Thursday. Several businesses were damaged and at least four people were hurt.

Forecasters also are checking damage at other locations in central and southern Alabama to determine whether tornadoes struck there.

The Storm Prediction Center says severe weather is still possible in an area reaching from the Deep South to western Pennsylvania as remnants of Cindy move northward.

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2 a.m.

Forecasters expect remnants of Tropical Depression Cindy to drench parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia, bringing heavy rainfall, possible flash flooding and higher river and lake levels through the weekend.

The weather Friday was arriving on the anniversary of torrential rains and flooding that left 23 people dead in West Virginia a year ago.

National Weather Service officials in the three states said rainfall totals of 2 to 4 inches (50 to 100 millimeters) were expected, with isolated amounts up to 6 inches (150 millimeters).

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency is staffing its operations center in Nashville on Friday and Saturday to coordinate any requests for assistance.

In Memphis, crews worked Thursday to clear storm drains to help prevent street flooding.

Flash flood watches were in effect in much of Kentucky.

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Democrat Ralph Northam Has Early Lead in Virginia Governor’s Race, Poll Finds

Democrat Ralph Northam Has Early Lead in Virginia Governor’s Race, Poll Finds

Republican Ed Gillespie (left) and Democrat Ralph Northam are running to be Virginia’s next governor. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Democrat Ralph Northam has an early eight-point lead over Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s race, according to a new survey released on Wednesday.

The poll by Quinnipiac University found 47 percent of Virginia voters backed Northam, the state’s sitting lieutenant governor, while 39 percent backed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

It’s one of the earliest general election polls in what’s expected to be a hard-fought campaign in Virginia, one of just two states with gubernatorial contests in November. The governor’s race is seen as an early test of politics in the era of President Trump, and both national parties have identified it as a priority.

Northam easily beat Tom Perriello in last week’s Democratic primary, while Gillespie narrowly squeaked out a victory over hardline conservative Corey Stewart in the GOP nomination contest.

Historically, the winner of Virginia’s governor’s race comes from the party that lost the presidential contest. Incumbent Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is constitutionally barred from seeking a second consecutive term, broke that trend in 2013.

Northam’s lead slipped since April, when he had 11-point advantage over Gillespie in a hypothetical match-up tested by Quinnipiac.

The latest poll found few voters crossing party lines to vote for governor, and independent voters were evenly split between Northam and Gillespie.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist, has made expanding access to health care and workforce development top priorities, while Gillespie is running on a platform of cutting income taxes and improving the business climate.

The economy and health care ranked as voters’ top priorities, each drawing about 30 percent, while education, taxes and immigration lagged behind. Voters thought Gillespie would do a better job handling the economy and taxes by narrow margins, while Northam was seen as the better candidate on health care and education by double-digit leads.

Support for Northam outpaces his favorability rating, suggesting he’s buoyed by his Democratic affiliation. The lieutenant governor was seen favorably by 36 percent of voters and unfavorably by 24 percent. Gillespie had an equally split 29-29 favorability rating.

Nearly 4 in 10 voters said they were too unfamiliar with both candidates to form an opinion.

The poll also found voter approval of McAuliffe at 47 percent, a 5 point drop since Quinnipiac last surveyed voters in April. At the same time, his disapproval rose by 5 points.

More than half of voters approved of the performance of Virginia’s two Democratic senators: Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. Voters believed Kaine deserved to be re-elected next year by a 47 to 38 percent margin.

In addition to the governor’s race, voters are also casting ballots in November for attorney general, lieutenant governor and all 100 House of Delegates seats.

The survey found voters disapprove of the way the GOP-controlled state legislature is doing its job by a margin of 42 to 38 percent, with 20 percent expressing no opinion. Voters want Democrats to retake control of the House of Delegates by a 48 to 41 percent margin. Republicans currently hold a staggering 66-34 majority, although Democrats have identified a longshot path to retake the chamber by sweeping all 17 districts won by Hillary Clinton in November.

Interviewers surveyed 1,145 Virginia voters between June 15 to 20 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

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