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Reverberations from anti-Muslim display still felt at Capitol

March 6, 2019

CHARLESTON - After an incident of Islamophobia and a lawmaker who apparently injured a legislative staffer while trying to force entry into the chamber to complain about it, Friday’s aftershocks continue to dog the Legislature in its final week of business.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, announced Monday on WV MetroNews his decision to remove House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, from his committee assignments.

Caputo served on the following committees: Rules, Energy, Industry & Labor, and Government Organization. Caputo said he will be replaced by a fellow Democrat on each.

Kicking in the door, Caputo said, was the result of anger resulting from a display on “WV GOP day” that baselessly connected a Muslim congresswoman to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The display handed out xenophobic literature like a booklet titled “Readin’, Writin’, and Jihadin’: The Islamization of American Public Schools.”

Caputo apologized to the full chamber on Saturday, and said he’s still seeking to make amends with the doorkeeper, Logan Casterline.

“I’ve always been raised that when you make a mistake, you own it, you do what you need to do,” he said. “I’ve tried to do that.”

By his own account given in a floor speech Friday, Caputo kicked in the door that Casterline was blocking during the prayer that precedes floor sessions. The chamber doors can be pushed in or pulled open. Caputo could not say Monday why he opted to push the door in instead of pulling it open.

“I’ve been here 22 years, so I’m not going to make excuses on whether it says push or pull and why I did that,” he said. “Why I pushed it - I just pushed it, I can’t explain why.”

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said Caputo will retain his status as minority whip. Between a public apology on the floor Saturday, a private apology to the Republican caucus, and losing his committee assignments, Miley said Caputo has faced punishment enough.

″(He) has been embarrassed enough regarding the situation, he has expressed sincere remorse over the incident, and other than extending grace to him, there is nothing else planned by me,” he said.

Frustration on both sides of the debate continued to fester. House Democrats have pointed to inflammatory remarks by Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, that did not lead to his removal from any committees. Some have said they would invoke a constitutional provision that requires House staff to read the full text of often lengthy and dry legislation, should Caputo be punished and Porterfield not.

Pre-empting them, Delegate Patrick Martin, R-Upshur, invoked the provision on some, though not all, bills, Monday.

He said he did so because he thought the whole body should discuss Caputo’s punishment on the floor, and to show that he’s not afraid of a long couple of days of bill readings. He also thought Caputo should have received a harsher punishment.

“I’d like to point out that none of us should be threatened of reading bills,” he said. “Several of the members on the other side said that if we take action that they will have the bills read.”

After a news conference about social media giant Facebook paying for 275 miles of fiber optic cable in the state, Gov. Jim Justice Justice said he’s trying to talk to Republicans and Democrats in both caucuses to try to “pump the brakes just a little bit” and remind them to respect each other.

He said the anti-Muslim display was “probably not” OK to put up in the Capitol, but neither was Caputo injuring a staff member when trying to enter to complain about it.

However, he didn’t directly answer whether the GOP chairwoman or the party at large, which controlled who could or could not set up a booth, should be held accountable.

“In my opinion, probably a really bad choice that it was here at the Capitol and everything,” Justice said of the display. “But those choices are bad on both sides. Really and truly, the actions on the other side were maybe even worse.”

He elaborated on the point as well.

“To measure which one’s worse, which one’s not worse and everything, that would be unfair. But for crying out loud, just to continue to ramp up the escalation of the hatred, that’s what I’m absolutely against,” Justice said.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.