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Sen. Joe Manchin's wife got fired yesterday in West Virginia

Gayle Manchin at West Virginia Public Education Collaborative forum
Gayle Manchin speaks at the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative&#39;s Legislators&#39; Forum on Education and the Economy.

What Republicans call a cost-cutting measure, West Virginia Democrats describe as a partisan purge. Either way, the firing of state secretary of the arts, Gayle Manchin, is quickly becoming an ugly political story.

The dismissed state arts secretary, it happens, is married to Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator who is struggling to keep his blue head above the water in red West Virginia. Gayle Manchin, originally appointed to her position in Jan. 2017, long before Gov. Jim Justice switched parties to become a Republican, was critical of legislation that would dismantle her office at the state Department of Education. She called it “politically motivated” and threatened to resign.

“Signing this legislation will hurt our children, seniors, veterans, the disabled, and disaster response training. In addition, it eliminates a statewide advocacy for the arts,” Manchin said in a public statement aimed at the governor. In it, she offered to resign in order “to remove any political pressure to save all of these important programs.”

The governor responded by accepting her resignation. She then tried to un-resign.

As Justice put it in a subsequent statement:

Earlier today, Secretary Manchin asked the Chief of Staff, Mike Hall, about how she should approach this. She was told by the Chief of Staff to do nothing based upon my public comments this morning, and that my decision to veto or sign this bill has not been made. Later in the day, she decided to defy the Chief of Staff's instructions and issued a press release. In her press release she offered to resign and remove any political cloud. If there weren't any earlier political cloud, now there surely is one. She was very critical, made it political, and put me in a very, very bad position.

Justice added: "She was told that we accepted her resignation, she refused, and we terminated her."

Manchin isn't going quietly. She appeared on local radio Tuesday to air her grievances publicly: “To me, they were eliminating [my position] because it was me and it was this cabinet and they were just going to get rid of it,” Manchin said. “I don’t think it’s just because I’m Joe Manchin’s wife. I believe they think they need to get Democrats out of positions of influence. I think the Republicans of this state believe everybody in a position like this should be a Republican.”

This probably isn't going to help Sen. Manchin’s campaign to remain standing as the last important Democrat in West Virginia. He has survived this long by branding himself as a moderate more concerned with real policy than partisan politics. His wife has now forced him into a red-meat partisan conversation about a Stalinesque purge of Democrats from state office.