Republican Delegate Says Colleague Was Aggressive Toward Him For Position On Failed PEIA Bill

Feb 13, 2020

A Republican delegate this week accused another delegate from the same party of being aggressive with other lawmakers while intoxicated. 

Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, denied allegations from Del. Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, on Tuesday that Steele “aggressively tried to intimidate me [Porterfield]” while Steele was “seeming in an intoxicated state.” 

According to an emailed statement from Porterfield on Wednesday, Steele was upset Monday evening after a bill to prohibit public agencies from paying PEIA premiums for spouses failed in the House Banking and Insurance Committee. Steele is the lone sponsor of the measure. 

Porterfield, a member of that committee, said he opposed the bill, which failed on a tie. Porterfield was absent for the vote despite being at the Capitol that day.  

While leaving the Capitol, Porterfield allegedly noticed Steele at the parking lot in a “heated argument” with Del. Eric Householder, R-Berkeley. Del. Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, also was present. Both men are members of the House Banking and Insurance Committee, although Householder missed the vote due to being in another committee.

“As I walked by, Del. Steele told me to walk away like a coward just like I had from the committee meeting,” Porterfield said in his written statement. “I approached to speak with him about the matter and he became very aggressive toward me.”

Steele confirmed on Tuesday Porterfield was the one to address him.

“He walked over to me to intimidate me,” Steele said on Tuesday. “I did not walk up to him.”

Contrary to Porterfield’s statement, Jeffries said there was nothing threatening about the incident.

“I was basically a witness to the conversation,” Jeffries said Thursday. “It was emotional. …  It was basically a verbal altercation, there was nothing threatening in nature. Just a verbal exchange.”

“I don't think he was intoxicated,” Householder said of Steele. “I'm just hoping that in the end the adults will prevail and move on to do the state’s business.”

As the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported last year, Porterfield lost his vision in a fight outside an Indiana bar almost 14 years ago.

“I want you to think about if that was your son, your daughter, your husband, your wife, voted in by their people, coming to Charleston to do their work,” Porterfield said on the House floor Tuesday afternoon. “And through miscommunication, or whatever happened, not only myself, but another member of this House was aggressively, and seeming in an intoxicated state, attacked for our position on this bill.”

Porterfield said Wednesday in a written email that he made a complaint to Capitol police about the matter. 

Spokesman Lawrence Messina from the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety declined to comment on or confirm Porterfield’s statement. Capitol Police referred West Virginia Public Broadcasting to Messina for comment Wednesday night.

Members of West Virginia’s Democratic party have also commented on Tuesday’s event, and Porterfield’s actions on Wednesday when he requested each bill being considered in the House one last time be read in its entirety. 

Delegates typically vote after a brief explanation of the bill, seeing as some of these proposals are several pages long. Porterfield threatened later to do this again if Steele didn’t resign from his committee assignments or House seat.

Del. Sammi Brown, D-Jefferson, shared a Twitter video of the event from Metronews reporter Brad McElhinny on Wednesday, calling it “the legislative equivalent of a temper tantrum in the sandbox.” 

When Porterfield made remarks Tuesday on feeling unsafe in the Capitol, stating “no way to act,” Brown and others shared their own remarks on aggressive behavior in the House. 

“The reality is, there's been a few members of this body that, for the past year, maybe even two years that have been experiencing volatile comments, they've experienced death threats, they've experienced all sorts of vitriol as a result of their work here,” Brown said, adding she wanted this treatment to be acknowledged.

Almost a year ago to date, Porterfield made hateful comments regarding the LGTBQ+ community. When asked by Bluefield’s WVVA how Porterfield would react if his kids were came out as memers of the LGBTQ+ community, he said the following:  "Well, I'll address my daughter first. I would take her for a pedicure, take her to get her nails done and see if she could swim. If it was my son, I would probably take him hunting. I would take him fishing and I'd see if he could swim.”

“If you want that common courtesy, if you want that respect, then surely we should be giving it to one another prior,” Brown said Tuesday. “We should not be lifting up hyper-partisanship. Petty antics should not be happening on the House floor. Or any place in the people's house, but it does. … It's time for a gut check, ladies and gentlemen. If you want that respect, if you want to be sure that we are a body of dignity, then do not continue to justify and validate these types of actions any longer.”

West Virginia Public Broadcasting was unable to reach Steele Thursday afternoon, but he was not removed from his committee assignments and he was present for the House floor session. Porterfield did not request any bills be read in their entirety on Thursday. 

Emil Allen is a Report for America corps member.