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Statehouse Beat: Hanshaw's first term as speaker leaves much to be desired

Quotes of the week, part one: “He was elected by the ‘C’ and ‘D’ students. Now he has to deal with the ‘A” and ‘B’ students.” — a longtime statehouse observer far wiser than I, commenting on Roger Hanshaw’s horrific freshman outing as House speaker.

Although Hanshaw’s tenure started with great promise — floor sessions that began precisely at 11 a.m., a no-nonsense approach that eliminated time-wasters like citation presentations and singing “Happy Birthday” to members on the House floor, and his precise grasp of parliamentary procedure — it quickly became clear his skills as a cat-herder are marginal.

Most recently, there were not one, but two bills discharged from committee by a House vote on the same day. In the past, one could go through an entire legislative career and never see a bill discharged.

There was the dead-then-alive-again-through-procedural-sleight-of-hand fiasco on the campus carry bill — a bill on which Hanshaw has expressed personal misgivings, but presumably one he could not squelch without having delegates discharge a third bill from committee on his watch.

It certainly seems to defy his call in his acceptance speech as speaker on Jan. 9, in which he said, “It’s our objective, it’s our mandate from our friends, our family and our neighbors to make West Virginia the best place in America that we can make it to live, work and raise a family.”

While every session gets chippy at the end, the level of sniping and infighting among House leaders, and members, is reaching unprecedented levels.

Also, Hanshaw showed a complete lack of leadership by failing to discipline Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, for horrendous statements made in committee and in media interviews.

I think many House Democrats in particular lost faith at that point in Hanshaw’s leadership ability. If Porterfield’s actions did not rise to the level of a disciplinable matter, what will?

That dissatisfaction boiled over in the House on Friday, when Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, and other Democrats objected to leadership’s seemingly tacit endorsement of a racist poster that was part of a fringe group display outside House chambers on West Virginia GOP Day at the Legislature, as well as mistreatment from the sergeant at arms and doorkeeper when they raised objections to the poster. (That sergeant at arms, Anne Lieberman, resigned later Friday.)

Hanshaw issued a statement saying the House of Delegates “unequivocally rejects hate in all its forms” — well, maybe not so unequivocally, since it failed to pass legislation adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the categories covered by the state Human Rights Act.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, Hanshaw has time on his side, with at least another session as speaker, and he seems to have a quick learning curve.

It wouldn’t be the first time a speaker overcame a horrendous start. You may recall that longtime House speaker Bob Kiss recovered from a disastrous last night during his first session at the helm.

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Speaking of Hanshaw, I mentioned last week the influence of the 1863 PAC (a gray money super PAC) in Hanshaw’s election as speaker, and in the House advancing legislation to reduce the severance tax on steam coal, as advocated by 1863’s largest contributor, Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray. I was reminded this week that the next largest contributors, at $75,000 each, are Gov. Jim Justice and Bray Cary’s Cary Communications Inc.That sent me back to the organization’s IRS 8872 forms, and for what is ostensibly a Martinsburg-based organization, the vast majority of contributions are from out-of-state.

The 1863 PAC was created on May 23, 2018. From then until the end of 2018, it raised $327,000 from 94 contributors. Of those, 71 were non-residents of the state.

Of the 34 contributors who gave $2,000 or more, 29 were non-residents. And of the 15 contributions of $10,000 or more, 12 were from non-residents. The exceptions were Justice and Cary, and a $10,000 contribution from So Park LLC of South Charleston. On the secretary of state’s website, that company’s organizer is listed is Bill J. Crouch, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources. (After this column was published, Crouch said in a statement that he organized the company nearly 20 years ago, sold it in 2006, and has not made any donations, directly or indirectly through that company or any other, since being named DHHR secretary in 2017.)

A few of the five-figure contributors include Pittsburgh coal executive Frank Calandra; EQT Corp. of Pittsburgh; Shale Energy Alliance of Wilmington, Delaware; Global Mine Services of Fayette City, Pennyslvania; JennChem of Pittsburgh; Vecellio Group of West Palm Beach, Florida; Arch Coal of St. Louis; and Data Mining Services of Harrisburg, Illinois.

1863’s slogan is, “Fighting for West Virginia’s Future” – but who and what are they really fighting for?

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Quotes of the week, part two: “The only people who want it are the NRA and the CDL (Citizens Defense League). The universities certainly don’t want it.” — House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, on his motion to move the campus carry bill to the House inactive calendar — where it stayed for about four hours. “It appears the NRA has so many people terrified of going against them.” — Shott, after campus carry was resurrected (HB 2519).

Repeatedly this session, the Legislature has charged forward with a bill that a sizable majority of citizens, including the affected parties, did not request and do not want; a bill that is not the result of stakeholders sitting around the table crafting legislation, but one that emerged whole cloth from some special interest or astroturf organization.

And, as has occurred repeatedly, concerns over the bill’s potential harms, including possible loss of students and faculty who opt to attend and work for gun-free institutions, as well as the imposition of new expenses on already financially strapped institutions, have largely been ignored.

Credit Shott, a longtime consistent pro-gun vote, for attempting to make the bill less onerous.

Particularly callous was the House’s rejection of Shott’s amendment to set the minimum age to campus carry at 21, consistent with laws in the 10 states where campus carry is legal. (In West Virginia, one can obtain a provisional conceal carry permit at 18.)

Of course, the majority wouldn’t hear of it — even though the Legislature concurrently is advancing legislation to raise the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 (SB 348).

Not to belabor the point, but when legislators are more beholden to gray money and special interests than to their constituents for their re-elections, that’s a recipe for disaster.

(Not to say that Democrats haven’t kowtowed to the NRA for years, and while the 51-49 vote largely fell along party lines, it actually had nine Democrat “yeas” and nine Republican “nays.”)

I think most everyone would agree that gun violence is a national crisis, and that there are two basic ways to approach the crisis: Either impose restrictions to keep guns out of the hands of those who are violent, unstable or mentally ill, or arm everyone so that, wild west-like, we are constantly ready to respond to gun violence with gun violence.

Only one scenario benefits gun manufacturers, and I can’t help but think that we’re getting played by the gun industry, fronted by the gun rights groups.

•••

Finally, it was disappointing to hear that the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society has cancelled the popular New River Train this fall. (I feel particularly badly for the town of Hinton, whose concurrent Railroad Days festival showcases the town’s slow but steady resurgence.)Much of the blame for the leaf train’s demise has been directed at Amtrak, which under its current propeller-head president, imposed draconian and expensive rules for movement of private cars and charter trains. Which is true, but not the whole story.

A check of IRS 990 forms shows that the organization has been struggling financially for some time, posting deficits in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017, ranging from $6,268 of losses in 2015 to a $157,327 deficit in 2013.

In 2017, the most recent filing, Collis P. Huntington had total revenue of $1.53 million, and total expenses of $1.66 million, for operating losses of $138,295.

As the Legislature looks for options for funding to revive the train, and its significant tourism impact on Huntington and Hinton, it probably would behoove them to examine the books closely.

Meanwhile, another victim of Collis P. Huntington’s financial woes is route narration on eastbound Cardinals.

Those of you who’ve ridden the Cardinal (and shame on those of you who have not) know that volunteer narrators provide a travelogue of scenic and historic landmarks along the route, beginning with the state Capitol and ending with The Greenbrier resort.

While Amtrak doesn’t charge narrators to ride the train (or the evening return trip on train 51), it does require them to have volunteer accident insurance coverage, since they are not ticketed passengers.

Seems like a perfect opportunity for the Division of Tourism, given the nominal cost and potential benefits of introducing hundreds of out-of-staters to the wilds and wonder of West Virginia in what amounts to a three-hour tourism commercial. Just saying.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

Funerals for Sunday, December 15, 2019

Barker Sr., Wendell - 2 p.m., Foglesong - Casto Funeral Home, Mason.

Blake, Beverly - 3 p.m., Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.

Bowers, Edna - 2 p.m., Slate / Bowers Cemetery, near Spencer.

Cottrell, Patricia - 2 p.m., Humphreys Memorial United Methodist Church, Sissonville.

Franco, Stephen - 2 p.m., Simons-Coleman Funeral Home, Richwood.

Goffaux, Elizabeth - 3 p.m., North Charleston Baptist Church, Charleston.

Higginbotham, William - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Hutchinson, Madeline - 2 p.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home Chapel, Poca.

Moore, Edna - 2 p.m., Groves Cemetery, Canvas.

Truman, Alice - 2 p.m., Gary & Alice Truman Cemetery.

Tucker, Larry - 1 p.m., John H. Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.

White, Roger - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Wyne, Neta - 3 p.m., Dodd & Reed Funeral Home, Webster Springs.