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Statehouse Beat: Inclusivity not only right, but profitable

When the current legislative leadership came to power, one of their first orders of business was to pass a right-to-work law.

Although their true motivation was union busting, leadership portrayed it as an economic development tool, contending that some companies refuse to even consider locating in non right-to-work states — a point the Development Office disputed at the time.

More recently, a group of House Republicans publicly voiced their opposition to the motion picture “Dark Waters,” not because of its depictions of corporate corruption, but because they contend it contains stereotypical portrayals of West Virginians that they believe will hurt the state economy in general and state tourism in particular. Their contention seems to stem from one scene in the trailer for the film, in which they say shows a girl with blackened teeth.

(Last week, I said I couldn’t verify that from watching the trailer on my antiquated laptop, but a reader who saw the movie in New York said the girl indeed has darkened teeth, but said it’s a plot point, not a stereotype — with the film showing it to be one of the symptoms of C8 poisoning. The reader said West Virginia is otherwise portrayed positively, with Parkersburg depicted as neighborhoods of well-maintained single-family homes.)

Given those precedents, one would think Republican legislators would be embracing expanding the state Fairness Act to include the LGBTQ community as a way to promote economic development.

During a Fairness West Virginia roundtable last week, Charleston Marriott Town Center general manager Hector Jeyakaran talked about how non-discrimination laws are good business.

He said every Fortune 500 company has an inclusivity clause in its RFPs when hotels bid for conference business. Conversely, he said hospitality business in North Carolina and particularly Indiana are still recovering from legislation passed in those states that legalized discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.

As a rule, corporations aren’t driven by morality, but by the profit motive. Those companies recognize that when you discriminate against one class of individuals, you not only lose their business, but business from their friends and family, co-workers, and those who find discrimination in any form repulsive.

In other words, inclusiveness is not only the right thing to do, it’s profitable.

The House Republicans are correct that West Virginia has an image problem, and it’s not necessarily one of perpetuation of Appalachian stereotypes.

Outsiders see West Virginians as backward, closed-minded, and suspicious of people different from themselves.

(A couple of years ago, Melanie D.G. Kaplan wrote a Charleston travelogue for the Washington Post that portrayed our little city in a highly positive light. However, more than a few comments to the electronic edition of the article were to the effect of, “I would never vacation in a red state.”

I thought about responding, and advising that the sections of Charleston highlighted in the article, downtown, the East End and the West Side, are as blue as the bluest parts of New York or California.)

Meanwhile, the developing news over correctional officers displaying a Nazi salute in a training class photo will only serve to reinforce perceptions that West Virginians are not only backwards, but at times openly racist.

Legislation to prohibit workplace and housing discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity would go a long way to dispelling these stereotypes, and to attracting new people and new investments to the state.

However, don’t count on that happening with the current composition of our Legislature.

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To that end, Senate President Mitch Carmichael’s participation in the roundtable was a strange combination of courage and timidity.

Certainly, there was political risk in participating in the roundtable — his likely primary opponent Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, was already beating him up on it prior to the event, spouting the usual rhetoric used by opponents of anti-discrimination protections claiming “special protections,” lawsuit abuse, and some bizarre reference to “Biblical principles, like the basic First Amendment right of freedom of religion” being under attack.

Clearly, LGBTQ rights were going to be an issue in that May primary race regardless, since Carmichael angered the far right of his party in 2016, when as majority leader, he gave a stirring floor speech opposing the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act for proposing to legalize discrimination, stating, “I believe in the goodness of people. I want the poor to be rich and the weak to be strong, and when we build walls, we diminish that.”

Carmichael’s 2016 primary opponent — along with a far-right advocacy group — made the speech the centerpiece of the campaign to oust Carmichael, even to the point of absurdly contending it meant Carmichael supports allowing men in women’s restrooms. Carmichael won the primary election handily, by a nearly 60-40 percent margin.

So it was surprising that once on the podium, Carmichael hemmed and hedged, saying that while he supports non-discrimination personally, he won’t be sponsoring legislation, and conceding that chances are the bill will get bottled up again in the House of Delegates.

Not exactly a profile in courage, and in all likelihood, the legislative leadership will again heed a vocal minority, and will hold back the state, economically and societally, for another year.

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And now, some readers’ comments:

n Regarding last week’s item on the state Judicial Investigation Commission’s dismissal of a complaint against Justice Margaret Workman on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired, a reader asked why the JIC, through its Office of Disciplinary Counsel, had not initiated an investigation on its own.

As a refresher, former court administrator Steve Canterbury filed a complaint this spring against Workman regarding her leasing of office space to the state Public Employees’ Grievance Board from July 2009 to June 2019, resulting in numerous disqualifications of Workman from hearing appeals of board decisions, in apparent violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct that prohibits judges from engaging in financial activities that lead to frequent disqualifications of the judge.

The JIC did not rule on the merits of the complaint, but noted that Rules of Judicial Disciplinary Procedure sets a two-year statute of limitations from the time that “the complainant knew, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, of the existence of a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

The ruling held that the two-year clock on filing a complaint started running in November 2009, the first time Workman recused herself from hearing an appeal of a grievance board action.

The reader asks, “How could a course of conduct by a sitting Supreme Court Justice [that appears on its face to violate several rules within the Judicial Canons] be overlooked or ignored by the JIC for ten years? Using the JIC’s own reasoning, the committee was put on notice in 2009 that a potential issue existed when a recusal was first filed by a sitting justice. Why would the JIC have to rely on an outside complaint to begin an investigation?”

n A reader who got a campaign contribution flier from the Committee to Re-Elect Jim Justice notes that the campaign hasn’t quite gotten the handle on the new state law setting new campaign contribution limits.

The filer advises would-be contributors that state campaign law, “limits contributions to $5,000 per calendar year.”

Actually, the law limits individual contributions to a candidate to $2,800 per election cycle, or a total of $5,600 for candidates running in both primary and general elections. Political Action Committees can give candidates $5,000 per election cycle.

Again, the law is by election cycles — not years.

A well-meaning Justice supporter who follows the flier’s statement, and writes a $5,000 check before the end of this year, and then writes another $5,000 check in 2020 would be in some real hot water in terms of violating campaign finance laws.

I’m sure the campaign will get that straightened out forthwith.

•••

Finally, the last reader comment is from David Hagan, owner of the Pulaski Yankees, regarding a Nov. 24 column item questioning Major League Baseball’s logic in proposing to eliminate minor league teams in Charleston and Lexington, Kentucky (along with 40 other teams around the country), while elevating a short-season Appalachian League team in little Pulaski, Virginia, to full season status. (Pulaski would be the only Appy League team to survive contraction under the plan.)

I suggested that while Pulaski’s Calfee Park is probably a charming little facility, it isn’t comparable to Power Park or Whittaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington, and its only advantage is its proximity to other teams in the current Carolina League.

Hagan noted that the circa 1934 park has undergone $12 million of renovations in the past five years, and that ownership is in the process of increasing seating capacity to 3,800.

“This is a time not to throw stones at our parks, but to band together to try to save our leagues,” Hagan wrote. “I’m sorry at the thought of losing any teams in MiLB.”

I’m an optimist by nature, but after reading articles about the minor league contraction proposal in the December issue of Baseball America, I’m more inclined than before to believe there will be no baseball at Power Park in 2021. (I did order 2020 season tickets, however.)

We should know more after baseball Winter Meetings this week.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

Funerals for Sunday, January 19, 2020

Atkins Sr., Dennis - 2 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Crislip, Edna - 2 p.m., Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.

Driggs Sr., Phillip - 4 p.m., St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Charleston.

Sigmon, Steven - 4 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.