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Statehouse Beat: Is WV reaching the point of no return?

Line of the week: “It’s not easy to live in the Sahara, or the North Pole, or West Virginia, but it still beats Mars.” — Bill Maher, during a monologue on HBO’s “Real Time” arguing against plans to send astronauts to Mars.

The point being that the most hostile climates on earth are still more hospitable than the surface of Mars, with West Virginia being the throwaway punch line, since it obviously has a comparatively mild climate.

As a big Bill Maher fan, that line really stuck with me: If not climate, what is it about West Virginia that makes it inhospitable in his viewpoint?

I might have dismissed it as the musings of a smug Hollywood millionaire, who may well have selected West Virginia at random, and could have as easily picked any other “flyover” state for the punch line.

However, earlier in the week, I had visited the International Civil Rights Museum, in Greensboro, North Carolina. During the tour, our tour guide stated that “sundown towns” still exist in parts of the U.S., in practice if no longer by law, and asked if we could name any.

A gentleman responded: “I bet there are a lot in the mountains.”

He didn’t specify which mountains, and may well have been referring to North Carolina. Nonetheless, I winced, knowing that those perceptions could as easily apply to rural West Virginia.

Meanwhile, during that time, back home, controversy was swirling over the op-ed by Sen. Michael Azinger, R-Wood, published in the Parkersburg newspaper, in which he espoused intolerance for the LGBTQ community and in opposition to what he called the “forced acceptance of a perverted and non-biblical view of sexuality.”

(As an agnostic, I always find it remarkable how people of average cognitive abilities feel compelled to speak on behalf of an all-knowing, all-powerful being. I personally could not be so presumptuous. I figure if he’s out there, the Big Guy can sort things out in his own due time without having mere mortals injecting themselves into the fray.)

Some, like our fine former Sen. Chris Walters, quickly stressed that Azinger does not represent the state Republican Party as a whole. Nor, for that matter, does Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, who compared the LGBTQ community to the Ku Klux Klan and intimated that he would drown his children if he learned they were gay.

Nor, Walters said, does state GOP chairwoman Melody Potter, who said Azinger’s comments were “right on and biblically based.”

(And, although it happened after Walters’ op-ed was published, I suspect he would say that also applies to Delegate John Mandt’s comments on talk radio referring to the LGBTQ community as the “alphabet hate group,” and equating boycotts of his hot dog stand by the LGBTQ community and by teachers as hate speech.)

While we would like to believe Walters, reality is that the Republican Party has benefited greatly from playing off the fears and intolerance of many voters. The “God, Guns and Gays” mantra has proved to be quite effective in recent elections.

The latter is even incorporated in the state GOP platform, which states: “We are opposed to same-sex marriage, civil unions or any other entity or institution that is intended to gain equal or similar status or recognition as the traditional marriage of a genetic man and a genetic woman. We also oppose any policies written by state agencies that further the homosexual agenda, including the creation of a protected class.”

In that context, it’s pretty hard to argue that anti-LGBTQ positions of several GOP legislators exist in a vacuum, unrepresentative of the party as a whole.

Meanwhile, West Virginia’s population continues to shrink, with people voting with their feet to either leave the state, or writing it off as being, in Maher’s words, more inhospitable than life on Mars.

That perception didn’t begin with the current legislative leadership, but has accelerated with the party’s anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-women agenda.

One wonders, however, when the state will reach a point of no return — or whether we’ve already passed that tipping point.

•••

For nearly three decades, consumer attorney Dave McMahon had successfully quashed efforts by multiple legislatures over the years to pass a bill allowing auto dealers to sell used cars and trucks without warranties. Until this year.

As it has proved quite capable of doing, legislative leadership this year used more than a little stealth and deception to pass a bill that had failed so many times previously.

As the bill (SB 543) started out in the Senate, it also contained a provision that would have eliminated required state vehicle inspections. (There’s a certain logic to that: If you’re going to allow dealers to sell poor people clunkers that won’t pass inspection, you probably want to remove the inspection requirement.)

Since that provision would have had a fiscal impact, costing the state about $4.6 million a year in lost revenue from the sale of inspection stickers, revenue that goes to fund the State Police, legislative rules required that it go through Finance Committee.

However, by the time the bill advanced from the Senate, the provision to eliminate state inspections had been changed to instead require inspections every two years with a doubling of the fee for the inspection sticker. (Ultimately, the inspection language was removed entirely.)

So, when the bill reached the House, it no longer had any fiscal impact, and it was no longer mandatory to have it go through Finance Committee.

However, Speaker Roger Hanshaw — who is quickly proving to be one of the more duplicitous House speakers in recent history — nonetheless single-referenced the bill to Finance, bypassing House Judiciary, where the bill had died in many previous incarnations.

(Single-referencing bills is a new phenomenon under GOP leadership. Besides making it easier to ram bad bills through, it also contributes to the interminable floor sessions of late, since bills that have not been properly vetted in two or more committees are subject to multiple attempts at floor amendments.)

When the bill arrived from the Senate, Delegate Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, moved to refer it to Judiciary Committee, a motion defeated on a largely party line vote.

So, after years of standing up to auto dealers — one of the more powerful lobbies at the Legislature — and repeatedly defeating the “as is” bill, convincing a majority of legislators that allowing unscrupulous dealers to prey on the working poor is not good government, McMahon could not prevail this time on a playing field that was decidedly slanted.

•••

Finally, state Association for Justice lobbyist Beth White, who has forgotten more Civil War history than I will ever hope to know, called to weigh in on the Stonewall Jackson statue debate.

She said it was her understanding that, while the Daughters of the Confederacy paid for its base, the statue itself was funded through a legislative appropriation.

(That would defuse some of the argument that the statue was erected by an organization that promoted white supremacy, by adding credence to the idea that the statue was commissioned as a memorial by a Legislature that, at the time, included both Union and Confederate veterans.)

While I highly respect White’s knowledge on the issue, a review of literature (including “Capitols of West Virginia: A Pictorial History”) and of the House and Senate journals of the era provide no evidence to confirm that the Jackson statue was commissioned or funded by the Legislature. It appears both the statue and base were paid for by Daughters of the Confederacy.

The Legislature did, at the initial request of Gov. William Glasscock, approve funding for what would become the third Civil War memorial on the Capitol grounds, the Union soldier, which was installed in 1930 and remains in its original location near the governor’s mansion.

(White noted that Cass Gilbert hated the statue because, unlike the Jackson and the Mountaineer statue honoring Union soldiers, which are both works of renown sculptors of the era, the Union solder statue is a generic work that Gilbert sneeringly suggested had been ordered from the Sears catalog.)

Meanwhile, the basic premise of Howard Swint and others supporting moving Jackson to a less prominent location, that it was erected primarily as a symbol of white supremacy, and not as a memorial to the war dead, still stands.

However, critics of the statue can take some solace from this story White recounted: Sculptor Moses Ezekiel depicted Jackson with his back braced and coat tousled, as if he is facing down a strong wind, which Ezekiel envisioned as the winds of Northern aggression.

(Literature regarding an identical statue at Virginia Military Institute confirms White’s account.)

Throughout most of his history, from his original location at the downtown Capitol to his relocation along Duffy Street on the new Capitol grounds, White said Jackson indeed faced north.

However, when the Jackson and Mountaineer statues were relocated in 1976 to make way for the Culture Center, representatives of the Daughters of the Confederacy objected to having the statue’s back to Kanawha Boulevard, White noted.

Thus, for the last 43 years, Jackson has stood strong, facing down the winds of ... South Hills?

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

Funerals for Sunday, December 8, 2019

Board, Dencil - 3 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.

Booher, Hughes - 3 p.m., Maranatha Fellowship, St. Albans.

Carpenter, Homer - 2 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Collins, Jacob - 2 p.m., Morris Funeral Home, Cowen.

Donahue-Moubray, Kathleen - 3 p.m., Haven of Rest Mausoleum, Red House.

Estes, Peggy - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Friel, Ruth - 1 p.m., Lantz Funeral Home, Buckeye.

Johnson, Marvin - 1 p.m., High Lawn Mausoleum, Oak Hill.

Linville, Vada - 2 p.m., Orchard Hills Memory Gardens, Yawkey.

Pettit, Michele - 3:30 p.m., Faith Baptist Church, Spencer.

Prue, Margaret - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Scott, Robert - 3 p.m., Capital High School, Charleston.

Smith, Wanda - 3 p.m., Billy Hunt Cemetery, Kettle Road.

Sneed, Virginia - 2 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.