Legislating shouldn’t be this hard.
In the textbook version, one identifies a problem, comes up with a series of possible solutions to the problem, and determines which solution has the best chance of gaining consensus among members.
Legislating shouldn’t require stealth, sleight-of-hand, intimidation, deception, arm-twisting and manipulation.
Still, you’ve got to hand it to House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who pulled one of the greatest bait-and-switches in legislative history.
Going into the House’s resumption of the special session Monday, most members believed they would be breaking up into four select committees to take up a series of individual education bills. Yes, the Senate’s omnibus education 2.0 bill was in the House’s possession, but Hanshaw had been quoted as saying he didn’t think there were enough votes in the House to pass it.
Of course, it was all a masterful set-up.
Just as Senate leaders in the regular session realized that the first omnibus bill could not pass the Finance Committee, and had the full Senate configured into a committee of the whole in order to ram the bill through on a 18-16 vote, House leaders realized omnibus 3.0 could not get out of the House Education Committee, and conjured up the select committee process to keep it alive.
Consider that when the House killed the original Senate omnibus bill in regular session with a 53-45 vote on a postpone-indefinitely motion, 12 Republicans crossed over to vote with Democrats against the bill.
If delegates had been assigned to the four select committees randomly, statistics tell us that odds are that each committee would have had three anti-omnibus Republicans.
In fact, Select Committee A did have three “anti” Republicans. However, defying odds, the nine other “anti” Republicans were all placed on Select Committee D.
There were no “antis” on Select B or on the only select committee that did any work last week, Select C, which, lo and behold, originated omnibus 3.0.
Omnibus 3.0 advanced out of Select C on a party line 14-8 vote. One can speculate how the vote might have gone had three “anti” Republicans been randomly assigned to the committee.
Hanshaw may have shed a great deal of credibility by pulling the bait-and-switch, but he accomplished his intended goal.
What was very clear throughout the whole process is that charter schools could not have passed as a stand-alone bill.
As Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, noted Wednesday, bundling a bunch of legislation into an omnibus bill in order to push an unpopular provision through is probably an unconstitutional violation of Article 6 Section 30 of the state Constitution, which limits bills to addressing a single object.
However, thanks to the impeachment coup of 2018, the Legislature has created a state Supreme Court that is likely to be much more receptive to the actions of a Republican-controlled Legislature than the court that was toppled last year.
Person of the week: Harrison County reading specialist Tonya Stuart Rinehart, who illustrated the absurdity of the House’s public hearing on omnibus 3.0, with speakers limited to 60 seconds.
That House leadership forced speakers to attempt to address issues involving a 144-page bill that affects 49 different sections of state code in the time normally allotted for a commercial advertisement was clear proof of their callous disregard for what the public thinks of the bill.
Rinehart brilliantly used her allotted 60 seconds to make a powerful statement, covering her mouth with duct tape, which read, “88 percent” — alluding to the percentage of participants in public forums around the state who stated their opposition to charter schools.
Passage of omnibus 3.0 was all the more notable given the ongoing internal feuding going on in the state Republican Party. It’s remarkable how some Republicans can go from calling for a no-confidence vote on the governor to sitting down with him to finalize details on omnibus 3.0. Guess that’s politics for you.
Speaking of in-fighting within the state GOP, state Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter last week announced she is ousting a particularly abrasive party county chairman, after showing more tolerance for his antics than most would bear. To which I offer this commentary: Hee, hee, hee.
Whether the Republicans’ victory will turn out to be Pyrrhic probably won’t be known until Nov. 3, 2020.
Obviously, passage of 3.0 will energize teachers and Democrats, but to what extent? In 2018, “Remember in November” brought incremental gains in House and Senate seats, but not the blue wave they envisioned.
Republicans have to hope that their gray money overlords are generous in funding attack campaigns against their opponents in 2020, but the question is, how anxious will they be to open their checkbooks for leadership that after 2½ years, could only deliver a pale, watered-down version of their school privatization plan?
(One unintended consequence of omnibus 3.0 is that school board campaigns could suddenly get much more costly, as gray money interests move to stack county boards with pro-charter school members.)
That Senate leaders will accept a watered-down omnibus bill is a given, since the worst possible scenario would be to drag the session into July, with the potential to ultimately come up empty handed. That would be a painful reminder of how the Legislature blundered into the summer with budget impasses in 2016 and 2017.
Howard Swint is one of the deeper thinkers in these parts who also happens to dabble in politics, and I think he’s hit on exactly the right chord on what to do about statues of Confederate generals, such as the Stonewall Jackson statue on the Capitol grounds.
Swint’s focus seems less on the fact that Jackson was a slave owner and committed treason by waging war against the United States, and more on the circumstances leading to the erection of the statue — put up not by Jackson’s contemporaries, but a generation after his death.
History is clear that most Confederate statues were erected between the 1890s and the 1920s, a period following the collapse of Reconstruction, and during the rise of Jim Crow laws in the South.
As Sarah Gardner noted in a February 2018 article in Origins, an e-magazine published by the history departments at Ohio State and Miami (Ohio) universities: “The purpose of these statues was not to honor the Confederate dead but to assert and celebrate white supremacy in the present.”
It is not by coincidence that a second wave of installations of Confederate memorials occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, as the civil rights movement was gaining momentum.
Swint is correct that the focus should not be on the individuals memorialized in statue, but on the motivations of the organizations that installed them.
That negates the tiresome “yes, but” argument that if you remove statues of Jackson and Lee, then you must remove statues of Washington and Jefferson because they owned slaves, and of Robert C. Byrd because he was a Ku Klux Klan member at one time. That argument can ultimately apply to just about every individual memorialized, because of some human fault or failing.
It doesn’t require much research — although Swint’s research is extensive — to reach the conclusion that the group that put up the Jackson statue, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, is if not a white supremacist organization, an organization that certainly embraced tenets of white supremacy.
By contrast, the Byrd statue was commissioned, not by the Klan, and not by white supremacists to commemorate his votes against civil rights legislation, but by a commission of prominent West Virginians to recognize his contributions to the state in the 20th century (admittedly, predominately in the form of pork barrel projects).
As Gardner’s research also found, in many cities, Confederate statues or memorials were placed in or adjacent to black neighborhoods as a means of intimidation.
Swint’s point that the Jackson statue represents a form of hate speech is well taken.
Finally, a couple of rail updates:
Efforts by Rail Excursion Management, the company that plans to operate excursion trains this fall replacing the now-defunct New River Train, to break an impasse over liability insurance coverage are continuing, working with Sen. Joe Manchin’s office in negotiations with Amtrak.
While timing has not yet reached a breaking point — the New River Train regularly sold out its premium seating within two months of tickets going on sale — one issue becoming more critical is with tour bus companies that normally offer leaf train excursion packages.
Meanwhile, state transportation officials reportedly met with their counterparts at the Maryland Transit Administration over maintaining MARC commuter rail service into West Virginia, but it didn’t go well.
I’m told the meeting focused on having state officials decide which of the three eastbound and three westbound trains the state wants to keep.
Barring an 11th-hour intervention, the service cuts will likely take effect this fall.
Having a single morning train into Washington and a single evening train back to the Eastern Panhandle daily will be another huge blow to the service.
A train that departs before you get off work is about as impractical as one that leaves two hours after your workday ends.
It’s disappointing that a Legislature that could find $60 million a year to subsidize the coal industry could not find $2 million to maintain a service that makes the panhandle a more attractive location for commuters who work in metro D.C.
And with that, I have a train to catch.