As the most recent state population estimates confirm, unless the border caravans suddenly materialize and everybody relocates to West Virginia, the state will lose a congressional seat after the 2020 census.
It won’t be quite as painful as the last time the Legislature had to erase a Congressional district, in 1991, since at that time, we had four quality Congressmen, and it was a struggle to determine who would be the odd man out.
The 1991 redistricting was marked with plenty of backroom politics, arm-twisting and promises of federal goodies for favorable votes. It also prompted three legal challenges, and resulted in the end of the political career of Congressman Harley Staggers.
Eliminating a district will be easier this time, in one sense, since there’s only two ways to slice the state to form two Congressional districts: vertically or horizontally.
Given the likelihood that the Eastern Panhandle and north central West Virginia will continue to grow, and southern West Virginia will continue to lose population, the most logical option would be horizontal districts.
That would simplify the redistricting process in 2031 (which I don’t intend to cover), since it would just be a matter of moving the 2nd District line farther north to adjust for further population loss in southern West Virginia, and growth in the 1st District.
Realistically, though, there could be some problems with that plan, including putting both panhandles in the same district. In 1991, a plan backed by House leadership would have done just that thing, but was shot down, in part because legislators from the panhandles objected to being placed together in the same district, contending that the panhandles have little in common.
It would also potentially pit Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va., against the guy from the Eastern Panhandle who never seems to come to this part of the district, while leaving first-term Congresswoman Carol Miller, R-W.Va., unscathed.
Creating vertical districts would be more difficult to draw, and eyeballing it would require creating a geographically large, mostly rural eastern district — which could well appeal to Republicans if they keep control of the Legislature in 2020.
Perhaps the larger issue here is that for at least four decades, people have been voting with their feet, leaving the state in droves, while few are opting to relocate here.
Whatever we’ve been doing politically during that time — some would say kowtowing to extractive industries, social conservatism, intolerance of outsiders — it’s not working to grow the state.
I think we may have seen the 2020 campaign in a microcosm last week, when Gov. Jim Justice went to Marshall County to hand out some grants. He’s been playing candy man recently, a la Cecil Underwood in 2000, going around the state at taxpayer expense to present grants that are normally handed out, one after another, in the governor’s reception room, or delivered even less ceremoniously by U.S. mail.
Instead of applause and adulation, Justice was ambushed by angry audience members fed up over deteriorating county roads, and ready to give Justice an earful about his failure to fix the problem.
Now that he owns the issue, I suspect that anywhere Justice goes on the campaign trail, and whatever the intended campaign topic, the discussion will circle back to the poor condition of state roads and the state’s failure to make significant progress toward good repair.
Speaking of 2020, the latest quarterly edition of Morning Consult’s approval ratings for governors shows Justice polling as the 10th most unpopular governor in the U.S. with a 50 percent approval rating, and 36 percent disapproval.
Actually, that’s up from the 4th quarter of 2018, when Justice’s numbers were 45 percent approval, 38 percent disapproval, and Justice was underwater as recently as the 2nd quarter 2018 polling, with 41 percent approval, 45 percent disapproval.
Meanwhile, among U.S. senators, Morning Consult polls Sen. Joe Manchin as the third most unpopular senator, with 46 percent approval, and 41 percent disapproval. That’s also up slightly from the post-election 4th quarter 2018 poll, when he was underwater at 43 percent approval, 44 percent disapproval.
One silver lining for Manchin in the event of a possible 2020 gubernatorial showdown is that his net approvals are +34 percent among Democrats, -19 percent among Republicans and +8 percent among independents.
Justice net approval numbers are -13 among Democrats, +36 among Republicans (which lends credence to Bill Phillips’ theory that the “no confidence” votes by certain GOP enclaves is the result of astroturfing by political operatives) and +12 among independents.
(Ironically, the most unpopular governor and most unpopular U.S. senator are both from Kentucky — Gov. Matt Bevin and Sen. Mitch McConnell.)
While Justice is gallivanting around the state handing out federal grants, I’m hearing complaints that neither the governor nor his aides are working to put together a consensus on an agenda for the special session on education.
During public appearances, Justice has made allusions to what he would like to see legislatively.
In Marshall County, for instance, he said he’d like to see “real reform” without “getting into a food fight,” consisting of the 5 percent on average pay raise for teachers and school service personnel, a floor on the School Aid formula for school systems with fewer than 1,400 students, incentive pay for math and science teachers, funding for additional school nurses and counselors, as well as “some pilot charter schools.”
(Recall that, at one point in the regular session, the House of Delegates watered down the charter schools language in the Senate’s omnibus education bill to two pilot schools — which the Senate majority rejected outright.)
However, wishing for an outcome and getting into the nitty-gritty of securing commitments from legislators and lining up votes are two very different things.
Despite an apparent resounding lack of public support for their agenda, Mitch Carmichael and Senate leadership appear committed to the ALEC playbook, which doesn’t bode well for the resumption of the special session.
One rumor is that the Senate may amend most of the provisions of SB 451, the omnibus education bill, into whatever education bill Justice submits, pass it in the Senate, send it to the House, and then adjourn, setting up a “take it or leave it” scenario for the House, the governor and state teachers.
(I think Senate leaders are convinced teachers will ultimately sell out their convictions for a $2,120 raise, which I believe is an extreme miscalculation.)
Finally, some readers were taken aback by an article last week about the state Public Employees Grievance Board moving its offices to the West Side, ending a $90,000 a year lease for a Kanawha Boulevard house owned by Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman.
One reader wanted additional investigation of the arrangement, asking, “Why did the state pay Class A rental rates on a structure that is not ADA compliant and over 100 years old?”
When I first wrote about the board relocating to 1596 Kanawha Boulevard East — a house that Workman had purchased in 2003 for $612,000 for her private law practice — it seemed like a good deal.
The lease rate was $9.19 a square foot, or $52,300 a year — cheaper than the $9.90 a square foot rate the board had been paying for wholly inadequate office space on Greenbrier Street. (The Grievance Board is one of a handful of state agencies that, by law, cannot have offices located in government buildings.)
At the time, I noted that Supreme Court employees are not covered by the state public employees’ grievance law, eliminating one potential conflict, and that appeals of level 3 grievance hearings very rarely, if ever, reach the high court.
(I don’t believe Workman ever requested an Ethics Commission advisory opinion regarding the lease, although she reported it each year as income on her financial disclosures to the commission.)
In December 2012, the lease was renegotiated to $13.60 a square foot, or $77,397 a year, and in January 2016, was upped to the current $15.81 a square foot, or $90,000 a year.
Unlike the board’s new offices in the Schoenbaum Center, that lease does not include utilities (about $12,000 a year) or janitorial service.
A copy of that January 2016 lease addendum shows it was signed by Workman, then-Real Estate Division executive director Jon Amores, a former delegate and House Judiciary Committee chairman, and then-Grievance Board director Robin Perdue, wife of state Treasurer John Perdue.
In an email, Workman sought to clarify a couple of items in the article, including that there is an ADA accessible conference room on the first floor (the room normally used for hearings is on the third floor), and that she had kept the board and current director Jim Cox apprised of her interest in selling the property.
“Both their desire to find lower-cost space as well as my desire to sell worked out to our mutual satisfaction,” she wrote.
While the asking price for the property of $574,000 is $38,000 less than what Workman paid for it in 2003, total lease payments by the state from 2009 to the present total $704,092, which makes for a pretty shrewd business deal overall.