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Statehouse Beat: Strange days may be ahead for WV Senate

Come 2021, the state Senate could look very different.

Already, four incumbents have announced they will not run for reelection in 2020, including three of six incumbent Democrats who would be up next year.

That includes Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, a veritable institution at the Legislature for 30 years, serving in a variety of leadership positions, including Senate Finance chairman.

Prezioso is an old-school, word-is-his-bond politician, and he frequently struggled of late to contain his anger as Senate leadership obliterated legislative protocols and traditions to ram through partisan agendas.

Like Sens. Corey Palumbo and Paul Hardesty, Prezioso has spoken about the lack of collegiality, civility and spirit of cooperation in the Legislature these days.

(The Republican who announced he’s not seeking reelection, Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, experienced the wrath of Senate leadership, when he was removed as Senate Education chairman for raising concerns about ALEC-drafted omnibus education bills.)

From Prezioso’s perspective, why continue to bang one’s head against the proverbial brick wall, when at 70, he can take a few moments to enjoy retirement, travel and family?

Bottom line, politics is much more tribal these days.

When I first got to the Legislature, there was not a great deal of difference between conservative Democrats and Republicans, other than the capital letter behind their names. Now, members of each party treat members across the aisle as mortal enemies, with political views and beliefs that are not just different from their own, but are contrary to the very well-being of the state or country.

That Prezioso, Palumbo and Hardesty are bowing out suggests that Democratic strategists are not anticipating a blue wave here in 2020, as crashed down upon our sister state of Virginia on Tuesday.

West Virginia Wesleyan political science professor Rob Rupp stopped by last week to chat about the elections, and he noted that the flipping of the suburbs from dark red to reliably blue has led the way in turning Virginia from a red to a blue state — and that suburban women led that transformation, probably in large part thanks to the president.

Rupp said you can’t really draw any inferences for West Virginia from the Virginia elections, since West Virginia has little in the way of suburbs — there are suburbs west of Charleston, some around Bridgeport and in parts of the Eastern Panhandle, but that’s about it. Unlike Virginia, West Virginia’s cities and suburbs are too small to offset the vote in rural areas that remain Republican strongholds.

It occurred to me that when I arrived on the statehouse beat about this time in 1989, Virginia was a red state, and West Virginia was true blue.

During that time, Virginia cities and suburbs grew and became diversified, even as its rural areas lost population. Conversely, West Virginia has lost population as its best and brightest have had to look elsewhere for better job opportunities and for a more inclusive social environment, helping turn West Virginia red.

While there may not be a blue wave in West Virginia in 2020, there will be a number of vulnerable Republicans on the ballot, and we have no idea at this point if or how long Donald Trump’s coattails will be come next November.

It’s certainly not unreasonable to expect a repeat or improvement on 2018, when Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate and five seats in the House of Delegates.

•••

Speaking of Trump, the latest Morning Consult polling shows that Trump’s net approval rating in West Virginia has slipped 18 percentage points from January 2017 to this October.

What is most notable, though, is that Trump’s approval rating has not changed notably over those 34 months. It was 62 percent in January 2017, and 58 percent in October. The drop in his net approval has resulted largely from growth in Trump’s disapproval percentage, which went from 25 percent to 39 percent during that time.

Among the core of Trump backers, their support of the president is unshakable.

I thought of that regarding the recent controversy over the Trump campaign selling posters and T-shirts that are a take-off on the movie poster for the 1993 Disney film, “Hocus Pocus,” with the witches on the original poster replaced with caricatures of Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, and with an image in the witches’ glowing orb of Trump flying over the Capitol while holding an American flag, a la Superman.

(Never mind, as John Oliver pointed out on “Last Week Tonight,” that the Trump poster completely distorts the meaning of “witch hunt” by depicting witches as the hunters, not the hunted.)

Reading about the controversy, it occurred to me that in all drawings and illustrations of Trump by supporters, Trump is always depicted at the very least as being physically fit, and frequently, as being muscle-bound, as a superhero or a Rambo.

That his supporters cannot see, or chose not to see, that the president is in reality, an aging, corpulent man speaks volumes. It may go quite a way toward explaining why his support among his core followers never waivers: They’re seeing and believing what they want to see and believe.

•••

Gordon Simmons recently retired as a field organizer for the Public Employees Union Local UE 170, after 12½ years of representing workers with grievances against state agencies, including the ongoing mass grievance of more than 400 Division of Highways employees over the division’s failure to upgrade its pay scales to comply with a 2017 law.

Like a lot of retirees (and yours truly hopes to be in this boat in the not-too-distant future), Simmons was looking for a little work post-retirement, and applied for an opening as a Cultural Program Specialist with the Division of Culture and History.

Soon after, he got a letter from the Division of Personnel indicating his application had been rejected because he failed to meet minimum qualifications for the position.

As explanation, the letter noted, “This job title requires a minimum amount of work experience as described in the job posting. Your application did not include any work experience that was considered qualifying for this job class.”

Which, as Simmons pointed out, is somewhat surprising, since before going to work for UE 170, he had been employed by Culture and History from 2001 to 2007 as a — you guessed it — Cultural Program Specialist.

Simmons, who said that his work as a union representative in employee grievances against the state surely played no part in the rejection of his job application, commented, “I’m just lucky that Personnel didn’t notice my lack of qualifications two decades ago.”

•••

Finally, every year about this time, and more so in the spring, we get to hear the usual griping about having to shift from daylight saving time to standard time and vice versa, with several states looking at going to year-round daylight savings time.

Those who advocate for that change probably don’t remember the winter of 1974, when President Richard Nixon signed an emergency act establishing year-round daylight saving time as an energy saving measure in the midst of an OPEC oil embargo.

The downside was that it forced millions of schoolchildren (myself included) to go to school in the dark, and the rash of “dark morning” traffic accidents involving children from around the country convinced Congress to repeal the law that fall. (I still have nightmares of standing in the freezing-cold dark waiting for the bus.)

In Charleston, year-round daylight saving time would result in sunrises as late as 8:43 a.m. in the winter. To avoid a repeat of 1974, I suppose you could move the start of the school day to 9:30 or 10 a.m., but that poses a whole set of problems of its own.

The alternative, sticking with standard time year-round, would mean in the summer, it would start getting light out as early as 4:30 a.m., which would be a terrific nuisance for those of us who are still trying to get in three good hours of beauty sleep at that point.

It also would mean sunsets before 8 p.m. all summer, putting a damper on evening outdoor activities.

Bottom line is, once you get down to nine hours of daylight in the winter, no matter how you cut it, you’re probably going to have to either commute to work or commute home in the dark.

I’m generally not a fan of the status quo, but it hardly seems worth it to ruin the entire calendar just to avoid a couple of groggy mornings in the spring, and a couple of mornings of waking up before the alarm clock in the fall.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

FUNERALS FOR TODAY 11/12/19

Adkins, Tressa - 6 p.m., Bethel Baptist Church, Spring Hill.

Angel, Larry - 1 p.m., St. Albans Church of the Nazarene, St. Albans.

Brown, Clara - Noon, Jackson County Memory Gardens, Cottageville.

Conley, Billy - 6 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Ellis, Emert - 11 a.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Green, Judy - Noon, Stevens & Grass Funeral Home, Malden.

Hackney, Teddy - 2 p.m., Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, Cross Lanes.

Hager, Naomi - 1 p.m., Montgomery Memorial Park Chapel, London.

Higginbotham, Alice - 2 p.m., First Baptist Church, St. Albans.

Hill, Peggy - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Hunter, Lauria - 1 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Lewis, James - 11 a.m., Buffalo Memorial Park, Buffalo.

Mull, Melanie - 3 p.m., McGhee - Handley Funeral Home, West Hamlin.

Radford, David - 11 a.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Shingleton, Carole - 11 a.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home Chapel, Poca.

Sigman Sr., Ralph - Noon, Casdorph & Curry Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Snyder, Jeffrey - 1 p.m., Leavitt Funeral Home, Parkersburg.

Spaulding, Gladys - 11 a.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Stone, Judith - 2 p.m., Wilcoxen Funeral Home, Point Pleasant.

Taylor, Naomi - 1 p.m., Dodd & Reed Funeral Home, Webster Springs.

Webb, Tommy - 7 p.m., Loudendale Freewill Baptist Church, Charleston.

Williams, Jennie - 2 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.