A reader pointed that when Rebecca McPhail wrote a letter to the editor last week criticizing my column item Sunday in which I pointed out that Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, could be in line to become the first governor in more than 100 years to not have a college degree, the letter omitted one pertinent bit of information: She is president of the West Virginia Manufacturers’ Association.
As such, she has worked closely with Finance Chairman Blair, and presumably will work closely with Senate President Blair, and potentially, Gov. Blair, in the association’s efforts to cut business taxes, notably including the state tax on business equipment and inventory.
Last session, Blair was lead sponsor and leading advocate for a bill to do just that (Senate Bill 837), a bill that would have made up lost revenue by raising the state sales tax, our most regressive tax, hitting low income West Virginians hardest.
It passed the Senate on a party line 17-16 vote, but died in House Finance Committee. With Republican supermajorities in both houses in 2021, it may be harder to stop next session.
McPhail’s letter basically falls back on the old bromide of, “Just because you have a college degree doesn’t make you better than me.”
Well, yes, in at least one aspect it does.
It shows you’ve spent four years training your mind to think critically; to analyze statements and claims; to assess and analyze data, statements and statistics; and to reach logical conclusions.
McPhail is correct that one can develop these abilities without attending college, and a college diploma does not confer enlightenment on the recipient. As the Randy Newman song goes, some college-goers, “go in dumb, come out dumb too.”
However, all things being equal, it is better to have a college degree than not.
It occurred to me, as state Democrats conduct postmortems of their 2020 election debacle, that Democrats have failed to take education into account.
As Pew Research has reported, there is a wide and growing education gap at the polls.
Among college-educated voters, 57% identify as Democrats, while only 37% tend to vote Republican.
Among white men without college degrees, 62% vote Republican. For white women with college degrees, it’s just the opposite, 62% vote Democrat.
In the campaign, when Republicans said things like “Democrats are socialists,” “Black Lives Matter is radical ideology” or “Defund the police literally means shutting down police departments,” Democrats tended to ignore or downplay the rhetoric.
Democrats assumed, wrongly, that a majority of voters would be able to critically analyze those assertions and recognize how absurd and inaccurate those claims are, and would presumably vote accordingly.
In other words, Democrats assumed, apparently wrongly, that a majority of state voters are capable of critical thinking and analysis.
Democrats for years have conceded blocs of voters on issues such as abortion and gun safety because Republicans have successfully boiled their message down to the most primal level: “A fetus is a baby,” “They’re going to take your guns,” “Homosexuality is a mortal sin.”
As a party, when you concede single-issue voters right off the bat, you’re starting from behind going into elections.
Going forward, state Democrats would be well served to confront Republican claims head-on, point by point, and not simply assume that a majority of voters will be able to ascertain the accuracy or inaccuracy of those statements by themselves.
Then there was the Donald Trump factor, which U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin — aka the last Democrat standing — addressed in an interview in the New York Times.
Said Manchin: “I just can’t believe that 72 million people were either that mad or that scared of the Democrat Party to vote for what I consider a very flawed individual. Here’s a person who lost 230,000 lives under his watch, basically denounced the science completely because it might hurt him politically, has a lack of compassion or empathy for humans, and denigrates anybody and everybody that does not agree with him. How 72 million people could still walk in and say, ‘Yeah, it’s better than that,’ I just can’t figure it out.
“That was a sobering thing for me. My state got wiped out this election. So I would say, I’m just looking at myself, I have not been good at my message. I know why I’m a Democrat. And I know that I’ve never seen the Democrat Party forsake anybody.”
While I did not believe for a moment that Trump would not carry West Virginia, I did buy into what limited state polling was available, showing about a 24-point swing from 2016.
It seemed logical to think that Trump would not be as popular with state voters in 2020 as in 2016, when one might still buy into the “a successful businessman could make a good leader” ruse. In addition to the failings Manchin cited, locally I thought the fact Trump’s campaign promise to put miners back to work turned out to be absolute hokum would cost him votes.
Coal mining employment has plunged 24% since Trump took office, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, with total employment down to 40,458 — which would be a disappointing turnout at Mountaineer Field (at least, back in the day when crowds could attend sporting events).
And yet, nationally and in West Virginia, Trump actually improved his 2016 numbers. Again, that’s not just an inability to think critically, but the reality of the cult of personality that has developed around Trump.
That Trump has raised more than $200 million since the election for his “defense fund” is evidence of the gullibility of his most loyal supporters, the same supporters who’ve abandoned Fox News in droves because it had the audacity to declare Joe Biden had won Arizona.
That many Republican politicians, statewide and nationally, will find themselves unable to admit the obvious a full month after the election is further evidence of that cult. (Gov. Jim Justice came close last week, but his “it surely looks like we’re going to end up with Biden as our president” was hardly an endorsement of the president-elect.)
Bright spots for Democrats — by 2022, Biden and Kamala Harris will have had two years to dispel Republican “socialist” rhetoric, and despite his bluster, Trump almost certainly will not be on the ticket in 2024.
Finally, one of oddities of covering the Statehouse beat is that you meet genuinely good people who work for some unsavory entities.
History will show that coal was a curse, not a blessing, for West Virginia, and for more years than many of my colleagues have been around, Bill Raney has been the face of the coal industry at the Capitol.
As longtime president and lobbyist for the West Virginia Coal Association, one might expect Raney to be like the industry itself, cold, heartless, destructive, and driven by greed and profits.
Raney is nothing like that. He’s friendly, personable, self-effacing, and tolerant of environmentalists and even some Gazette and Gazette-Mail reporters.
One example: Each year at the holidays, many lobbyists ply state and legislative offices with gift baskets or flower arrangements, hoping to win brownie points with officeholders.
For years each holiday season, Raney — through the auspices of the Coal Association — has delivered two dozen to three dozen or more fruit baskets to various Capitol offices.
While some go to the usual suspects — the Governor’s Office, the Senate president, the House speaker, etc. — Raney has always made sure that rank-and-file workers can partake, sending baskets to places like the Greenbrier Street guard house, the Capitol Police office, and National Guard headquarters.
The basket for the Supreme Court goes, not to the justices’ chambers, but to the staff break room, located two floors below.
Getting pro-coal, anti-green legislation through the Legislature may not be that remarkable an accomplishment, given the Legislature, whether Ds or Rs have been in charge, has always been quite amenable to the whims of Big Coal. However, Raney’s greatest accomplishment may have been maintaining order within the association.
When people ask me about work, I tell them I’m still riding the dinosaur. In some ways, Raney has been riding a dinosaur of his own for years.
The latest IRS 990 form on file for the Coal Association, for 2018, shows the association had total revenue of $1.728 million, including $1.442 million in membership dues.
A decade earlier, in 2008, the association had total revenue of $3.111 million, including $2.428 million from membership dues — marking a 40 percent drop.
You can bet your bottom dollar those numbers further plummeted in 2019 and 2020 as Trump’s promise to put all the coal miners back to work turned out to be just another of his many fabrications.