On Tuesday, a sizeable majority of West Virginia voters looked at the chaos, divisiveness and ineptitude coming out of the White House and said, “Yep, I want four more years of that.”
Donald Trump’s mishandling of the nation’s pandemic response alone should have been disqualifying — and mishandling is the wrong word since that implies that an effort was made that went awry. Trump ignored experts, flaunted mask-wearing and social distancing and essentially simply wished for the virus to go away, by Easter, or when the weather got hot, or maybe before Election Day.
One could understand why a majority of West Virginia voters opted for Trump in 2016, figuring that a purportedly successful businessman who promised to bring back coal jobs would be good for the state.
Of course, bringing back coal was just part of the Donald’s con job. He didn’t have a plan to bring back the coal industry, which is the victim of market forces, not politics, and coal employment in the state has sunk to the lowest levels since probably the pre-industrial era.
Nonetheless, apparently afflicted with a bad case of Stockholm syndrome, West Virginians voted for Trump in larger numbers Tuesday than they did in 2016.
Voters’ allegiance to Trump was so strong that his coattails led to the ouster of the last remaining Democratic statewide constitutional officer, a man whose competence in 24 years in office was unquestioned, and sent Republican supermajorities to the Legislature.
In his one election debate, Gov. Jim Justice said he would sign the Fairness Act, extending state anti-discrimination protections to the LBGTQ community, if it reached his desk.
No chance that happens now, with the likes of John Mandt, Derrick Evans and Robert Karnes elected to the Legislature.
More likely, a “religious freedom” bill, giving businesses and individuals the right to discriminate against the LBGTQ community based on religious beliefs, will instead arrive on Justice’s desk during the 2021 session.
Suffice to say, a campus carry law and legislation to further impose additional obstacles on women’s health rights will also be legislative priorities.
Expect a slew of bills designed to shrink government and cut taxes — or more accurately, shift tax burden from corporations and the wealthy to low- and middle-income families.
Mostly likely, we’ll see another swipe at legislation to cut income taxes, making up the lost revenue by raising and expanding sales taxes — making an already regressive tax system even more regressive.
On Wednesday, Justice said phasing out income taxes will be the top priority of his second term, which if enacted will make corporations and well-to-do West Virginians wealthier, but does nothing to fix struggling schools, repair crumbling schools or provide the state with functional broadband.
As the majority party, Republicans will control redistricting next year and surely will draw legislative districts that will favor election of Republicans for the coming decade.
In the recent past, there were enough Democrats in the House of Delegates to block the more egregious legislation. Now, with supermajorities in the House and Senate, Republicans, assuming they can remain united, will be able to blow through any procedural roadblocks Democrats might put up in the face of oppressive legislation and steamroll their agenda.
In the five years they’ve controlled the Legislature, the Republican majority has had an anti-labor, pro-corporation, anti-intellectual agenda that has done little to benefit the lives of working class West Virginians.
It’s disappointing that a majority of West Virginians continue to vote against their own interests, whether in order to “own the libs,” or because their votes are determined solely by single issues such as abortion or opposition to gun safety measures.
The powers that aim to assure that corporations and the wealthy get richer have no qualms about exploiting less critical thinking voters with emotional fallacies such as gun-grabbing, abortion after delivery or hordes of illegal immigrants flooding our borders.
Remarkably, those operatives were able to convince large numbers of voters nationally and a majority of West Virginia voters that Democrats in general and Joe Biden in particular are socialists. To paraphrase Gov. Justice, are you kidding me? You’re trying to portray Joe Biden, who we’ve known for 47 years, and whose politics are about as middle of the road as is possible, as a socialist?
I was initially heartened last week by record early voting numbers, largely driven by the pandemic.
As it worked out, the total unofficial turnout of about 780,000 voters was better than normal, but not exceptionally higher, only up about 6% from 2016.
For every West Virginia voter inspired to try to preserve our democracy by voting Trump out, there were nearly two other voters who thought his racist, misogynist brand of autocracy was just fine by them.
Again, I’ll cite my thesis that the rise of Republican influence in state government directly corresponds with an ongoing out-migration of the state’s best and brightest.
Certainly, what will be coming out of the Legislature over the next two years will not inspire any of those expatriates to come home.
For all the talk this week about supermajorities, the fact is they’re not that uncommon in the Legislature. Democrats had supermajorities, on and off, in the House from the mid-1970s to 2010, and in the Senate from the late-1960s to 2014.
When Democrats had supermajorities in the House and Senate, they didn’t function monolithically.
It’s probably the nature of politics that, when lacking a viable opposition party, the supermajority party breaks itself into blocs.
The Democrats, when in supermajority power, divided themselves into progressive, conservative, pro-labor, pro-coal and other factions.
I recall that back in the salad days, then-Sen. Walt Helmick used to complain that he couldn’t get his bills passed despite a Democrat supermajority, because the Ds had split themselves up into so many factions.
I suspect that will be particularly true now in the House, where Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, has not shown much dexterity to date when it comes to herding cats, and where Democrats on a number of past occasions have been able to peel off enough libertarian-leaning Rs to get bills, such as the medical marijuana legislation, passed or to block leadership bills.
Another silver lining is that, once a party holds supermajorities in both houses, whatever comes of the next two legislative sessions, that party owns it.
There will be no, “We wanted to pass such-and-such, but the Democrats killed it,” and no, “I know you don’t like this legislation, but we had to compromise with the Democrats to get anything passed.”
In the 2014 elections, Republicans had a very convincing message, that Democrats had controlled the Legislature for s o many years, and what do you have to show for it?
At some point, perhaps as soon as 2022, Democrats will be able to turn that message on the Republican supermajorities.
Speaking of, in baseball, if a manager has three straight losing seasons, including the team’s worst season in the past 100 years, that manager almost certainly is sent packing.
To that end, it probably behooves the state Democratic Executive Committee to give party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore the old pink slip.
While her counterpart, Melody Potter, was all over the airwaves, drumming up support for her party, albeit by spouting the aforementioned nonsense about gun-grabbing, baby-killing socialists, Biafore was mostly nowhere to be seen.
The party didn’t even bother to field candidates in a bunch of legislative races.
That there will be a record 76 Republicans in the House for the next two sessions is reason enough for a change in state Democratic Party leadership.
For some reason, legislative records only track the political composition of the House and Senate back to 1900, and I don’t have the energy to drag myself across the hall and go through 36 years of House and Senate journals to fill in the gap, but the largest previous House Republican majority during that 120-year span was 73 in the 1921 and ’22 sessions.
(Republicans would hold majorities in the House and Senate right up until the GOP drove the nation into the Great Depression, ceding control of the Legislature to Democrats for the next 84 years.)
Finally, there was a lot of ink in the Gazette-Mail last week about how the notoriously thin-skinned Gov. Justice barred a Gazette-Mail photographer from shooting his election night victory party at The Greenbrier.
(I think I’ve mentioned in this space about how when I was writing in 2012 about then-citizen Justice twisting state Lottery regulations in order to let charter bus day-trippers gamble at The Greenbrier casino, he got so irate over the coverage, he ordered the hotel bookstore/newsstand to stop selling the Gazette – and it took Gazette management a long, long time and a lot of negotiating to get the paper back in the hotel.)
I was told on election night by a ranking Justice advisor that the reason Justice didn’t want a G-M photog on the premises was not so much about his displeasure with our news coverage or editorials, but out of concern that there would be an effort to play “gotcha” and embarrass him with photos showing guests sans facemasks and failing to social distance.
(There have been pics on social media periodically during the pandemic showing Greenbrier guests partaking in receptions and dinners without masks — although short of a timestamp, it’s difficult to verify if the photos are legit, or were taken pre-pandemic.)
As a result, for the first time I can remember, we didn’t have a picture of the winning gubernatorial candidate on the front page of the paper Wednesday.