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In one of the prouder moments in West Virginia history, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Gov. William Marland — unlike his counterparts in other Southern states — immediately pledged West Virginia would comply with the edict.

In a letter to the superintendent of schools, Marland stated, “As segregation is unconstitutional, [school] boards should, in my opinion, begin immediately to reorganize and readjust their schools to comply with the Supreme Court decision … Neither force nor legal action should be necessary to effect compliance with the decision of the Supreme Court.”

It was not the most politically expedient thing to do, as there was considerable opposition to integration in many parts of the state. Marland’s decision prompted angry protests and school walkouts in many parts of the state. Some counties initially refused to comply with his mandate.

It took four years to fully integrate state school systems, years marked by conflict, protest and pushback, but Marland persevered.

Marland could have joined his Southern counterparts and balked. He could have refused to act on the grounds that doing so would create division among West Virginians and “fragment many, many of us.”

Politically, Marland might have been better off playing to the ignorance, fear, and prejudice of a vocal minority of West Virginians. He chose to do what was right, not what was politically expedient.

A year earlier, Marland made a proposal that, had it passed at the time, would have dramatically transformed West Virginia, and would have made it a much better place today: He proposed a severance tax on coal.

(Marland was prophetic in warning that if Big Coal was not compelled to pay its fair share of taxes, “our state will be relegated to fifth-class status.” He noted, “We are paying a fearful price to allow the coal to be extracted from the hills of West Virginia. It is only right that we should be able to point with pride to improved roads and schools as a result of this awful toll that we are taking of this beautiful state.”)

Coal interests quashed the bill on a procedural vote in 1953. If Marland had any misgivings that backing school integration would cost him critical votes for his proposal in the future, he didn’t let it stop him from doing the right thing.

Keep in mind that what was at stake was not the future of some tax cut for fat-cat friends, but the future of West Virginia as either a thriving or a fifth-class state.

Alas, Marland did not get another opportunity to pass his tax plan, and it would take another 34 years for the Legislature to finally enact a state severance tax on coal, and by that time, the damage had been done and the opportunity lost forever.

(Coal interests would go on to destroy Marland politically and personally, but that’s a history lesson for another day.)

We can make some assumptions about how Marland would respond to the current public health crisis if he suddenly materialized back into the governor’s office today.

(That is, once he got over the astonishment of television screens that fill entire walls, and powerful computers that people carry in their pockets. Oh, and that you can buy liquor in drug and grocery stores.)

I don’t think Marland would have looked at the soaring rates of West Virginians becoming sick, critically ill and dying of COVID-19, including more and more young people, and concluded there is nothing he could do about it as governor, particularly with the solution being so tantalizingly in reach.

I don’t think Marland would have been reduced to constantly pleading with the public to get their shots, deluded into thinking his pleas alone would change the minds of the half of the populace refusing to be vaccinated.

I doubt Marland would fly around the state (even though he was a licensed pilot) giving away millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded prizes like some sort of game show barker as part of a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to raise vaccination rates.

I know Marland would not have caved to an ignorant, misguided and prejudiced minority just because they can out-shout and out-threaten others. He would have sought counsel from and followed the recommendations of public health experts.

Gov. Marland would have used the powers vested in him as the chief executive to promote public health measures and incent or require vaccinations. He would have done everything in his power to prevent illnesses and save lives.

In 2021, as in 1954, Gov. Marland would have done the right thing.

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Quote of the week: “I’ve tried with all in me to lead us through this thing. I’m proud of the job I’ve done. I think I’m pushing the right buttons, and I think I’m skating the razor blade as best you could possibly do it now.” — Jim Justice, assessing his handling of the COVID-19 delta variant surge in the state.

Only a truly deluded individual could take pride in his complete dereliction of duty in failing to take any action to control the spread of the virus, resulting in avoidable illness and deaths across the state.

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The Justice administration has been marked by some peculiar state contract maneuvers, and I wish I understood technology so I could comment intelligently on the recent flip, changing state computers from using Microsoft to Google Cloud.

The latest head-scratcher is a rebidding state contract for advertising and marketing services for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Currently, the Charleston advertising and marketing firm the Manahan Group has the contract and, in football terms, is in the early second quarter of the game. Manahan was awarded the one-year contract with three one-year renewals in May 2020.

(That’s pretty common for state contracts to have multiple renewal options, and pretty uncommon to sever the contract before the renewal options have expired.)

The request for proposals was issued Aug. 25, with bid opening scheduled for Sept. 22.

As RFPs go, this one is pretty much what you would expect. The winning bidder is to provide advertising and marketing for the multitudes of DHHR agencies, as well as providing public health outreach, educational services and technical assistance. The winning bidder is to show proficiency in marketing plan development, multimedia campaigns, advertising placement, preparation of brochures, social media, events and conference planning, video production and so forth.

Two requirements, however, are unusual. The winning bidder must have:

  • A master’s level epidemiologist, either on-staff or retained as a contractor, working half a full-time employee, or a 20-hour workweek.
  • A master’s level public health professional, again either on-staff or retained as a contractor, working three-quarters of a full-time employee, or 30 hours a week.

If the public health specialists are contractors, the bidder has to provide documentation of the three most recent projects the firm has collaborated with each specialist.

That’s getting awfully specific and awfully onerous. Having health care professionals on the payroll has to significantly increase operating expenses for an advertising firm.

DHHR spokeswoman Alison Alder said she could not comment on the bid requirements since the solicitation of bids is in the blackout period. (Under state Purchasing Division regulations, during the time bids are being solicited, personnel with the agency seeking bids are not to discuss current contracts or contracts under bid.)

Starting with the assumption Justice is not always on the up-and-up, rebidding one of the more lucrative state advertising contracts more than two years before the current contract would normally expire gives one pause.

George Manahan frequently does campaign work for Democratic candidates, most recently running Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, gubernatorial campaign in 2020. But of course, Justice wouldn’t be that petty, right?

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Finally, when the West Virginia Power was a Minor League baseball affiliate, Labor Day was the traditional final day of the regular season. Major League teams expand their rosters in September, and ending the Minor League season early allows them to pick up players from their Class AAA and AA franchises.

Years when the Power made the playoffs would see the season extended from a few days to a week and a half, but for the most part, baseball in Charleston has ended each year on Labor Day. Which I always thought was a shame, since September tends to be one of the nicest months weather-wise in West Virginia.

Unencumbered by Major League affiliation, the independent Atlantic League season traditionally extends through September (and this season, into early October since the start of the season was delayed because of the pandemic). Instead of Power Park sitting empty for most of the month, the Power (soon to officially become the Charleston Charlies?) will host 16 games this September, along with three games in October.

I’m curious to see how attendance fares for the month. While the weather should be inviting, baseball will be competing for attention with football and other fall pursuits.

Power attendance seems to be improving as the season goes on, probably a combination of having Chuck Domino, a legend in Minor League baseball for building team attendance, as team president, and word-of-mouth spreading about the much higher caliber of play in the Atlantic League, appealing to fans who were spoiled by having a Class AAA franchise here back in the day.

All in all, the first season of Atlantic League baseball in Charleston has been a positive experience, and will likely get better with the addition of a team in Staten Island next season and with old South Atlantic League rival Hagerstown joining the league in 2023 (possibly with the rumored addition of a team in Salem, Virginia).

Fall baseball, here we come. Everyone have a happy Labor Day.

Phil Kabler covers politics. He can be reached at 304-348-1220 or philk@hdmediallc.com. Follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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