Once represented by people of intellect, conservatism has been shorn of rationality. Shouts and shrieks resound in the void where reason once reigned.
An example lingers in the form of a stench, that of the Republican tantrum over the ouster of Andrea Garrett Kiessling, R-Where?, from the District 8 West Virginia Senate race over the fact, irksome to her handlers, that she was ineligible for office.
Conservatives once championed the rule of law, but they do so now when it suits. State law says one must live here for the five years preceding election to the Senate. Kiessling spent much of that time elsewhere, including North Carolina, where she paid taxes and voted in 2020 and was licensed to drive last year.
One of her opponents, former Republican Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, who moved from Poca to Cross Lanes to seek the seat, raised the concern late in the race. After a voter sued, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom declared Kiessling ineligible, a decision affirmed by the West Virginia Supreme Court in its refusal to hear the matter.
This sent Kiessling’s allies into fits of cliché. Bloom is an “activist judge,” they said. Well, he acted in accordance with the law. Kiessling’s arguments were red whine without meat.
She said she felt like she was a West Virginian. She said she always called herself a West Virginian. She said she wondered how West Virginia is supposed to lure people when someone like her returns home and is declared ineligible for office.
Well, the law says five years of residency, and Kiessling did not meet the standard. Feelings, about which some people ordinarily care little, are not arguments. Among her contentions: She bought a home last fall in Roane County; she obtained a West Virginia driver’s license in August; she purchased vehicles and obtained titles for them in West Virginia in 2019. What she didn’t do was the math, because none of that adds up to five years of residency.
Cries about timing are as empty-headed as the thinking that spawned this affair. Yes, the timing was blissfully convenient for Higginbotham, an openly gay Republican and despicable liberal to the party jack boots. He irrefutably stood to benefit from Bloom’s decision. His maneuver might well have been tactical. But it was entirely legal, and it was entirely enabled by tactical error.
Kiessling’s backers knew her eligibility was questionable, gambled by advancing her, and lost.
On this singular issue, her allies have a point. The timing of Bloom’s decision, made after absentee ballots were cast, disenfranchised voters who opted for Kiessling. The right doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about the disenfranchisement of some voters, but that fact doesn’t make them wrong in this specific case. Voters who opted for Kiessling unaware she’d later be declared ineligible were cheated.
So, who to blame? It is convenient and wrong to blame Bloom. He was asked to rule on eligibility, and did so in accordance with the law. Blaming Higginbotham is like the hare blaming the tortoise. At worst, Higginbotham, who lost Tuesday, sought a tactical advantage afforded him by opponents in his own party. It was his right under the law to do that.
Blame for the system is warranted. It failed. The Secretary of State’s Office has been faulted in some corners. Few offices of that kind anywhere in the country check residency. This should change.
Here’s an idea: Put the Division of Motor Vehicles in charge of verifying candidates’ residency. Multiple proofs of residency are required for transplants to West Virginia to obtain state-issued identification or a driver’s license. Direct the agency to be equally rigorous in verifying candidates’ residency.
That could prevent a recurrence, but it can’t rectify the matter at hand. Kiessling and her supporters are not victims in this, but perpetrators. They are offended at having been caught trying to pull a fast one. Lead-foots should try the Kiessling style of argument the next time police lights flash in Milton on Interstate 64. Tell the cop you didn’t feel like you were doing 85 in a 70. What’s he trying to do? Run people like you out of West Virginia?
Conservatives once argued over matters of import, regardless of whether one agreed. Conservatives were about limits, plainly too much so, in some cases, unless it was on the limitless expansion of wealth for the limitlessly affluent. They were about restraints, although, on some social issues, they needed to be in restraints. But they were about something. Their best and brightest were people of high mind and exemplary integrity.
Now look at them, stomping their feet, holding their breath and demanding another cookie from the jar. Welcome to the politics of the spoiled child.