Over the weekend, a report from The Associated Press noted that West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, were locked in battle to prove who is more beloved by the Trump administration.
It is one of the more odd elements of the recent chaos surrounding Justice’s campaign for re-election and his clashing with Carmichael over the “Student Success Act,” a massive and controversial education reform bill that has been the main topic of the ongoing special legislative session.
At a recent campaign event, the governor said President Donald Trump is only interested in West Virginia because of him, and, were anyone else to hold the state’s top office, the president would no longer have any reason to provide federal help to state initiatives. He later released a statement saying he and Trump are “bound at the hip.”
Carmichael, meanwhile, has latched on to a tweet from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos touting state legislation that would provide public money for charter schools and education savings accounts. Justice has claimed DeVos got ahead of herself by making the remark, and that Trump doesn’t endorse his education secretary’s opinion.
It’s been a lot to take in, but it shows us that both leaders are missing the broader point, which is whether the legislation is good for West Virginia education. Of course, both have made the argument that it is or isn’t, but the fixation on the administration’s opinion is discouraging.
As for the legislation itself, there is so much in the bills that came out of the Senate’s special session that it’s impossible to label it uniformly. Some aspects, like teacher pay raises, are good. Some, like not putting a cap on charter schools and a vengeful allowance to punish public school employees for striking, are bad.
The only thing that is universal here is that the bill is too big, and the issues should all be looked at separately. Trying to reach a compromise on one issue will sink all of the rest. It’s the same problem that dogged virtually identical legislation back in the regular session.
It’s easy to see why Justice and Carmichael would want to present their stance as Trump-approved. The president won by a huge margin in West Virginia in 2016.
But, while teacher unions are more politically aligned with the Democratic Party, public school teachers, parents and students are of all political stripes, and a majority are unified in their disdain for the bill and GOP leadership’s refusal to listen to them.
Maybe charter schools, in a more limited capacity, could be beneficial to West Virginia children. But that isn’t why Justice or Carmichael would or wouldn’t support them. It’s more evident than ever that this entire argument is about political influence and securing power.
Both should tread carefully. Justice should know no one is attached to Trump’s hip. The president’s “friends” are frequently discarded in the name of political expediency. The insistence that the president is only interested in the state because of Justice, while disturbingly egocentric, could be true, but who wants the help of a president or a governor who thinks that way? DeVos, meanwhile, is a certified proponent of privatizing public education, but Trump could turn on her on a whim, leaving Carmichael out in the cold (In fact, Trump tweeted Monday that he supported “Big Jim” and West Virginia schools, although the latter was mentioned vaguely enough to leave some wiggle room).
We’d urge both Justice and Carmichael to disregard what the Trump administration or outside conservative groups think of education in West Virginia. After all, isn’t outsider influence bad? Or is that argument only valid if the issue in question cuts against the grain of the GOP manual?