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patti hamilton

Patti Hamilton

Lately, various songs have been going through my mind as they relate to decisions I have to make. All of them fall under the category of, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by The Clash, which is also an appropriate band name for the clash of feelings I have about this question and West Virginia.

For the first time in my life, I am pretty much free to “Go Where You Wanna Go” (Mamas & Papas) and do what I wanna do.

I am retired, my husband died in February, my sons are grown and on their own, my parents are gone. I am “Footloose” (Kenny Loggins). Or maybe it’s simply that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” (Janis Joplin).

My quandary comes from the feeling that I no longer fit in West Virginia, although it has been my home since I was 2 years old.

The West Virginia of my youth valued public education and I had great teachers who met the challenge of the large classrooms of the Baby Boomer generation. It was the 1960s. Coal was booming in Southern West Virginia, yet that’s where soon-to-be-President John F. Kennedy got his idea for the War on Poverty.

It was painfully clear that the wealth from coal did not stay here. People knew even then that we needed to diversify our economy; that coal wouldn’t last forever. Immigrants came here to mine coal; they were welcomed and necessary. When did we become so unwelcoming?

The West Virginia described in “Country Roads” (John Denver) doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Are we “almost Heaven” when we have a Legislature that takes vengeance on our teachers, decimates the funding of public education with the broadest educational savings voucher program in the country and attempts to make us an enemy of our own federal government if they want assistance in violations of federal gun laws (which are usually entangled with other crimes)?

Is it necessary to spend hours of legislative time on relaxing our gun laws even more, even though they are among the most lax in the country? I don’t believe that “Happiness is a Warm Gun” (The Beatles). I no longer feel safe here. Guns do not make me feel safe, and I don’t choose to carry one.

On the other hand, I have family and friends here. These are “The Ties That Bind” (Bruce Springsteen), and I do not relish the thought of “Starting Over” (John Lennon).

I have some optimism about the future. My home county of Fayette is now the home of the New River Gorge National Park, the country’s newest. Charleston, and our other urban areas in the state, could be vibrant small cities where people come to work remotely, especially if the Legislature would let our cities grow and flourish without preemptive and prohibitive legislation. Local government should be free to provide and accomplish what its citizens want.

In the end, I lean toward staying. The ties of family and friends that bind are strong. I really love our Four Seasons (OK, that’s a group, not a song). The belief that maybe I could be a spark for change — “you can’t start a fire without a spark” (Bruce Springsteen) — gives me hope and energy.

My dad, along with many other visionaries in the 1970s who could “Imagine” (John Lennon) the New River Gorge Bridge ignited change that benefited the entire state.

I will probably “Stay” (Jackson Browne), with the hope that the mean-spirited and hyperpartisan legislation has gone too far and a movement grows to take West Virginia forward into a future that our younger generations will nurture.

Tax eliminations are not a factor in my choices, but I want to see tax dollars used for the benefit of all. Almost every quality-of-life issue that keeps and attracts people requires expenditure of public funds, from education to recreation.

Although it’s tempting, I probably will not take “The Long and Winding Road” (The Beatles) to another state. “There are places I’ll remember, all my life, though some have changed; some forever, not for better ... .” (The Beatles).

We can do better.

“We are the champions, my friends, and we’ll keep on fighting til the end” (Queen).

Patti Hamilton, of Fayette County, is the former executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties.

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