Business. That’s the West Virginia GOP’s platform in a nutshell. We are friendly toward businesses, they say, and the other guys aren’t. This has gone from a platitude to an almost unquestioned assumption, and as the author Derrick Jensen said, as soon as people slide their assumptions past you, they’ve got you.
In actuality, the West Virginia GOP is only pro-some-business, and is in many cases, anti-business. Examples are copious. Here are a few, in no particular order:
Exhibit A) Tesla. The state Republican party is directly responsible for shutting the electric car company out of operating in the state. That’s right, the West Virginia GOP actually passed a law to prevent Tesla from opening any of their direct dealerships in the state. In what I’m sure is just a coincidence, then-senate president Bill Cole, R-Mercer, was and is — you guessed it — owner of a network of car dealerships. Crony capitalism at its finest.
But this isn’t exactly a shocker. Cole, and many like him, are the kind of guys who profess an undying love for the “free market” — that is, until someone has a better idea than they do. Then they cower behind laws concocted to make sure they don’t have to face any novel competition. This example demonstrates as well as any why there is no free market. As former Archer Midland Daniels CEO Dwayne Andreas once said, “Not one grain of anything has ever been bought or sold on a free market. The only place you will see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.”
Once companies’ pockets get deep enough to leverage power over government officials — or those government officials themselves own deep-pocketed companies and want to ensure their dominance — they apply enough legislative pressure to get the playing field tilted in such a way that it heavily favors them over the competition. Thus, the free market isn’t free in any real sense of the word. It’s a fabrication, a total myth.
Exhibit B) The Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This bill didn’t pass, thankfully, but it was pushed hard by the state GOP in 2016. At the time, it was known that Indiana’s law, upon which the West Virginia bill was modeled, had already cost that state more than $60 million in convention and tourism business. But I guess in the eyes of the West Virginia Republican Party, tens of millions of dollars would be a small price to pay to make sure that West Virginia business owners retain the right to not merely hate, but actively discriminate against LGBTQ folks.
Exhibit C) U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of West Virginia Mike Stuart’s lawsuit against a Mason County hemp farm over a technicality on where they purchase their seeds. The case was punitive, to put it mildly, and it would be naive to ignore Stuart’s bias against marijuana (even though hemp, which also comes from the cannabis plant, is not psychoactive). At the time, state agriculture commissioner Kent Leonhardt said the case could have “drastic, adverse effects on West Virginia’s and other states’ industrial hemp programs.”
Thankfully, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers tossed this case like the garbage it was. “The 2018 Spending Bill ... made it clear that Congress did not want enforcement agencies interfering with the growth, cultivating and marketing of industrial hemp and industrial hemp seeds,” Chambers wrote.
Exhibit D) Our Legislature went on a real tear this year, honing in on the truly important stuff like charter schools, making sure people can carry guns on college campuses, and making sure localities cannot pass anti-discrimination ordinances.
Let’s think about that last one. The vast majority of big companies, including practically all Fortune 500 companies, have policies that strictly prohibit any kind of discrimination against workers who identify as LGBTQ. If any such company were to consider coming to West Virginia, they would almost certainly take one look at our Legislature’s sincere attempt to prevent cities from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances and say, “Nope, no thanks, we’ll go elsewhere.”
Of course, there’s another argument to all of this, which usually goes, “Well, Democrats [or ‘liberals,’ in the vernacular] try to stall pipeline projects, push for renewable energy and the shuttering of coal-fired power plants, and demand higher water quality standards and such, and so clearly they do things that make it more difficult and expensive for businesses to operate, which makes them anti-business.”
Fine with me. Because at least Democrats are actually looking out for people — you know, the human beings who live here, and their kids and grandkids. Nine times out of 10, when Dems pursue what could be called anti-businesses policy, they do so because the business(es) in question could (and let’s be real, in most cases, almost certainly would) worsen pollution in, and the health of, a state in which both of those are plenty bad enough already.
But the GOP makes it personal. They try to hold up businesses because, like Bill Cole, they’re upset that someone had a business idea that they didn’t, and they don’t want to have to compete with that idea.
Or they push bills that could cause myriad businesses to pass our state over, just because they want to micromanage how welcoming our towns and cities are allowed to be to LGBTQ folks (which also displays the state GOP’s massive hypocrisy on the whole “give more power to localities” issue).
Or they try to stymie businesses because they’re closet Puritans who think that fun — especially fun derived from a plant that can also happen to aid in the challenging or even dissolution of one’s previously unexamined belief systems — is immoral. It’s almost comical, really — a political party that somehow thinks hard liquor and sports gambling are hallmarks of gentility and refinement, but anything even remotely associated with cannabis is evil.
The West Virginia GOP is no more pro-business than anyone else, and is often decidedly anti-business. Their endless droning on about being pro-business is a cheap, gaudy marketing trick, a catchphrase that rolls off the tongue, and thus far, it’s worked. It’s time for that to change.