Charleston Gazette-Mail. September 18, 2022. ‘
Editorial: Thank God for Mississippi
“Thank God for Mississippi” is a phrase, heavy with sarcasm, that is commonly recognized among West Virginians.
It’s mostly used when any kind of nationwide statistics or rankings are released regarding economic development, infrastructure, education, physical and mental health, quality of life and/or poverty, among other measures of prosperity. If West Virginia isn’t dead last in any category, it’s usually because Mississippi has managed to remain slightly worse.
Both states also have a thorny history when it comes to government officials or agencies blatantly refusing to do what’s best for the people as those in power find ways to line their own pockets.
Mississippi is one-upping West Virginia yet again on the race to the bottom in this arena, with what some have called the largest fraud case in the state’s history — and part of it involves Brett Favre, the Hall of Fame NFL quarterback who played college football at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Favre allegedly worked with former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and nonprofit manager Nancy New, among others, to divert $5 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds intended for the poor to the construction of a new volleyball stadium at Southern Miss (where Favre’s daughter plays for the Golden Eagles). If the “TANF” acronym sounds familiar, it might be because conservative legislators and members of Congress have pursued policies to drug test recipients they believe are somehow scamming the system. Hopefully, no one will drown in that heaping bowl of irony.
Favre isn’t part of the criminal case of the misuse of more than $77 million in grant funds in Mississippi (New has already pleaded guilty to 13 felonies). Favre is not a part of a civil case centered on the matter, either. Reports of his involvement to help scam money for the stadium have been floating around prior to this year.
But the story is gaining more attention now because text exchanges between Favre and New, entered into court records this week, appear to demonstrate the former quarterback was very aware of the unethical, if not potentially illegal, implications of New’s nonprofit paying him $1.1 million for doing publicity. According to news reports, this deal was a kind of false front used to justify giving Favre the money, which he would funnel back to Southern Miss to finish the stadium. At the time, $4 million had already been diverted to the project, but it was apparently getting trickier to keep federal money that expressly couldn’t be used for capital projects flowing without suspicion.
“If you were to pay me, is there any way the media could find out how much and where it came from?” Favre texted to New.
Well, Favre has his answer. Known during his playing career for his reckless decisions, Favre is perhaps the only retired football player and member of the NFL Hall of Fame still throwing interceptions on a national stage.
The story pops because of Favre’s name, status and hypocrisy, given his recent forays into conservative punditry. It also just looks bad that a millionaire, retired and revered athlete would go along with an elaborate scheme to defraud those in need in such a poverty-stricken state to build a volleyball stadium for his daughter. Favre could’ve just ponied up the cash himself or pursued other, legitimate ways to raise the funds. Favre has reportedly paid back some or even all of the $1.1 million.
As it pertains to the lawsuit and the scandal as a whole, the texts are more significant because they mention former Gov. Bryant and seem to indicate he was a facilitator and willful participant in the scheme. Bryant has denied he had anything to do with it, but texts show Bryant allegedly discussing the project with Favre.
Of course, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has been accused of using his position for all kinds of self-dealing while refusing to abide by government rules and norms. His process and lack of transparency in allocating federal aid in response to COVID-19 has produced some side glances. But, as far as we know at the moment, he’s never directly raided welfare funds for a pet project.
So even Justice can look at this scandal down south and say, with every other West Virginian, “Thank God for Mississippi.”
The Intelligencer. September 21, 2022.
Editorial: West Virginia has so much to offer
It appears roads all over the country are leading to West Virginia, as tourists continue to visit the state at an increasing rate.
In fact, new numbers show travelers spent more than $4.9 billion in the Mountain State in 2021, a 3.8% increase over 2019 — before the pandemic struck.
Research compiled by Dean Runyan and Associates for its 2021 Travel Impact study shows that nationally, tourism spending is still down approximately 27% from 2019.
“Our industry didn’t just erase the impact of COVID-19, we actually did better last year than we were doing before the pandemic,” said West Virginia Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby.
“Thanks to the overwhelming support from the governor, the determination and grit of our incredible industry and our state being perfectly positioned with wide open spaces, we’ve been able to thrive in spite of the challenges the past few years have brought.”
Projections for 2022 show we might soar past $5 billion in travel spending, for the first time.
For 2021, data showed each of the state’s nine travel regions showed growth.
Imagine what we could do if we didn’t have so many elected officials bending over backward to make national news that tends to give folks second thoughts about visiting.
But despite that challenge, it seems there are wild and wonderful things ahead for the travel and tourism industry here.
Ruby is right.
With as much as we have to offer, the only real question is why it has taken visitors so long to discover us.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel. September 16, 2022.
Editorial: Mental Health: Community must make difference for students
When Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced earlier this week that more than $5.7 million in U.S. Department of Education funding was coming to West Virginia to support school-based mental health services, it was good news, indeed.
Our schools are asked to do far more than teachers and administrators were asked several years ago. And as mental health challenges have only increased for students, it is important schools have the resources they need to help address that, too.
“Safe and healthy learning environments are essential for our youth in West Virginia as they grow and progress through their educational journey,” Capito said. “I know how important this is to our children and their families, which is why I voted in favor of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in the Senate. I will always stand up for our children in West Virginia, and make sure resources are available to provide the support they need to be successful.”
Wonderful. But resources mean nothing without improvement on two fronts. First, we owe it to our children to be doing everything we can to address the economic and socio-cultural woes that continue to contribute to their mental health struggles. And second, we must erase the stigma associated with taking care of our mental health — for all of us.
Every last one of us must be on board in turning around the backward and damaging attitude too many have toward mental health. A school counselor or nurse cannot be on an island trying to help kids while surrounded by adults who are at best ignoring the problem and at worst contributing to it.
Bravo, to those who continue to work to get schools the resources they need to support our kids’ mental health. Now it’s up to the rest of us to make sure those resources are able to make a difference.