Charleston Gazette-Mail. August 11, 2023.
Editorial: History-making Hornbuckle strong choice for Dems
West Virginia Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, knows a thing or two about being in the minority.
History was made this week when Hornbuckle was named minority leader for the Democrats in the House of Delegates, becoming the first Black House floor leader in state history. He replaces Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, who announced last week that he would step down from his leadership role at the end of the August interim legislative session Tuesday, while continuing to serve as a delegate (Skaff is president of HD Media, which publishes the Gazette-Mail).
While Hornbuckle is making history, he’s also taking over leadership of a caucus facing historic challenges. Republicans took control of the Legislature after 83 years of Democratic dominance in 2014 — the year Hornbuckle was first elected — and the GOP now holds a supermajority in the House and the Senate. Hornbuckle is one of only 11 Democrats in the House of Delegates. Republicans control the other 89 seats.
Numbers have never really deterred Hornbuckle from pursuing what he thinks is right or best for his constituents and the state. In 2015, his first legislative session, Hornbuckle was one of only nine members of the House to vote against a bill making judicial races in West Virginia nonpartisan. While everyone was on board with taking partisan labels out of judicial elections, Hornbuckle noted at the time that the bill didn’t fix the real problem of financial influence from partisan backers in judicial races. An amendment to the bill that would’ve limited contributions and spending in such elections was rejected. Without that, Hornbuckle saw the bill as a meaningless gesture.
It takes some fortitude to go against such a popular, bipartisan piece of legislation for a nuanced reason, especially in a delegate’s first session.
For what it’s worth, Hornbuckle called it correctly. The bill passed and West Virginia judicial races have been nonpartisan since 2016, but there’s still plenty of money poured into judicial elections, and candidates are framed not by their qualifications as it relates to following the law but where they stand ideologically, which inevitably falls into one of two camps, even if party names are never mentioned.
Ever since that first session, Hornbuckle has stuck to his guns and, like several of his fellow Democrats, supported ideas based on what they accomplish. Democrats have had many pieces of legislation co-opted by Republicans and passed through the House. If it’s good policy, Hornbuckle has never been one to care who gets the credit. Having a good idea and letting the majority copy it is one of the few ways to be effective when you’re literally outnumbered nearly 10 to 1.
If the Democrats are going to shift those numbers in any meaningful way, Hornbuckle is the delegate to help do it. Perhaps, he can help captain a historic comeback.
Herald-Dispatch. August 12, 2023.
Editorial: WV may have waited one day too long to act on regional jail problems
Maybe it was a coincidence that the same day a lawsuit was filed in federal court seeking changes in West Virginia’s regional jail system, legislators ended a year of dithering and decided to fund overdue improvements to that system.
Or maybe not. Either way, what we know is that correction officers and others are about to receive bonuses and long-awaited improvements to their pay scales. But now federal courts could become involved in that process, which complicates matters for state officials.
In a special session this week, legislators approved more than $21 million in pay increases and bonuses for corrections officers and other employees in the state’s corrections system. The action came a year — a year — after Justice publicly recognized the problem by declaring a state of emergency. But Justice and legislators decided to not do anything until they saw how much money was left over at the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year. In other words, it wasn’t a priority.
As the Legislature approved the appropriation, a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia seeking a judge’s order requiring the state to correct inhumane conditions in the regional jail system.
The system of 10 regional jails operated by the state replaced the 55 former county jails that were built before newer standards rendered them obsolete. In the 1980s, a federal court found conditions in the former Cabell Cabell County jail to be so atrocious that it placed the jail under court receivership until the problems were addressed.
Deficiencies in the regional jail system are a longstanding problem, but politically speaking they are easy to overlook. Most measures have been temporary fixes that tend to become permanent, such as using members of the National Guard to fill in for correctional officers who leave and aren’t replaced because few people want that job at the low rate of pay that is offered.
One problem with the jail system is that jail inmates don’t have a political base the way some constituencies do. Who was the last politician to campaign on a platform of bringing regional jails into compliance with modern standards, or paying corrections officers enough so that hiring and retention would not be a problem any more?
In many cases, you get what you pay for. These past few years, the governor and the Legislature have had other priorities. Now that a federal court is involved, things may change in ways the governor and legislators cannot control.
The Intelligencer. August 15, 2023.
Editorial: Green New Day for W.Va. Buses
Even the greenest of intentions do little good without data to back up whether a project is both efficient and effective. That is why a recent report is so important for West Virginia schools.
According to results of a report announced at the School Transportation News Expo, GreenPower Motor Co.’s electric school bus pilot project was generally a success. WCHS reported the pilot project demonstrated some weakness in charging infrastructure in the 18 school districts that participated in the pilot project. But Boone County, for example, saved approximately $200 a month using one of the buses.
“Normally diesel fuel alone for that bus would be $900 a month,” GreenPower Vice President of Business Development and Strategy Mark Nestlen said. “So, there’s a significant savings that they saw in the proof of that pilot project.”
One bus driver told WCHS he had been a doubter, before the project began. Now, he believes the buses are capable of doing the job on West Virginia’s twisty, turny hills. However, experience here in Ohio County with at least one run was less-than-stellar, as the bus nearly ran out of charge.
The state has bought 41 of the GreenPower school buses, with a decision on distribution to be made later. As EV charging infrastructure is strengthened in the Mountain State, some counties will likely be seeking out these buses. Local officials just need to ensure they’re using them for the right runs.