Charleston Gazette-Mail. September 26, 2023.
Editorial: WV mirrors national politics to no one’s benefit
In yet another act of mirroring national politics at the state level, members of the West Virginia Legislature, controlled by a Republican supermajority, are forming a “freedom caucus,” for the apparent purpose of moving state politics to an even harder right.
Why West Virginia needs a freedom caucus isn’t exactly evident, other than that one exists in the U.S. House of Representatives, comprised of members such as Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who have no compunction about friendly fire or making themselves and their party look like a bunch of clowns. In fact, former Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows has been indicted in the criminal conspiracy case in Georgia over alleged illegal efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The stated purpose for such a caucus in West Virginia, which already has about 30 members in the state House and Senate, is intentionally vague, centering around action phrases like protecting “personal freedoms.”
It’s not surprising that such a group would emerge in West Virginia. Friction between more traditional Republicans and cultish MAGA types in the Legislature has been building for a while. If you throw enough red meat out there over a long enough period of time to score points or get votes, eventually those who actually want to pursue the red-meat issues and don’t care about much else are going to find themselves in office.
If you don’t keep feeding them once they’re in the Legislature, they’re going to get frustrated. The state saw some of this play out last summer, when members of the Legislature threatened to run for leadership positions against House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and Senate Majority Leader Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. The announcements came after a special session failed to produce a law banning abortion.
So, Hanshaw and Blair did what they had to do to make the more rabid wing of the West Virginia GOP happy, calling another special session and quickly passing a law that bans abortion in almost all circumstances, even though most West Virginians were against it or thought it went too far. What constituents want is pretty far down the list of concerns anyway, as this Legislature has shown time and again, but that’s especially true when there’s a power struggle.
In the moment, it’s hard to imagine what more far-right lawmakers in West Virginia could want. In recent years, the Legislature has enacted a transgender sports ban, cut income and personal property taxes, virtually outlawed abortion, made it legal to carry concealed firearms on public university campuses, and taken a machete to funding for public schools and higher education, to name but a few things.
Rest assured, this “freedom caucus” will come up with something. Don’t act surprised when it has little to do with “personal freedoms” or improving life in West Virginia in any meaningful way.
The Herald-Dispatch. September 23, 2023.
Editorial: Problem of dilapidated buildings must be addressed statewide
The problem of vacant and dilapidated buildings in West Virginia is not a new one, and it has many causes. In some places, the population is falling faster than old buildings can be removed. In some cases, the former owners have died and the property is tied up among too many heirs for a quick resolution. And some people are either unable or unwilling to maintain or demolish a vacant property.
The question surfaced again at a recent meeting of the Williamson City Council. Two city residents asked about the city’s process of dealing with dilapidated buildings, beautification of residences and squatters within city limits.
Mayor Charlie Hatfield and Williamson Fire Chief Joey Carey said measures have been taken and are continuing to be taken against crime in the area and to keep the area safe.
“The houses that are dilapidated, falling in, roofs collapsed, the eyesores are what Chief Joey and I are talking about. We are getting that money, hopefully next month or November, to tear them down. We have to follow the rules of what dilapidation is, and that’s what we will take care of,” Hatfield said.
It took Huntington a while to get its land bank program going to where it can take possession of dilapidated properties, tear them down and then offer them for sale. It was a complicated process that needed to be streamlined. But the program has resulted in a number of dangerous properties being removed.
Vacant buildings are magnets for homeless people seeking shelter and for others. Few people want to move into an area that has dilapidated buildings or invest in them, so the problem feeds on itself. It’s not an easy one to address, as public safety concerns must be weighed against the rights of property owners.
Last year, state officials began a program modeled after Huntington’s. Senate bills 552 and 722, passed in the 2022 legislative session, overhauled the tax sale process and funded the dilapidated buildings initiative pilot project with $10 million to tear down abandoned and neglected housing statewide.
And it’s not just a problem in cities and towns. Rural areas, too, have the same challenge. It’s a large problem that will take time to resolve. In some communities it may get worse before it gets better, but the challenge is being dealt with. If more changes need to be made to state laws regarding these properties, legislators should address them in the next session, but it will be up to local officials and residents to keep the pressure on the Legislature to do what’s right and what’s necessary to prevent this problem from getting worse.
The Intelligencer. September 27, 2023.
Editorial: Lighten Trash Load at W.Va. State Parks
While we are proud of our state parks and get much out of them — recreation, relaxation, peace and quiet, and the economic boost that comes from other visitors — Mountain State residents don’t often think about ways in which we can give back to our parks.
This weekend presents an opportunity.
Saturday will be the first Tread Lightly! Day WV, in 10 state parks, including Tomlinson Run in Hancock County. The others are Bluestone, Cacapon Resort, Canaan Valley Resort, Cedar Creek, Chief Logan, North Bend, Tu-Endie-Wei, Twin Falls Resort and Tygart Lake.
“West Virginia’s natural beauty is a treasure that belongs to us all and Tread Lightly! Day WV is an opportunity for us to come together and show our commitment to preserving these lands for future generations,” said Brett McMillion, director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Participation is simple. Pack out one bag of trash on that day and dispose of it properly. Organizers will estimate the amount of trash picked up via use of the social media hashtag #WVTLDAY. It is sad to think simply picking up one bag of trash and disposing of it properly will be a novel event in the parks. Too many must be treating our woods like dumpsters.
“With tourism booming, a lot of people are coming to West Virginia and we want to set an example for how to take care of our public lands,” said Jerry Bain, chairman of the Country Roads Coalition. “If people visiting our state know that we work this hard to take care of our public lands, they will respect it too and it will make more people want to come to West Virginia because they will see that we are stewarding something truly special here.”
Here’s hoping, anyway. But the bottom line is those who care about the parks should seize the opportunity to do a little more for them Saturday. The event is a chance to lighten the load left by others. Let’s make it happen.