Theories about ‘How we got this way' are plentiful - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Theories about ‘How we got this way' are plentiful

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Talk to anyone who thinks a lot about state government and he will offer his view of how, over 150 years, West Virginia got the way it is today.

We asked a variety of leaders for their theories and offered them the opportunity to speak anonymously so their replies would be candid.

Some theories we heard, in no particular order:

 

  • We started at a disadvantage, as the government in Richmond (Va.) had long ignored our infrastructure needs. Our rugged mountains isolated us and our roads were inadequate. The federal government paid attention to Western Virginia during the Civil War but afterwards its attention turned elsewhere.
  • Over time other states attracted federal agencies' operations and used them as economic anchors to help diversify their economies. West Virginia didn't focus on this until the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd began working in the 1980s to attract federal facilities to West Virginia like the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division and the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of the Public Debt. 
  • Following the mechanization of the coal industry in the 1970s and the recession of the early 1980s, West Virginia was left with an old population. The elderly had the votes and state government turned inward, focusing on serving the voters so the elected would get re-elected. 
  • We're caught up in Appalachian fatalism — the feeling that we're inferior and that there is little hope. We've come to believe that when there is change, it is going to be bad. 
  • n We had a one-party system for so long that over the years a lot of issues and challenges were not thoroughly examined and debated. 
  • Everyone else in West Virginia thinks the Eastern Panhandle has everything it needs. Panhandle residents need to serve on state boards and commissions and interact with others from around the state to let the Eastern Panhandle's needs be known. 
  • Some municipalities chase businesses out of town. Beckley does not have a single new car dealership because of the city's business and occupation tax. 
  • The Legislature fails to take on the big issues. Instead it spends lots of time on little issues, which leads to over-regulation. We're the only state that regulates health-care costs; requires approval of people to serve on boards of nonprofit health care entities; and requires hospitals to abide by the Freedom of Information Act. However, we are moving in the right direction. The November announcement that the Brazilian company Odebrecht is interested in building an ethane cracker in Wood County is a good sign. The Legislature passed workers' compensation reform, malpractice reform and lowered some taxes. We just haven't gone far enough. 
  • The governor controls so much. Committee chairs in the Legislature can stop anything. There are only about eight key people in the state. 
  • Our current education system isn't working. If we don't improve the parents, the schools will never improve. Show me a good school system's test scores and I'll show you good parents that are making it happen. We have a real social breakdown of the family. It is in a death spiral and no one will address the issue. 
  • All of the municipalities have problems with dilapidated housing. Municipalities need autonomy so each community can deal with it in their own way. Home rule is a wonderful step in that direction.