By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
January 26, 2023
Someone once told me, “Everything is political. Except politics, and it’s personal.” Truer words were never spoken.
The increasingly-visible drama unfolding under the golden dome right now can be boiled down into those two categories–political and personal.
POLITICAL. Here’s the dirty little secret most everyone in the capitol will deny: Not all bills are intended to solve problems. Many are written by lobbyists and political partisans for the purpose of creating a political contrast. I am referring to the sensational bills we hear about in the news all the time–banning books, arming teachers, reinstating the death penalty, and (the big boogeyman these days) transgender rights. Those are just a few examples.
These bills achieve more politically than they do practically. That’s the whole idea. Legislative leaders put them up for a vote to appease their donors, supporters, and members.
A few “true believers” under the dome support the policies contained in those bills, but most support them strictly for political purposes. They want to win elections, be in power, and stay there. In other words, politics. At its worst.
PERSONAL. Sometimes, it goes beyond politics and becomes personal. Like right now. While the governor, legislative leaders, and constitutional officers are all in the same party, they are not on the same page. They played nice in the sandbox for the good of the party the last few years, but no more. Many are using their current office to campaign for higher office, which puts them in competition with one another. They are using today’s policy debates on major issues as a political contrast with each other. Let me be more specific.
INCOME TAXES. The income tax cut debate isn’t really about income tax cuts. It’s about Governor Justice versus Senate Republicans. House Republicans are happy to let it play out that way, because they were in a fight with Governor Justice two years ago over…income taxes. The Senate Republicans made them the bad guys then, so why would the House help now? The House Republicans got to vote for a huge tax cut, which they will brag to constituents about, knowing their vote meant nothing in its own.
Each group–the governor, House Republicans, and Senate Republicans–will try and one-up the others for the next few weeks. The governor will hit the road to rally support. The Senate will work to gather legislative support for their plan. Then one of two things will happen. Tax relief will fail once again, or the House and Senate will go over the governor’s head and reach their own agreement.
While the governor won the amendment debate last fall by rallying popular support, that won’t work now. The people don’t have a vote. Only legislators do. Very few Pat attention to what’s happening during legislative session anymore, because it’s so disheartening. That leaves legislators the space to do what they want, how they want, and pick up the pieces politically later.
EMERGENCY POWERS. Similarly, the emergency powers debate isn’t really a policy question. It’s a personal conflict between Governor Justice and Republican legislators, who feel the governor had too much power during COVID. You might remember that House Republicans tried to restrict his emergency powers back in 2021. They failed, because the Senate stood with the governor. After Governor Justice opposed Amendment Two and it was defeated (something Senate Republicans worked hard to support), Senate Republicans decided to take the gloves off and hit the governor where it hurt–restricting his emergency powers. Another example of politics that has become personal.
DHHR. Same story here. Republican legislators want to split up the executive agency in three parts. They plan to get “their people” into a new leadership structure so they can control the agency. The governor prefers to keep it whole and make his own decisions about a large agency that reports to him. It’s not a political disagreement; it’s a personal one.
WHAT’S NEXT. Where do we go from here, with 44 days left in the legislative session? Well, West Virginians love a mud bog. I predict a big ol’ messy mud bog is just around the bend. But this one isn’t for entertainment; this one could have repercussions lasting decades.
An income tax cut would cost $1.3 billion. DHHR works with tens of thousands of vulnerable children and adults each day. Natural disasters occur dozens of times per year in West Virginia. Let us pray that reason prevails and we aren’t all dragged into the mud of political battles that have become personal to our leaders.
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That is the view from the back pew. May God bless you.