back pew baldwin

BACK PEW: The Rabbit Hole 

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

January 26, 2024

One day when I was mindlessly scrolling through some videos on my phone, a silly video purporting to be an alien encounter popped up on my screen. Against my better judgment, I watched it. 

There was literally nothing to see, but the next time I opened my phone and scrolled through some videos…they were all videos about aliens and conspiracy theories. I’d gone down the rabbit hole, and it was mind-numbing. 

The legislature went down a similar rabbit hole this week. Perhaps that’s too politely put. They didn’t just happen down that road; they chose to go down that road for a very specific purpose, which I will get to in a minute. 

This week alone, the legislature considered bills to ban books, arm teachers, teach religion in science class, legalize moonshine, lower coal taxes, raise wind taxes, and legislate kid’s bathrooms in schools. 

BAN BOOKS. A House bill would allow people to sue libraries carrying books that offend them. Following a public hearing, the bill is expected to be taken up next week. 

ARM TEACHERS. A House bill would allow teachers to carry guns in their classroom for the purpose of protection. The bill passed in the Education Committee. 

TEACH RELIGION IN SCIENCE CLASS. A Senate bill allows science teachers to discuss intelligent design and other theories in their science classes. The US Supreme Court has ruled that intelligent design is not a scientific theory, raising questions as to the constitutionality of the proposal. Despite constitutional concerns, the Senate passed the bill this week. 

LEGALIZE MOONSHINE. The House passed a bill allowing citizens over age 21 to make up to 50 gallons of moonshine per year legally at their own home. It passed in a razor sharp vote of 49-48. 

LOWER COAL TAXES. Legislators find a way to lower the coal severance tax every year. This year, the main proposal is running in the House and would allow companies to receive a $100,000 tax credit if they do road improvement projects. In total, it will save coal companies about $60 million. 

RAISE WIND TAXES. A proposed Senate bill would remove a tax break wind energy providers currently receive, raising about $6 million in taxes from wind energy companies. The companies say it’s unfair to harm them while assisting other forms of energy such as coal as they seek to provide clean energy. 

LEGISLATE KID’S BATHROOMS. A House bill mandates that kids in school can only use the bathroom listed on their birth certificate. Because…this is a problem at schools? No legislators provided evidence of any problems in bathroom usage at schools. 

THE RABBIT HOLE.  So why are our state leaders igniting the fires of the culture wars, running every controversial bill imaginable? Because these are popular issues in Republican primary elections. 

The loudest voices in the room have taken us all down the political rabbit hole. Because good politicians have learned to be responsive to them, or lose their next election. 

THE BIG QUESTION. I know folks who support these culture war bills and folks who think they’re reprehensible. Most folks just think our leaders could spend their time doing more important things. 

So the big question is: When will voters have enough of all this politics for show? When will they see the rabbit hole for what it is, a tool for winning elections? That’s up to the people.  My guess is not anytime real soon. Most elections are decided by a tiny sliver of the population, and all the rabbit hole just pushes more and more people out of the process. 

In the meantime, West Virginians will keep on looking out for their neighbors, reading books, and taking care of kids. So don’t let the rabbit hole that has become the state capitol get you down. 

We here at The Real WV will dive into the rabbit hole for you and keep you updated on developments throughout the remainder of the session. 

That is the view from the back pew. May God bless you.

Stephen Baldwin is a Presbyterian minister and the former Senate Minority Leader from Greenbrier County. He is the publisher of The Real WV.


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