How Much More Evidence of Collusion, Corruption, and Conflict of Interest Can We Take?

May 11, 2012

By Tom Stark

Parkersburg - A recent, rather bland article in the Daily Journal relates how the WV Commission on Ethics will recommend against WV House Speaker Rick Thompson taking a position as chief counsel for the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA).

The first thing that struck me about this article was it’s brevity, and it’s total lack of details as to how this came before the Ethics Commission and then it hit me even harder that this question should never even been necessary to ask.

How can any so-called “public servant” with a law degree even consider even speaking with an organization over which that public servant has regulatory influence – considerable when one knows the power of the House Speaker in controlling what bill does or does not reach the floor of the Legislature – about accepting a position representing them while still serving in the Speaker’s post?  This is unbelievable and outrageous, to say the least.

One of the claims by the Speaker is apparently that the work being performed as chief counsel for the WVEA will not involve issues that could come before the legislature.  Now if you believe that, I have about fifty acres of swamp land in Arizona that I will sell to you really cheap.  Call me!

Now, I am not an attorney.  However, 64 years of living in this world has taught me a number of useful things that include the fact that the government can always find a way of inserting itself into any labor-related issue imaginable regardless of whether or not government should do so or should be permitted to do so.  In this case, there is little doubt that with the strangle-hold that Speaker Thompson holds on the agenda of the legislature – the power of his position – he has more than enough juice to place any issue favorable to the WVEA on the agenda of any committee in the WV House of Delegates at a moment’s notice.

The final insult to the injury in having to read about this blatant conflict of interest, is the fact that the so-called Ethics Commission will, based on the source(s) quoted in the article, bring this issue forward on its April 21 agenda with the recommendation that in spite of the probability of conflicts of interest, that there is nothing that would stop the Speaker from accepting the position with the WVEA while continuing to serve as a Delegate and House Speaker.

It makes one wonder just what the meaning of ethics has become in West Virginia.  Used to be even the hint of a conflict of interest required a public official, particularly elected officials, to run the other way and decline involvement.  In this case, those principles appear to be totally lacking in both the Speaker and the Ethics Commission.

And, yes, I can just see the justifications…

All the Speaker has to do is abstain from voting on issues that present such conflicts, right?  Wrong.  What this does, in effect, is deny the voters of Wayne County of their representation in the House with regard to any such issue that involves teachers and labor-related matters.  It also does not take into account the amount of “before the vote” influence that the Speaker could bring to bear to aid in passing favorable legislation or blocking or obstructing unfavorable bills.

There is just no way that any legislator – much less a powerful individual who controls so much – should be permitted to accept employment by an outside entity whose business impacts so many taxpayers and so many lives.  It would seem, therefore, imperative that the Ethics Commission confirm this to all West Virginians by taking a far stronger position that the acceptance of that position by a sitting legislator is unacceptable in West Virginia.  The voters of Wayne County should also consider whether it is time for the arrogance of too many years in power to be answered by adding some new blood to the legislature in November.

UPDATE:  The Ethics Commission after careful deliberation (a probably a lot of angry phone calls) agreed that this conflict was too much even for West Virginia, stating in a recent statement that it is not acceptable for Speaker Thompson to be employed as the attorney for the Teachers’ Union while holding his post in the legislature.   How refreshing!  But should it have taken all these machinations to reach that conclusion.  More importantly, the very fact that Thompson believed it was acceptable is, as I said, disturbing to the core.  This is not the kind of thinking we need in Charleston.


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