Who Do You Think You Are?

January 4, 2014

By: Rob Jones
I love the Great State of West Virginia. Who doesn’t? We have everything we could want, need, or desire, right here. If you hunt or fish, we have that! If you like to hike, we have that! Do you enjoy photography? Zoom in around you! Do you like the faster pace of city life? We have it! Do you prefer the laid back, easy going country life style? We have that! As West Virginians, we tend to be a pretty simple people. I am, by no means, saying that we’re dumb! We are far from that! What I mean is, we tend to prefer a more simple life. Most of us don’t want or need very extravagant things. We have nice homes, decent jobs, great families, and the best friends and neighbors you could ever want. Simple… Easy going… Laid back…
As far back as most can remember, West Virginia has helped carry the Democratic torch. 95% of municipal, county, and state governments have been held by Democrats. Oh sure, you have your occasional Republican sneak in, but they are the exception, not the rule. But with most rules, they are made to be broken. Over approximately the last ten years, West Virginia has been slowly changing and evolving. West Virginians have grown ever more frustrated and angry with the Washington machine, that seems to roll right over the very things that we West Virginians hold near and dear. The biggest issues to date, seem to be: The West Virginia coal industry, religion, and gun control.
West Virginia has a very proud history of coal mining. The coal industry has provided great jobs and great pay for our hard working men and women, for decades. That same coal industry has given our state some great side benefits too. The State of West Virginia has enjoyed a thriving economy, lower than normal crime rates, and light substance abuse. As the federal government has tightened up regulations, in their bid to ruin the coal industry, that has had negative effects elsewhere. Our economy is not doing so hot, our crime rates have steadily increased, and our substance abuse has climbed higher and higher. (Crime and substance abuse go hand in hand)
What’s happening in West Virginia runs against the tide nationally, and even more, against the pull of its own history. West Virginia exists as a state because it broke away from Virginia in 1863 and refused to join the confederacy. From Franklin D. Roosevelt’s era until the 2000 election, it was among the most reliably Democratic states, one of only six that Jimmy Carter carried in 1980, and 10 that Michael S. Dukakis won in 1988. But in the past decade or so, West Virginia has realigned politically with the Deep South, at least in presidential elections. Between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, a time when voters were trending strongly Democratic in other parts of the nation, 366 of official Appalachia’s 410 counties increased their Republican share of presidential votes.
In 2012, that trendline cut more deeply. Obama lost the seven West Virginia counties he had carried in 2008. It marked the first time that a major party’s presidential candidate suffered a 55-county shutout. Former WV Governor Joe Manchin said, “People haven’t changed here. People are still the same, but I’ve never seen more people pushed away from their traditional Democratic roots or their voting habits than in the last six or seven years.” Manchin has put that fraying bond to the test, having sponsored gun-control legislation that failed in the Senate this year. Next year’s elections could mark a historic hinge in West Virginia politics. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D), a traditional liberal forged by the Great Society, has announced that he will not run for a sixth term. His most likely successor is Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the daughter of a three-term governor, who would be the first Republican that West Virginia elected to the Senate since 1956. Although Capito is considered a heavy favorite, Democrats came up with a strong contender when Secretary of State Natalie Tennant formally entered the race. Meanwhile, Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, an 18-term congressman and the last surviving Democrat in the state’s House delegation, is facing what many expect to be his most difficult reelection contest.
Rahall has emphasized his differences with the Democratic president over coal, abortion, guns, same-sex marriage and immigration. But he said that the national party’s stances are a growing liability for Democrats here, and asked, “How many more red flags do I have to have on my back?” A turning point also may be ahead for the state legislature, where Republicans picked up 11 House seats in 2012 and need just five more to win a majority. It they can do so, it would be the first time they have run either chamber since 1932. “I remember the Senate when there was only one Republican, who was by definition the minority leader,” Rockefeller said. Now, 10 of 34 state senators are. A big Republican year up and down the ballot would be proof that West Virginia’s political DNA has been altered. Manchin went on to say, “This 2014 election will be something to watch in West Virginia. Generation after generation, they voted Democratic because their daddy did and their granddad. That will be broken. You can see that breaking now. You have to earn people’s votes.” That is, if they even show up to vote. Last year, West Virginia was the only state where turnout was lower than 50 percent. Among the young, it dropped by half from 2008, to less than 23 percent.
I wrote an earlier column, covering the 2014 Senate race, as I see it. Capito is looked at as the strongest contender, but she has a questionable record of votes that have supported President Obama’s socialist leanings. I’ve also written about the alienation of West Virginia that has, and is still being perpetrated, by Joe Manchin, who has, for all intent, turned into an Obama puppet. Manchin has voted in support of Obamacare and gun control, and has had questionable votes on aspects of the very coal industry that his home State and People and need! Manchin’s job is on the line too, make no mistake about that!
In this state, voter disillusionment does not stem from the big-vs.-small-government debate that rages in Washington. Nor has the tea party movement taken root here to the degree it has elsewhere. West Virginians “don’t have to like government, but they really need it,” said Rockefeller, the Standard Oil Co. founder’s great-grandson who came to Kanawha and Boone counties as a VISTA volunteer in 1964. As a people, our self-reliance is a source of pride; the state’s official motto is “Mountaineers are always free.” But with a population that is older, sicker and poorer than most, West Virginia also depends more on government checks than any other state. Nearly 27 percent of West Virginia’s personal income derives from transfer payments, including retirement, disability, medical, unemployment and welfare benefits, according to statistics compiled by Timothy Parker of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service. (Mississippi ranks second, at 25 percent.)
The state has become an extreme example of the hostility that shows up in every national poll when people are asked how they feel about the federal government. Fifty-three years after presidential candidate John F. Kennedy spoke on the steps of the Wyoming County courthouse in Pineville, another display appeared there: a monument bearing the Ten Commandments. The day after Kennedy was inaugurated, he fulfilled a campaign promise made in West Virginia to use his first executive order to begin the food stamp program. Its first vouchers went to a laid-off miner and his wife from Paynesville, who had 13 children still living at home. Almost one in five West Virginians receives food stamps today. Everywhere are reminders of how much West Virginia relies on Washington, and how much Washington has tried to do for West Virginia. One cannot go far without seeing a building or driving on a road named for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D), the most influential West Virginian ever. “One man’s pork is another man’s job. Pork has been good investment in West Virginia,” said Byrd, “You can look around and see what I’ve done.”
As Pineville’s defiant display of the Ten Commandments suggests, cultural issues are one reason conservative West Virginians feel so estranged from Washington. The monument went up the week that the U.S. Supreme Court made two landmark rulings that strengthen the cause of same-sex marriage.
Manchin’s gun proposal also has been a hot topic. Mike Caputo (D), majority whip of the House of Delegates, said he got into a debate about it at a recent picnic. One of his neighbors, a 90-year-old woman, told him, “Joe’s after my guns.” Obama and his party say that racism has played a large role in the changing political dynamic of a state where 94 percent of the population is white. Here as elsewhere, people traffic in false rumors that the nation’s first black president is a Muslim and that he was born in Africa. But even assuming prejudice roils beneath the surface, it cannot explain the tectonic shift in West Virginia’s political allegiances. Race was not a reason voters rejected Democratic presidential candidates in 2000 and 2004, or why Obama’s Election Day total slid seven percentage points from 2008 to 2012.
The State of West Virginia is unique and diverse. Her people are strong, loyal, and independent. We don’t want, nor will we ask for government to hold our hands. “If it’s broke, people around here fix it themselves”, is a common saying. The truth is, our elected officials, from City Councilmen/women, through Country Commissioners, on to State Delegates, and including the Governor, had better take heed. We the people, of West Virginia, are fed up, disgusted, and angry. Our elected officials, who have ignored, back stabbed, and betrayed our people, our culture, our very way of life, are on slippery slopes. The commonality that appears to be missing is the “I serve the people” mentality. Being a public servant is not a bad calling. Our elected officials need to re-learn that they, in fact, work for us. We do not work for them. They don’t tell us. We tell them and they represent us. God Bless You! God Bless West Virginia! God Bless America!


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