Tag: Tim Armstead

The Road to Nowhere

West Virginia needs an advanced, forward-thinking legislature that can tackle the complex problems we face. Unfortunately, we have a legislature that cannot even do the basic work of maintaining our state. Virtually everyone recognizes that the condition of our roads cannot be tolerated, but the hard-right wingers in the legislature have killed the bill to fix it.

House Finance Committee takes highway improvement bill off the agenda. Chair Nelson says support not there.
— Hoppy Kercheval (@HoppyKercheval) March 8, 2016

Ideologically motivated and religiously zealous, the Republican majority in the House of Delegates has simply abdicated the most fundamental responsibility of government – maintaining the basic infrastructure our state runs on. Governor Tomblin’s blue-ribbon commission developed a plan, and Senator Plymale (D-Cabell) pushed a bill through the Senate to fund repairs to the roads. We have to get this done, but Speaker Tim Armstead’s House has blocked the revenue measures needed for the project.

Every West Virginian suffers the effects of this inexcusable conduct. We pay high auto repair bills, for one thing. But worse than that, we lose the businesses we need to build the economy. Businesses will not locate in places with inadequate transportation infrastructure. The Republicans are killing West Virginia’s chance to create jobs, by refusing to do theirs. If we want to fix this place up, we have to pay for it, but Republican Eric Nelson’s finance committee, in thrall to the hard right wing started by “taking out the major funding component in the [road] bill.” Ludicrous.

If we will not invest in our own state, why would anyone else? Out-of-state ownership of our land and mineral rights drains the budget. But in the midst of the worst budget crisis in decades, Republicans are offering up big giveaways to coal and gas corporations. These handouts ship money out of state to owners and investors on Wall Street and give nothing to struggling families here in West Virginia.

Corp execs vote highways as most important site selection factor. https://t.co/vPrn9gm4Ah https://t.co/ccE1mBswLQ
— Sean O’Leary (@OLearySW) March 8, 2016

We’re talking about the most elemental possible failure of government here: the radical right will not take care of the people who live here, or do anything to protect their interests. Instead, they are taking what little we’ve got and giving it away to sources of campaign money, and corporations that are flush compared to the average West Virginian. The only word that fairly describes what they are doing is “plunder.”

While the budget crisis played out, the legislature occupied itself with social issues that didn’t require any attention because they were covered by existing laws. Day after day of legislative time went to “guns, God, and gays,” while the roads continued to crumble, and paychecks people need to get by got ignored (except when they were lowered, as by the deplorable repeal of prevailing wage). In other words, when the Republican legislators aren’t doing their job badly, they aren’t doing it at all.

West Virginians weren’t happy with Democratic control of the legislature in 2014, and made that clear with how they voted. But the people could not have anticipated what a disaster Republican rule would be. Radical right wingers said they were “conservative,” but turned out to be destroyers and looters, grabbing all the goodies they could for their corporate backers, in their first two legislative sessions. Like other states that fell into their hands, we are being bankrupted by the right wing.

Last week, they voted down the tobacco tax bill that would have funded PEIA to protect our teachers, police and retirees. They said taxes on tobacco would drive customers away from “border shops selling cigarettes.” So this is what it has come to in West Virginia under Republican rule – we won’t build schools, so people can educate their children here. We won’t fix our roads, so commerce can thrive here.  We won’t allow our construction workers a prevailing wage, so they can support their families. There are plans being drawn to lay off state troopers and close wings of hospitals.

But at least we’ve got cheap smokes. If we don’t end this madness soon, that’s all we’ll have left.

Speak No Evil: Education by Ideologues

We all did it when we were little. No place to hide? Just cover your eyes and pretend they can’t see you if you can’t see them. Don’t like what you’re hearing? Put your fingers in your ears and yell, “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.” But children outgrow that kind of thing.

Some of them, anyway. Others live that way all their lives and unfortunately, a number of them seem to have gone into politics. Worse yet, we’ve actually elected them, and they are implementing the it’s-not-real-if-I-don’t-look-at-it theory.

A Republican bill in Charleston recently blocked the implementation of a national science curriculum because the curriculum “mention[s] climate change.” So in forty-nine states around the country, kids will learn about that, but in West Virginia, it will be against the law to mention it, because, as Delegate Jim Butler pointed out, we are “in an energy producing state.” Science is just different here. Another Republican, Frank Deem, said the curriculum “upset” him. Cover your eyes, honey.

Almost 100 years ago, the state of Tennessee put John Scopes on trial for teaching evolution. The jury convicted him, but we got the play, and film, Inherit the Wind out of it, so the $100 fine he paid was well worth it. My favorite part of the movie was the protester outside the courthouse, holding a sign that said “you can’t make a monkey out of me!”

That protester was really on to something. Monkeys are good at politics but terrible at science. People are supposed to be able to do both. So we should know that we can’t teach “our own science” for political reasons. It’s the same with other subjects. Last session, the majority wanted to dictate what parts of history students could be taught. Some politicians think they would be better served by an electorate that only knows what they want us to know.

Delegate Mike Azinger — who wants to become a Senator so he can impose religious government in West Virginia, goes even further. Not satisfied with letting us know only what he wants us to know, he’s gunning for government that prescribes what we believe. So first we cannot say what certain politicians don’t want to hear. Soon after, we have to say what they do want to hear.

The constant monkeying with our curriculum by ideologically-motivated legislators holds our students back and displays disrespect for our teachers. Re-writing our textbooks to suit the politics of an election year won’t improve our schools, or brighten the futures of our children. Success in school starts with respecting the teachers, not tying their hands with a politically-motivated curricula. Politicians should get out of our classrooms (unless they are actual, trained teachers).

One job our lawmakers are supposed to do in the education arena is pay the bills. West Virginia has tens of thousands of teachers, among other public servants, in the PEIA program that provides for their health benefits and retirement. But there is a major shortfall in the program’s finances, and it’s been another case of “speak no evil.” The legislature seems to have time to do everything but its job. There have been bills this year to allow youngsters to carry concealed pistols without a permit, bills to make English the “official language” of West Virginia, bills to authorize workplace and housing  discrimination, and loads of other nonsense.

But fixing the PEIA problem has been ignored. Raising our teachers’ pay above last place in the country hasn’t been addressed. The legislature is too busy telling teachers what to do to bother about, you know, paying them. A West Virginia teacher can get a five-to-ten-thousand-dollar raise by moving across the border into Maryland or Virginia. What’s next? A law to prevent the teaching of math, so our next generation of teachers won’t know how badly they are being treated?

One particularly nasty politician, Eric Householder of Berkeley County, told a schoolteacher facing the gutting of her retirement plans to cancel her internet service and take a second job. She already had a second job. Maybe manners and common decency need to become part of the curriculum in Charleston.

The time has come to face our real problems, and find new ways to solve them. Refusing to join the modern world, or even to learn about it, sets us back when we can least afford it. West Virginians are hurting. Meanwhile, Tim Armstead, Eric Nelson, Paul Espinosa, Butler, Deem, and the rest of the new Republican majority are proving that protester from Inherit the Wind wrong — they are making monkeys out of all of us.

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