Monday, October 23, 2006

Let's really make West Virginia "Open for Business" by putting our state "Under New Management"

In January, Governor Joe Manchin began his campaign to make West Virginia open for business by erecting new "West Virginia: Open for Business" welcome signs along our highways at the state line.

Most West Virginians are not pleased, preferring a return to the "Wild, Wonderful West Virginia" that has prevailed since Arch Moore was Governor. An online petition for reverting to the old signs currently has over 20,000 signatures and triggered a phone call from the governor to the petition's sponsor, fellow WVU student Logan Wheatcraft, presumably an attempt to persuade him to drop his effort.

A road sign proclaiming West Virginia to be open for business will not change the fact that West Virginia is not open for business. Forbes magazine just rated West Virginia 49th (meaning next to last for those of you in Rio Linda) in its annual ranking of "The Best States for Business." Neighboring Virginia, which does not need road signs to tell incoming motorists they're open for business, is number one.

In just over two weeks, West Virginians can turn "West Virginia: Open for Business" from an empty slogan on road signs too visually cluttered to read while driving at highway speeds to reality by putting the West Virginia Legislature under new management and unseating a corrupt congressman whose efforts to bring federal funds to northern West Virginia have predominately benefited a network of 5 nonprofit organizations established by this congressman, whose officers and directors are longtime friends, associates, and real estate investment partners of the congressman.

Lest you think I've been drinking too much of the GOP Kool-Aid, I predict most West Virginians love our Big Daddy (see post below from Oct. 19 click here to open video of speech in new window click here for Raese radio ad) enough to reelect him by almost a party-line vote. Thanks to his new TV ads featuring Governor Manchin, Joe's MoJo should rub off enough to guarantee an easy ride, paving the way for John Raese to follow in the steps of two-time losing North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Erskine "Irksome" Bowles and seek the open presidency of West Virginia University. Our next best hope for new blood in our U.S. Senate delegation lies with SMC '08.

The people of northern West Virginia should elect Chris Wakim to Congress. Incumbent Congressman Alan Mollohan is neck-deep in scandal surrounding shady land deals in which he partnered with and/or received loans from the officers and directors of several nonprofit organizations to which he has steered over $250 million of federal earmarks over the last 5 years and filed false personal financial disclosure statements with the House of Representatives. In that time, Mollohan's net worth has skyrocketed from just a few hundred thousand dollars in 2000 to between $6 million and $11 million today. Dividing the increase in his net worth by the total amount of earmarks to these organizations shows that Mollohan's net worth has climbed by an amount equal to almost 4% of the total earmarks. Longtime West Virginia political observers may see some significance in that figure.

Polling shows this to be a very tight race, with both candidates now in the 40s. Wakim has recently pulled ahead of Mollohan in cash on hand, although that may change as Mollohan just sold a piece of property in Tucker County on which he made a profit of almost $250,000. The TV ad war has been intense, with both candidates calling each other crooked liars. Wakim has hit Mollohan hard on the earmarks and Mollohan, seeming to forget his party's joinder at the hip with gambling interests, has attacked Wakim over his operation of "gray" poker machines at his bar before video poker was legalized in 2001.

Now, we get to the races that promise us our best opportunity to bring real, meaningful, positive change to our state: the races for the state Senate and House of Delegates. Seventeen of the 34 state senators and all 100 delegates will be elected in two weeks. With enough exceptions to count on one hand, the Ruling Party has consistently supported policies that have held West Virginia back and run counter to the values of most West Virginians.

Whether the issue is eliminating the abominable tax on food, closing loopholes in our laws that let minor girls have secret abortions without notifying their parents or let convicted drunk drivers keep their driver's licenses, following the lead of more than 20 other states and amending our state constitution to prevent activist judges in the future from redefining marriage a la Massachusetts, or protecting women and children from sexual predators, the Ruling Party has been wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong (until they flip-flopped for a change).

Ruling Party leaders like retiring House Speaker Bob Kiss caterwaul about needing to reduce business taxes first, yet never allow any legislation to reduce job-killing taxes like our business franchise tax or high corporate income taxes to see the light of day. As I pointed our in several columns last year (see sidebar to the right), the Ruling Party's leadership wants no part in reducing the state's intrusiveness into our wallets or truly unleashing the kidn of real economic growth our state woudl have if the Legislature passed a bill enacting in duplicate the Code of Virginia with substitutions of "West Virginia" for "Virginia" in all petinent places.

With the exception of a few independent thinkers like Delegates Eustace Frederick, D-Mercer; Tim Miley, D-Harrison; and Tom Louisos, D-Fayette, who was sadly defeated in the primary election, the current members of the Legislature in the Ruling Party have uniformly followed the dictates of their leadership and failed to move West Virginia forward. West Virginia can take a great leap forward by electing Republican majorities to both houses of the Legislature on November 7.

For the sake of the kids, let's finally make West Virginia open for business by putting our state under new management.