That’s what Governor Jim Justice is for West Virginia: just plain wrong.
At a time when West Virginians literally worship former President Donald Trump and conservative values, Justice is on the other side of the track.
I know — and I’ve said it here — Justice is a charming, personable teddy bear. At least he can seem that way in public appearances and interviews. But he is out of step with his constituents.
Justice has ridden the Covid pandemic to re-election and a continued ability to intimidate the overwhelmingly Republican legislature. As long as the virus exists, it seems, we will be dealing with King James I.
Liberty-loving Republican legislators vowed to storm into session and cut off Justice’s power to rule by executive order. On their first swipe at doing.so.and cutting that power to 60.days, they included an amendment to assure that the bill included reigning in his power in the current pandemic.
The next day, after King James had a tantrum, they took out the amendment. So much for standing up for the people.
Those who helped remove the amendment softly explained that it was unnecessary since the bill “obviously” already covered the current situation.
If that’s “obvious” and the governor understands it applies to now, what harm did the amendment do? It didn’t change anything, apparently.
Although relaxed a little, we still live with wearing masks, keeping six feet away from each other and all other edicts issued by the king. This may be a red state but the pandemic has been handled very blue indeed.
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Credit Boone County Senator Ron Stollings with quick action that assured continued Covid vaccinations in his home county.
When state officials closed the Boone County Health Department this week there was near panic among some who had already been approved for the shots.
Jeanette Hanger told WCHS- TV, “I was enrolled to try to get my COVID-19 shot. Now they’re closed down, and I don’t know where to go and get one now,” Hager said.
That was before news of Stollings’ quick action was publicized.
Stollings, who is also a practicing physician in Madison, was already working with state health officials to assure that nobody went without the vaccine.
The Democrat received assurances from Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Bill J. Crouch that the DHHR would supply other medical facilities in the county with vaccine.
In a message, Crouch told Stollings, “we will make sure that we push the same amount.of vaccine to Boone County as we would absent this problem.” The state immediately followed through, the Senator said.
That meant Boone Countians didn’t miss a second, Stollings said. “Those approved for the vaccine were notified to either come to our office or some other approved location to get their vaccination,” he said.
Stollings deserves a pat on the back (if that’s allowed during the pandemic) for a job well done.
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The Boone Health Department has a list of policy violations, and has failed to hold regular board meetings. Boone Health Officer Philip Galapon told WCHS-TV he was surprised by the shutdown.
“As for the cessation of operations, we were rather surprised,” Galapon said. “I think their assessments were fair. Luckily, if you look very closely at those violations, they are not by any means detrimental to the overall public health of Boone County.”
Galapon said it might take a month to reopen the department. He blamed a reduced budget and staff for the problems.
“The turn down in the economy has led to diminished funding. Diminished funding has led to a decrease in our overall staff size,” Galapon said. “With a small staff, there’s only so much one can do in a day.”
Stollings agreed with Galapon that decreased funding is a problem.
“Not to say we might not have been in this position otherwise, but when Boone County’s budget goes from about $20 million to a little over $4 million, and the public health department is cut up to 25% or more, then you can’t expect robust response,” Stollings said. “That said, there’s some basic things you’ve got to take care of.”
But Boone County’s Health Department clearly didn’t take care of the basics. Hopefully they will now.
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The Boone County Health situation may explain why state legislators are rapidly moving a bill requiring more oversight by county commissions of their appointed boards.
The bill caused new Nicholas County Republican Delegate Heather Glasgow Tully to make her first floor speech.
In it, she explained that the bill “facilitates communication among county boards of health and county commissions in policy making decisions. Cooperation and collaboration of stakeholders yields the best results. This bill helps to ensure that the various entities involved in county health policy/decisions aren’t working alone or ‘in silos,'” she said.
It turns out the Boone Health Board, appointed by the County Commission, had not met since March 2020.
That fact makes one wonder if the Boone County Commission was even aware of the failure to meet.
As Tully and others point out, elected county commissioners should be providing oversight to the boards they appoint. This bill will require that.
Frankly, some county commissioners might not be able to tell you where their health department is located.
Not true, of course, of counties like Kanawha or Cabell. Kanawha Commission President Kent Carper and Cabell’s Kelli Sabonya stay on top of all developments by their boards. That’s as it should be since they are elected and the health board is not.
Honestly, some commissioners don’t want supervisory duties. When an issue like smoking inside a restaurant come up, they want to pass responsibility off to an unelected board so they can deny any involvement in the decision. That’s the downside to giving veto power to county commissioners
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Some Republicans were appalled this week when Governor Jim Justice conceded that right-to-work and prevailing wage bills passed in 2016 were failures. That’s an amazing admission coming from a Republican governor. It adds to the argument that Justice, elected as a Democrat in 2016, is really not committed to GOP principles.
Democrats universally celebrated the Justice remarks, made during a town hall event. The governor was actually pushing his plan to.eliminate the personal income tax.
But that gave Justice, clearly an unorthodox politician, a chance to compare how he says his plan will spur economic growth. He then made his remarks about right to work.and prevailing.wage, promoted as building the economy when Republicans finally earned a legislative majority after 80 years. He also criticized a Joe Manchin era corporate tax cut.
“Really and truly, let’s just be brutally honest,” the governor said about a half-hour into Wednesday night’s town hall. “We passed the right-to-work law in West Virginia. And we ran to the windows looking to see all the people that were going to come — and they didn’t come. We got rid of prevailing wage. We changed our corporate taxes and we’ve done a lot of different things. And we’ve run to the windows and they haven’t come.”
But his plan to cut the personal income tax will be different, he said. “Watch and see what happens, People will come from far and near.”
In an earlier town hall he also criticized the key Republican programs.
“We went out and passed the right to work law,” he said. “We got rid of prevailing wage. We built fields all over the place, in thinking that they will come. They didn’t come, did they?”
He may have offended Republicans but Justice drew immediate praise from Democrats.
“The governor, a member of the majority party said yesterday, that right-to-work didn’t work and repeal the prevailing wage didn’t work,” said Sen. “Fighting”
Mike Caputo of Marion County in a floor speech praising the governor’s comments.
Harrison County Democrat Sen. Mike Romano added, “I remember during those debates that there were promises made, or vows, that if it didn’t work we’d repeal them. We’d take it back. We’d admit we were wrong and be the bigger people in the room and say ‘We were wrong. We’ll repeal them.’ Mr. President (Sen. Craig Blair of Berkeley County) I ask you to do that.”
So we have a questionably Republican governor giving aid and comfort to the Democrats. Yet Republican legislators remain devoted to him either through fear or some kind of principle.
Until the legislature reigns in the executive order control by Justice, there’s little point in telling us how they’re standing up for the people and against the tyrannical governor.
And he thanks legislators for their total devotion to him by criticizing all key Republican policies.
He’s wrong. But i said that earlier, I believe.
Ron Gregory is a regular columnist