Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 12, 2014

Issues more important than labels


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The citizens of the State of West Virginia and the Commonwealth of Virginia were presented with state of the state addresses by their respective governors last week, both on the same night at the same time, and while one laid out a roadmap and set an agenda for the upcoming legislative session, the other gave a farewell address.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin urged the legislature to expand educational and economic policies he believes could loosen the Mountain State’s financial constraints.

Tomblin spoke of tax cuts in the business franchise tax and corporate income taxes as steps that could help West Virginia become more business friendly. The Logan County native also advocated for pay raises for teachers and state workers.

The kicker, West Virginia is facing a $60 million budget deficit that the governor would like to use the state’s rainy day fund to offset.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told the General Assembly in Richmond good-bye as he leaves office this week; newly-elected Terry McAuliffe is set to guide the Old Dominion for the next four years.

McDonnell apologized for a gift scandal that is hanging over the governor’s office as he leaves office. He also spoke of his administration’s achievements including the creation of 177,000 new jobs the past four years in Virginia.

Both addresses come as the legislatures in both states are set to begin their sessions with many issues — a lot of them the same — critical to the lives of residents.

It is without question that job creation is the number one issue in both West Virginia and Virginia. Education is always key whether it involves teacher pay raises or increased funding for school districts. There will also be many other issues addressed and bills passed in Richmond and Charleston that will affect the lives of each of us on a daily basis.

I’m still a little miffed that I cannot talk on my cell phone while driving anymore ... that dang hands-free device really stinks. But just like seat belt laws, if it saves one life, it is worth it.

Over the next 90 or so days we will see something happen in Charleston and Richmond that rarely occurs in Washington, compromise and the creation of legislation that does not polarize the populace.

At the national level politics is more demagoguery, party-affiliated and partisan. As the level of government gets closer to the people you get functional, working government. That is why many local government bodies such as school board, city/town councils and county government in some places are non-partisan elections. It is at the local level where the rubber meets the road. The further you get up the chain, the more it’s about labels and philosophies.

Our elected officials in Charleston and Richmond must come up with a balanced budget. They must deal with unfunded federal mandates and in roughly 60 days they return to their homes and their jobs as lawyers, teachers, businessmen and other various duties.

This is not an indictment on the federal government and our elected officials there, it is just a matter of how politics and, most importantly, government works.

I have never been one who believes strongly in states’ rights because I believe as a citizen of the United States one should be afforded the same rights and privileges whether one lives in California or Maine. But it is at the state level where most legislation and activity touches the individual citizen. It is also at that level where the most compromise and success is achieved.

I’ve witnessed politics at different levels up close and personal. I worked for Congressman Nick Rahall and then for years with a news agency that covered Congress and the federal government. My sister-in-law, Marie Redd, was a member of the West Virginia Senate from Cabell County. I know people in government at many levels and I can honestly say not a single one is a bad person.

However, we in the media insist on creating camps and putting politicians and issues into these camps. By doing so we are helping create gridlock and division as people are forced to choose sides. We have become label-based instead of issue-based.

It is my hope that the Virginia General Assembly and the West Virginia Legislature can be issue-based institutions and do what is best for their respective citizens.

Bob Redd is a sports writer and editorial page columnist for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com.