By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Why is it so hard to simply do the right thing? The good, common sense, thing? You really have to stop and wonder at times about what is happening in Charleston, Richmond, Va., and Washington. And even the city of Bluefield for that matter.
Let’s start with something almost everyone can agree on —turnpike tolls. Most Democrats and Republicans I know dislike having to pay $12 for a round trip to Charleston. We know this is wrong. We know this is an unfair burden — and, dare I say, a tax — that has been placed upon the hard-working citizens and business owners of the deep south counties. But each year legislation is introduced to remove turnpike tolls, and each year the legislation goes nowhere. Why?
Three bills are now being drafted by area lawmakers in Charleston that would essentially do away with tolls along the 88-mile turnpike once the original bond debt is paid in full in 2019. Yet despite bipartisan support, all three bills once again face an uphill battle. Two area lawmakers who are involved in the new bills are Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, and Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh. Sumner’s support is important. It shows that turnpike tolls are not only an unfair financial burden on folks living in Bluefield, Princeton and Welch, but also families living in Raleigh County.
Is there anything different in Charleston this year as opposed to previous years that could provide a little additional traction for the turnpike bills? Yes, there is. Republicans now control 46 of the 100 House of Delegates seats. Simply put, the GOP now has newfound muscle in Charleston. But will this power be wasted pursuing extreme ideas that most voters can’t relate to — or will it be spent passing common-sense measures like eliminating turnpike tolls by 2019, revamping the state’s tax structure to make West Virginia more business friendly and fighting Washington when the federal government oversteps its boundaries? The new Republicans near majority — working in conjunction with southern West Virginia Democrats — could make a big difference in advancing the turnpike toll bills this year. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Speaking of common sense, Sumner has also introduced a bill that would require an election of future members of the West Virginia Public Service Commission. This is a no brainer. As long as the PSC commissioners are appointed — and answer to no one but themselves — they will continue to approve one utility rate increase after another.
But if they are elected — and have to answer to voters — the story would be quite different. Commissioners who approve one rate increase after another would then be quickly voted out of office. However, Sumner’s bill once again faces an uphill battle in Charleston. Why? Common sense says this measure should be unanimously passed.
Southwest Virginia is apparently no longer in danger of losing a state Senate seat. The ill-advised redistricting bill advanced by Republicans in the Senate last month — when one Democrat was absent attending Martin Luther King Day events — has thankfully died.
The Senate in the General Assembly is split between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, is charged with breaking tie votes. Despite the questionable move by the GOP, common sense thankfully prevailed at the end of the day. The redistricting bill is dead, at least for now.
President Barack Obama spent a lot of time talking about climate change in his State of the Union address. But if the next ice age is looming — and I can’t help but think of the motion picture “The Day After Tomorrow” every time the president or a Washington lawmaker warns of the dangers of climate change — I have to wonder what is the plan to save all of us from the impending doom? After all, millions died in the 2004 movie as a result of climate change.
Regardless of how you feel about climate change, I think a bigger threat than the phenomenon formerly known as global warming is meteors. Look at what happened in Russia last week. More than a 1,000 people were injured after a meteorite — that no one saw coming — hit Russia. And this occurred on the same day that a 150-foot asteroid had a close call with our planet. NASA called it a “cosmic coincidence.” But I’m thinking NASA is lost in space at the moment. We have no space shuttle missions. No clear plan as to where we are going next (Mars, the moon, etc.). And we have no advanced system in place to detect and stop, if needed, asteroids and smaller meteors that could crash into our planet.
I’m noticing a lot of “team blue” commercials on the local television station. That’s all fine and well, but a coordinated public relations campaign still isn’t going to address a few of the most pressing issues facing Nature’s Air-Conditioned City. Like the need for a new grocery store.
The old Kroger is still empty. And telling people not to shop at Food City isn’t going to change matters. In fact, we should support all stores in our region, including Food City, Grant’s Supermarket and Kroger in Bluewell and Princeton.
There is nothing wrong with having a public relations campaign — although I think “Nature’s Air-conditioned City” is a much better time tested and proven slogan for Bluefield. But ultimately action is better than words. And it will take action to attract a new grocery store, and other new retail shops and restaurants, into Bluefield.
Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at email@example.com.