I Want a Refund
By Brian Bergtrom
By Brian Bergstrom
Two years ago, West Virginia voters went to the polls and for the first time in 80 years elected a Republican-controlled legislature.
Voters were hoping for people like Bill Hamilton, a longtime delegate with conservative values who has always put West Virginians first. Instead, we got the worst of Washington -- a gridlocked, lobbyist-run legislature that nearly shut down state government in a disastrous taxpayer-funded special session.
Today, you can ask for a refund -- both at the polls, and in person.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole is going to be at Wesleyan this afternoon, and he owes you. Cole wasted more than half a million dollars of your money this summer. Despite controlling both the House and the Senate, it took Cole and his fellow Republican 'leaders' six months to pass a budget that ultimately did little more than raid the rainy day fund and kick the can down the road.
Republicans could have finished the budget in March, like Democrats did for decades. But that would have taken time away from Cole's number one priority: attacking West Virginia workers.
Corporate America's right-to-work bill clocked in at no less than Senate Bill 1. After that, the legislature turned its focus to slashing the wages of hard-working West Virginians by repealing the state's prevailing wage law. So instead of solving a budget crisis, Cole devoted his days to making it easier for large corporations to import cheap out-of-state workers to do the jobs once held by West Virginia residents.
Well-fed, the fat cat Washington lobbyists left town. Cole was left scratching his head, directing the Senate to work on groundbreaking issues like raw milk. The budget, apparently, could wait.
Days stretched into weeks. Weeks stretched into months. As West Virginians reacted with anger, those in the ruling party began to feel the heat. The blame game was on, and it wasn't clear if Cole even had the support of fellow Republicans.
In a June op-ed, Senator Greg Boso wrote, "Our newly elected governor must have the business prowess and ethical responsibility to timely and effectively accomplish these tasks to make West Virginia strong again."
Boso didn't call out Cole by name, but at the time the Senate president was struggling mightily to accomplish anything "timely" or "effectively." The legislature was in the midst of a special session that ultimately cost taxpayers about $600,000, and the Senate had yet to pass a balanced budget, some 80 days after the regular session ended.
The special session spiraled into a farce. Remember when Republican Senator Robert Karnes bailed to the bathroom on one particularly tough vote?
Ironically, Boso's column was released shortly after the Senate had adjourned for a long holiday weekend. Legislators met for about 30 minutes on a Friday morning, then recessed until Tuesday afternoon. Of course, before skipping town they held a quick 'quorum' vote to make sure everyone got paid.
Think about that for a second. You go to work, put in an 8+ hour day, get paid. Before that money even hits your wallet, the state government swoops in and takes their chunk. At the same time, senators like Boso and Cole walked into a room, said "Yup, I'm here" and walked out -- with your money.
Is that leadership?
Cole likes to talk about how he will fix the state if elected governor. But the simple fact is that Republicans held veto-proof majorities in both West Virginia's House and Senate. If Cole's party wanted to pass a law, any law, no one on God's good Earth could have stopped them -- not me, not you, not Democrats, not the governor.
So when Cole talks about waste, fraud and abuse -- well, if it exists, it does so with his blessing, because he made the choice not to eliminate it.
Democrats aren't perfect. But they didn't sell out our state to the highest bidder.
And Jim Justice isn't perfect either. But he knows how to get things done. I went to the Greenbrier shortly before Justice purchased it, and it was a ghost town. Empty, crumbling, a shadow of its one-time glory.
No more. Justice took the jewel of West Virginia and polished it into a destination that attracts visitors from around the world. He put our state back on the map by hosting the New Orleans Saints, bringing in the PGA tour and courting A-list movie stars like Tom Cruise.
Justice cares about West Virginia. Watching the debate, you would never have guessed he was the billionaire. Cole sat there with his fancy suit and perfect haircut, while Justice looked and sounded like you or me. He wasn't parroting some focus-group tested agenda of corporate America, he was talking about making things, building things, about our trees, our mountains, our beauty, our people -- a true vision for West Virginia.
This is a man who could do anything, who could buy his own private island in the Caribbean and sip Pina Coladas all day, surrounded by beautiful women. But Justice chooses to spend his days right here in West Virginia, coaching a high school girls' basketball team in Greenbrier County. And let's not forget that this summer, when devastating flooding hit West Virginia, Justice threw open the doors of the Greenbrier, turning his ritzy resort into a haven for the homeless.
Jim Justice doesn't just say he loves West Virginia, he lives by those words.
"Remember in November" isn't a meaningless partisan slogan, it's a mandate to each and every voter to judge candidates by their actions, not their words. When you go to the polls, remember the budget. Remember who called you a free rider. Remember how much respect Bill Cole showed toward your hard-earned money.
And remember that your voice matters. So use it. Don't be silent. Vote.