West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News Register on a federal investigation into flood relief funds:
When the federal government dumps tens of millions of dollars into a state to help disaster victims, crooked politicians smell opportunity. Who’s to notice if some of the money gets siphoned away?
After more than a year of questions concerning how more than $200 million in federal flood relief funds were spent, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart is investigating. Stuart, whose jurisdiction includes southern West Virginia counties hit by deadly flooding in 2016, made the announcement last week.
There already had been allegations of wrongdoing. Four current and former officials in the town of Richwood have been charged with embezzling flood relief money. One outrageous accusation is that the town received $500,000 to repair a water system intake damaged by flooding — but spent just $400 on a temporary repair and used the rest for officials’ salaries and municipal debt.
Local officials sometimes plead ignorance regarding the rules for spending federal disaster relief funds. That excuse will not — or should not — work at the state level.
Still unanswered are questions about how the RISE West Virginia program was handled. With nearly $150 million in federal funds, it was supposed to help victims of the 2016 floods. Delays in doling out the funds were reported.
Then, Gov. Jim Justice removed RISE from the state Commerce Department and had the National Guard begin handling it. At the time, state officials said the commerce agency had entered into $18 million in illegal consulting contracts.
Clearly, that is one matter Stuart and his investigators should probe.
Anyone guilty of diverting disaster relief money from its intended purpose ought to be punished harshly. Here’s hoping Stuart’s investigation tells West Virginians just how much of that occurred after the 2016 flooding.
The Exponent Telegram on a settlement with a drug manufacturer:
How much is enough?
That question goes through our minds as we ponder West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s announced $37 million settlement with drug giant McKesson over the company’s past practices, which included flooding the state marketplace with highly addictive pain medication like oxycodone.
McKesson, which reported more than $2.8 billion in revenue last year alone, is one of the drug companies targeted by states that have had to deal with the residual effects of an out-of-control opioid epidemic that many people say was fueled in part by unscrupulous practices that included pumping inordinate amounts of opioid painkillers to certain regions.
As an example, Boone County, West Virginia, population 25,000, received more than 1.2 million pills during a five-year period, from 2007 to 2012.
While Morrisey was touting the settlement as perhaps the biggest in state history, other state officials were critical of the amount.
And a look at the numbers are troubling, to say the least.
Sen. Joe Manchin, who when campaigning against Morrisey for the U.S. Senate seat was the first to announce the potential settlement, remained critical of the deal, calling it disgraceful.
“It’s no surprise to me that Patrick Morrisey and Jim Justice have allowed this type of thievery and have cut a sweetheart deal with McKesson that sells out West Virginia out of the billions of dollars in damages that our state and our people have endured,” Manchin said in a prepared statement.
Manchin used the example of Oklahoma, which he said settled for almost 10 times more than West Virginia, receiving $270 million, even though Oklahoma’s opioid-related death rate is 80 percent lower than the Mountain State’s.
Manchin has a valid point. Experts project the cost of the opioid epidemic in West Virginia is almost $9 billion.
But unfortunately, West Virginia’s inability to squeeze more settlement money out of companies that have allegedly done us wrong goes back many years and across party lines.
In fact, the company that agreed in March of this year to pay Oklahoma $270 million, Purdue Pharma, settled with West Virginia 15 years ago in 2004 — for $10 million.
The governor was Bob Wise; the attorney general was Darrell McGraw.
Morrisey’s press release touted the positive aspects of the settlement, especially the fact that McKesson must provide West Virginia with $14.5 million of the settlement within three days. That will provide much-needed seed money for treatment and educational programs to stem the tide of opioid abuse.
The attorney general’s office also provided previous settlement amounts: Cardinal Health ($20 million), AmerisourceBergen ($16 million), H.D. Smith ($3.5 million), Miami-Luken ($2.5 million), Anda Inc. ($1,865,250), The Harvard Drug Group ($1 million), Associated Pharmacies ($850,000), J.M. Smith Corporation ($400,000), KeySource Medical Inc. ($250,000), Quest Pharmaceuticals ($250,000), Top Rx ($200,000) and Masters Pharmaceutical LLC ($200,000).
In total, West Virginia will receive about $84 million thanks to the efforts of Morrisey’s office. Obviously, that isn’t chump change.
But is it enough?
Gov. Justice, while emphasizing the need to listen to the experts when dealing with legal matters, said he wished it were more.
“I don’t think it’s enough. I know how wealthy this company is, but at the same time, I’d rather take the money and get on what we need to be getting on with rather than just lose the money,” Justice said Thursday.
Bill Crouch, who heads up the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources, which will likely deal with much of the effects of the drug epidemic, said the settlement was an effort to move forward.
“Settlements like this, with drug manufacturers and distributors are difficult, because regardless of the amount, no settlement will ever be enough to make up for the pain and suffering many West Virginia families have endured,” Crouch wrote. “With this settlement, we hope to reduce some of the financial burden our state has carried due to substance use disorder and prevent further harm to our residents from the misuse of prescription pills.”
Crouch is right.
While politicians will continue to use the settlement as ammunition in their war of words, on the streets of far too many West Virginia cities and towns the battle for sobriety and hope rages on.
And those are the lucky ones. Elsewhere in those same cities and towns, a child is being raised by grandparents, who already drained their retirement funds trying to help their child — their grandchild’s parent — get clean.
Now they stare a 5-year-old in the face, both wondering what happened to the loved one they both cherished and the lives that could have been.
For them, no settlement will ever be enough.
How much is enough isn’t the most important question.
Instead, the better question is: How and when will hope be restored to many in the Mountain State? When will the suffering cease?
Charleston Gazette-Mail on Delegate Danny Hamrick:
State Delegate Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, resigned as chairman of the House Education Committee after it came to light he was involved in a relationship with a legislative intern.
Some West Virginians will judge Hamrick’s morality. He’s 31 and married. Although the exact nature of the relationship wasn’t disclosed, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, called it consensual and said the intern was of legal age. Hamrick himself, in his committee resignation letter, said, “In my personal view, I equate this relationship to have been no more than a mutual high school crush.”
West Virginians and fellow lawmakers may also judge Hamrick on his lack of understanding of legislative codes of conduct. In his initial letter, Hamrick said he hadn’t broken any rules, but had voluntarily stepped down at Hanshaw’s request.
Hanshaw was quick to point out that Hamrick, in fact, had broken a very specific rule covered in human resources training for legislators and interns. Delegates aren’t allowed to have relations with employees under their direct supervision.
That’s the point.
Even between consenting adults, in a workplace setting where one has supervisory power over the other, the two cannot come to any relationship as equals. It is not possible, and the potential for mischief and harm is too great.
This was a young person, and Hamrick was her boss. There’s nothing to suggest Hamrick coerced an intern into a relationship. Then again, even a willing participant cannot be entirely free of the thought, “This man could fire me,” or “This could affect my job or career.”
This is a balance-of-power problem that is as old as time. No one should ever put an employee in such a position, but they do. That’s why there’s a policy against it and a price to pay for violating that policy.
Fellow legislators, lobbyists and education wonks might be upset with Hamrick for doing something reckless that leaves the House needing to establish leadership while heading into a special session on education reform.
The upcoming session this month will, no doubt, resurrect policies from the failed education omnibus bill — charter schools, education savings accounts, public money for homeschooling, etc. It’s unclear how much losing Hamrick as chairman will hurt this political effort, but it certainly injects some chaos into what is already shaping up to be a charged political atmosphere.
So judge Hamrick, if you want, for running afoul of the rules of matrimony, not knowing or willingly breaking the rules of the Legislature or costing the Republicans politically.
But the real issue is about power, and preventing it from being abused. That’s why the House has the policy prohibiting just such relationships. Hamrick should have known what he was doing was wrong, but even his original committee resignation letter shows a lack of understanding of not just breaking a rule, but also why it’s important that rule exists.
If he can’t grasp that, he should not just leave the committee, but the Legislature itself.