Ethics is in the eye of the beholder

December 23, 2018

The spoils system is supposed to be a thing of the past. Even since the period when Teddy Roosevelt allegedly became a reformer, American politicians no longer awarded their friends with plum jobs.

Don’t believe it. It isn’t as bad as it used to be but being related to an elected official often gives a leg up on employment.

I am going a little way to defend the practice. In sensitive positions of power the powerful need someone they can trust. Who should one be able to trust more than a relative — an aunt, uncle, sister, brother?

But that practice leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many voters. Former Kanawha County Sheriff Dave Tucker ran on virtually one theme against incumbent Mike Rutherford two years ago.

“I don’t know who my chief deputy is going to be,” Tucker would deadpan. “But it ain’t gonna be my brother.”

The Rutherford brothers had taken turns as sheriff and Tucker was poking at them. Apparently, voters had no real problem with the practice because Tucker lost by a sizable margin.

I’ve often said ethics is in the eyes of the beholder. There’s apparently nothing unethical for every Manchin or Warner in the state to hold power but it’s often not okay for others.

I chuckled at all the hullabaloo in Richwood when Mayor Bob Henry Baber was said to be favoring relatives in city employment. Who else was there?

I am on this subject for no current reason. I haven’t lately researched what cousins are working for each other. But I guarantee some are. It can’t be avoided.

I am on the subject just to play a part in this happy holiday season.

There is, however, an anecdote that goes with every political story. Charleston Mayor Kemp Melton introduced an anti-nepotism bill.

Councilman Ernie Layne took the floor to protest. “That’s one of the reasons I run for this job,” he said. “I got relatives that need a job as bad as anyone else.”

A few readers were confused when the new Supreme Court justice was named. John Hutchison is a longtime circuit judge and friend of Gov. Jim Justice. Add an “n” and you get Hutchinson, the former mayor of Charleston.

My expectation is that several of those throwing insults at Hutchison were totally confused. A few thought he is the ex-mayor; still others thought he was a Justice plot to pack the court with Republicans. Unless he just changed, Hutchison has never been a Republican. Almost to a man and woman, attorneys praise Hutchison’s fairness and demeanor. One out of three ain’t bad. Justice got the right one this time.

Along the line of the spoils system, I have repeated here several times what an outstanding individual I think Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, is. I have found him highly intelligent and fair minded. Still, one could not even expect not one — but two — challenges from Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, without some repercussion.

Regular statehouse observers know Nelson and Hanshaw became locked in battle for the prestigious speaker job just months ago. That happened when Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, decided to step down to pursue a Supreme Court justice appointment. It was a close decision in caucus, but Hanshaw beat Nelson by two votes. Then, because of the large turnover in Republican House membership caused by the 2018 election, Republicans decided to vote again. Again, Hanshaw won.

Nelson had been a rising star on the GOP side. It’s safe to say he is no more. Stripped of major committeemen chairmanships, he now presides over minor groups. That is the spoils system.

And, in a way, it’s understandable. The speaker, as team general, needs lieutenants he can trust implicitly. Can he trust one who ran against him not once, but twice?

In the Cabell delegation, Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, is the rising star. Linville has cast procedural votes correctly and clearly keeps his eye on the position of leadership. Even called upon, Linville articulates the majority position very well.

I don’t want to give anyone the impression a legislator must be a “yes” man or woman to succeed. But attaching some actual brain work to a lot of those “yeses” helps separate the ordinary from the excellent.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or ronjgregory@gmail.com.

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