West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, on the separation of powers:
Most West Virginians who were upset and outraged about last year’s impeachment summer, involving state Supreme Court members, probably would prefer to forget about it. It is over and done with — except for one critical detail.
Three of the high court’s five members were replaced as a result of the scandal. One was convicted of multiple crimes of corruption. Another pleaded guilty. The third resigned rather than face the wrath of state legislators.
But an important issue involving separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches of government remains unresolved.
Of the two justices from the old court, one, Elizabeth Walker, was impeached by the House of Delegates and tried by the state Senate. Senators acquitted her but agreed to a vote of censure. Walker, now chief justice, seems committed to important reforms on the court.
So does the other carryover justice, Margaret Workman. But a House impeachment vote still hangs over her head. It involves the court’s past spending, not criminal accusations.
Workman was to have been tried by the Senate last year, but that plan was halted by a panel of five circuit judges who were sitting as the state Supreme Court. They ruled the trial could not proceed. They based their contention on the doctrines of separation of powers and right to due process.
Legislators have appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As matters involving the courts often do, those regarding the Workman case have moved slowly but steadily. It is unlikely the Supreme Court will act before this fall.
Lawmakers themselves seem to have little or no appetite for another impeachment trial. So why pursue the U.S. Supreme Court appeal regarding Workman?
For the future. Thoughtful West Virginians hope and pray there never again comes a time when legislators feel it necessary to impeach state high court justices. But what if it does?
As matters stand, the ruling last year by the temporary state Supreme Court seems to imply that separation of powers prohibits lawmakers from attempting to remove, or even discipline, justices. That would leave the judicial branch with sole power over its members — and that may be too much separation of powers.
Continuing to pursue the U.S. Supreme Court appeal has a cost to taxpayers. It may seem needless because there is little or no immediate need to resolve the issue.
But, two years ago, who could have foreseen the state high court scandal that erupted? It could happen again. Settling the separation of powers issue is important, then, for the future.
Charleston Gazette-Mail on a special legislative session on education:
It’s clear now the Student Success Act, and its predecessor in the regular legislative session, were never about students at all.
Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, but even we’re a little shocked at how far West Virginia’s upper chamber has gone to punish public school teachers and service personnel for striking two years in a row to defend their livelihoods and the kids they teach.
In special session, with not as much public pressure on them, the Senate was able to narrowly pass an amendment to its act making a teacher strike unlawful, disallowing superintendents to close school districts for a strike and making it possible to fire school workers for joining a picket line.
The bill does many other things, but this late addition is petty and vindictive, and probably what Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, wants more than anything, after being embarrassed by the teachers, school service personnel and their unions two years in a row.
Teacher strikes have been illegal in West Virginia for a while, although previous precedent relied on a court decision, not state law. The GOP is not very union-friendly in general, and the teacher unions in West Virginia wield more power than others that have been broken by right-wing policies at the federal and state levels over time.
Carmichael and other GOP leaders might see crushing these unions as their biggest holy crusade, but their actions could have ruinous implications for their platform. Teachers and school employees vote. They also pay a lot of attention to how politicians vote on issues that affect them.
The ability to fire school employees for going on strike, while something of a nuclear option, also is self-defeating. There’s a teacher shortage in West Virginia, as it is. If teachers and school service personnel from all 55 counties walk out in protest, will they all be fired? Who, pray tell, would replace them in a state that’s losing population and bleeding young talent left and right? Perhaps that option could be used to target specific individuals, but there’s a lawsuit in the cards, if that’s how it’s deployed.
The other punishments — for instance, not paying school personnel for days missed on a strike, perhaps serve as more of a deterrent. Then again, teachers and school service personnel walked out this year against the previous version of the legislation that just passed, fully aware that defeating the bill would cost them a pay raise. Anyone who thinks teachers, especially West Virginia teachers, are in it for the money has not been paying attention.
This entire thing could be moot. The legislation still has to pass the House of Delegates, which won’t be meeting in special session until June 17. The House killed the bill in the regular session, and the version they’ll be taking up is even more liberal with allowances for charter schools and more draconian on the rights of public school employees.
Even though the GOP also controls the House, it’s difficult to see them going for this without some heavy modifications. Then, it would have to pass the Senate again and meet the approval of Gov. Jim Justice, who previously had been clamoring for a simple pay raise for state employees — something the Republicans promised before last year’s elections, although failing to mention the strings they’d attach.
Maybe charter schools could help West Virginia students. Maybe education savings accounts aren’t the worst idea in the world. But Senate leadership keeps proving those things aren’t what they really care about. It comes down to what all politics eventually comes down to for elected officials in leadership on the right: lining the pockets of your benefactors and burying the perceived enemy.
The Exponent Telegram on broadband coverage:
Once again, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is blasting the Federal Communications Commission for the manner in which it gathers data on who has good broadband coverage and who doesn’t. Manchin has been fighting against the federal agency for a few years now, and it has not abated.
The FCC last week released its annual Broadband Deployment Report, which said the nation’s digital divide has “narrowed substantially.”
The report said the number of Americans without broadband dropped 18 percent and that the majority of gains were in rural areas.
Manchin issued a statement calling the FCC report into question.
“As a West Virginian who has been to every county, almost every town and driven on almost every road, I know that the findings in this report do not accurately reflect what West Virginians are actually experiencing when it comes to internet coverage,” Manchin said.
The senator once again criticized the FCC’s data collection methods, which rely on census data. If a single location on a census block has broadband coverage, then the entire block is said to have or could have fast internet speeds.
In addition, the FCC relies in large part on data submitted by carriers. The Rural Wireless Association, a trade group, suggested companies overstate their coverage.
Bottom line, large swaths of rural areas are said to be covered when they are not.
Last month, Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., introduced the Broadband Mapping Act, which would require the FCC to use consumer reporting and state and local data when developing coverage maps.
“It’s impossible to fill gaps if you don’t know they are there. That’s why accurate coverage maps are the first and most important step when determining who needs coverage,” Manchin said.
And the discussion of broadband coverage has turned political in the halls of the FCC.
The Associated Press reported that the agency’s two Democratic commissioners, critical of the just-released broadband report, say it did not reflect the reality on the ground.
“This report deserves a failing grade,” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote. “It concludes that broadband deployment is reasonable and timely throughout the United States. This will come as news to millions and millions of Americans who lack access to high-speed service at home.”
This is no small problem. The AP reports that the FCC claims that more than 24 million Americans are without broadband coverage. Microsoft, on the other hand, puts the number at 162.8 million. Talk about your digital divide.
In the meantime, a $4.5 billion federal grant program designed to expand broadband in rural areas is in limbo while the FCC tries to sort out this mess.
We don’t know if the FCC is totally inept or whether it has some kind of political agenda, but this we do know: The agency has failed the U.S. consumer, and it needs to step up and compile better, more accurate data on broadband coverage.