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West Virginia editorial roundup

July 24, 2019

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

July 24

The Charleston Gazette-Mail on the World Scout Jamboree held in West Virginia:

It should be no small source of pride for all of West Virginia that the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, in Fayette County, is the host of the 24th World Scout Jamboree.

The event, now underway, is hosting as many as 50,000 kids from scouting organizations in 150 countries.

It’s a good time to celebrate the diverse nature of scouting on a global scale. After all, the Scouts BSA (formerly the Boy Scouts of America) has undergone some revolutionary changes of its own, including officially allowing girls to join, which was approved by the organization earlier this year.

Opening the organization up to girls (something the Scouts in the United Kingdom did in 1976) is perhaps the final step in a long evolutionary process for the Scouts.

In 2015, the organization repealed a ban on homosexuals, although that ban can still be upheld if a particular Scout troop is part of a religious organization. The Scouts allowed transgender people to join in 2017. Looking at those changes, it’s almost odd that the last gate to be opened was the one barring girls. Those who broke those barriers to make the Scouts more inclusive should be proud. And, although the struggle at times was difficult, it’s appropriate to appreciate how far the organization has come.

Now that the Scouts is open to all in the United States, it’s the perfect time to have the rest of the world come visit.

Hopefully, those visiting from other countries will enjoy the natural beauty of West Virginia, along with the state’s hospitality, and will want to return one day. No doubt, many will form lifelong friendships that span the globe during the next few days.

With such a fantastic event taking place here in the Mountain State, it’s a great time to be a Scout, and a great time to be a West Virginian.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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July 19

Times West Virginian on the removal of Delegate Mark Dean from the state’s education committee:

The fight over education in West Virginia has been a bitter one.

Republican leadership worked hard to impose charter schools on the state against the will of many education professionals, and ultimately succeeded. It seems, however, that even though they got what they were fighting for, there are still sore feelings in Charleston.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, (R-Clay), has removed Del. Mark Dean, (R-Mingo), as vice chairman of the Education Committee.

On its surface, this seems a confusing choice. Dean hails from the same party as Hanshaw and has served as a teacher and administrator for decades. Dean is currently a principal and brings a depth of knowledge to matters affecting education. Why would Hanshaw remove someone from his own party who clearly has the experience to make meaningful contributions to a committee on education?

Dean, who has an understanding of the education system and the issues faced therein, broke party lines and voted against the omnibus education bill.

A statement from American Federation of Teachers — West Virginia President Fred Albert seems to agree with this theory.

“It’s a sad day for representative government in West Virginia when such a knowledgeable, fair legislator is removed from his leadership position on the education committee for representing his constituents and their concerns rather than blindly following a platform driven by out of state corporate donors,” Albert said.

This seems to be one more example in the fight over education that illustrates the toxic partisan politics that have trickled down from that national stage. A representative who has experience and knowledge over many of the delegates who happily voted in favor of the bill is being dismissed for voting in the way his experience told him would be best for the state and for his constituents.

The message being sent by Hanshaw is clear: stand with the party or be dismissed. This is not how government should operate at any time, involving any issue. This is antithetical to healthy debate and discussion. This is a dangerous, tribal, groupthink mentality that opens a path for disastrous decisions made because others are afraid to stand against the majority party.

Dean, objectively, has more education experience than Hanshaw, who studied law. But Hanshaw not only ignored Dean’s expertise, he punished him for it.

After the actions we’ve seen in Charleston over the past year, we unfortunately can’t even say this is surprising. The original education bill was drafted behind closed doors without any input from education professionals, but plenty of input from out-of-state charter school lobbyists. It was forced out of committee and into a vote by means not used in decades. It was finally — and rightfully — defeated before Republicans all but cloned it and forced it through the Legislature anyway.

Their behavior has been, at almost every turn, disgraceful and unbecoming of political leaders. We elect our representatives to make the best decisions for our state, consulting experts and reviewing all possible facts to do so. Instead, we have this. Petulant, stubborn men who sell their state out and punish those who dare to speak out against them.

We only hope West Virginians start paying attention and make their voices heard on Election Day. The circus has to end.

Online: https://www.timeswv.com/

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July 19

The Herald-Dispatch on a price hike for West Virginia’s only toll road:

A year ago, people driving the West Virginia Turnpike paid $6 in tolls to get from Charleston to Bluefield - three tolls of $2 each. This year the tolls have doubled, so the one-way trip now costs $12, or $24 for a round trip.

The higher price of tolls apparently has not had a significant impact on travel on the Turnpike. Doug Ratliff, director of tolls for the West Virginia Turnpike Authority, says traffic on the Turnpike as measured by transactions at the four toll booths - the three on the Turnpike itself and one at an exit at Beckley - are up about half a percent this year.

The Turnpike Authority voted last year to double tolls on the 88-mile road in order to pay for road improvements. It was the first increase since 2009, when tolls went from $1.25 to $2.

Doing the math, that’s a 220 percent increase in a dozen years.

The Turnpike is West Virginia’s only toll road, and it is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Among other things, the West Virginia Division of Highways doesn’t want to take over its steep roadways and numerous bridges with no corresponding increase in its funding.

The Turnpike itself came into being shortly after World War II when a modern (for then) two-lane road was needed to connect Charleston, Beckley and Bluefield. This was before the beginning of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System that gave the state interstates 64 and 77, among others.

The Mountain State likely will have no other public toll roads or bridges in the near future, although they will be the norm for larger metropolitan areas. Two new bridges at Louisville have tolls, and tolls are expected for a new bridge in Cincinnati to replace or complement the overworked Brent Spence Bridge, which carries interstates 71 and 75 across the Ohio River. Building a new bridge there would have to consider traffic loads and the congested area around the approaches.

That bridge is estimated to cost $3.5 billion. Ohio allows bridge tolls, but Kentucky law prohibits tolls on bridges crossing into Ohio, so funding is at a standstill for now.

Huntington’s Ohio River bridges had tolls for a while. Both the West 17th Street Bridge and the 6th Street Bridge charged a toll for crossing after the West 17th Street Bridge opened in the late 1960s, but they were removed in 1978 to secure funding for what would be known as the East Huntington Bridge.

Apparently the increase in charges on the West Virginia Turnpike hasn’t diminished traffic on the road, so there is no market reason to reduce or eliminate them. It’s a shame, though, that it is the only road in the state that charges people to drive it in addition to the gasoline taxes and other taxes that people already pay to drive on free roads.

As long as tolls are needed to pay for Turnpike upkeep, they will stay. As long as they are used for that purpose, the public can accept them. Should a desperate governor or Legislature eye them as an easy slush fund for non-Turnpike-related projects, things will change.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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