West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Charleston Gazette on naming new state Senate majority leader:
West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, made a good choice in naming Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, as the new Senate Majority Leader.
Takubo is more moderate than many of his fellow GOP members in the senate. Although his party will hold a strong 20-14 majority when the 2019 session starts, Takubo has already pledged to reach across the aisle to hear concerns from Democrats. Coming from someone else, such a suggestion might be lip service, but Takubo will probably do it.
That doesn’t mean he’ll try to reverse legislation on issues like right to work, and he’s said as much. But he’s also said he wants a list of the top three priorities of both parties in the upper chamber, which is an olive branch to the Democrats if nothing else.
As a practicing physician, Takubo brings knowledge and experience when debating far-right issues like allowing more exemptions for child vaccinations. The Legislature already plans to craft a bill in 2019 that would do just that, and Takubo has stated on the record he’ll oppose it.
He’s pointed to West Virginia’s clean record of outbreaks of diseases as proof of the state’s success rate, and noted that the changing demographic of more grandparents raising children in the state — both the most vulnerable populations to outbreaks that can be prevented by a vaccine — means the program needs to stay as is. He cited a recent outbreak of measles at a private school in North Carolina, where 100 out of 150 students had vaccine exemptions, as an example of what can go wrong when basic medical science is ignored.
Takubo also wrote letters to Congress opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, knowing that it provides health insurance for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians, as the Trump administration tried, and failed, to dismantle the program.
He will replace Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, in the majority leader role. Ferns, who lost his bid for re-election, was much more involved in the gamesmanship of party politics. He blocked the confirmation of eight gubernatorial appointments in 2016 and 2017 on a partisan basis, during the remainder of Gov. Tomblin’s administration and the early days of Gov. Justice’s term before he switched to the Republican party.
Takubo doesn’t seem to be motivated by such things. That will be put to the test, however, in his new role. Takubo did say he will be a “team player” in regard to what duties Carmichael wants him to perform. Hopefully, he’s simply referring to committee appointments and schedules rather than political ploys.
After a teacher and school service personnel strike and a disastrous dismantling of the state Supreme Court, Takubo is the type of public servant who can restore the people’s faith in state government. If he sticks to what has made him successful, he will be.
The Intelligencer Wheeling News-Register on the opioid crisis and West Virginia University’s work to help chronic pain victims:
People experiencing severe, chronic pain have been victimized in two ways by opioid drugs. Good for West Virginia University researchers for concentrating on giving them some relief.
Widespread use of opioids for pain relief during a period of several years resulted in some people inadvertently becoming addicted to the substance. In many cases, neither they nor their doctors realized the peril until it was too late.
Now that the hazards of using opiates are better understood, some patients avoid the drugs and remain in pain. Others find it more difficult to obtain relief through opiates, even when they are used cautiously.
WVU has established the Medicine Center for Integrative Pain Management to find answers to the problem. Top talent in the field has been attracted to Morgantown to work in a cutting-edge initiative.
Just this week, the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at WVU began enrolling patients in a clinical trial that shows enormous promise.
A new technology, using a non-opioid drug called clonidine, is aimed at helping those who suffer from sciatica, which is a common cause of leg and back pain. Through the method being tested at WVU, tiny pellets, about half the size of a grain of rice, are implanted in patients’ lower backs.
“Our hope is that we can look back on this day and say we made a significant advance in the ongoing efforts to treat chronic pain and combat the opioid crisis,” commented Dr. Ali Rezai, executive chair of the institute.
Let us hope the clonidine trial is successful. Whether it is or not, however, the point is that WVU has taken a leading role in both battling the opioid crisis and helping victims of chronic pain. That is an enormous publice service — and not just here in the Mountain State.
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on oversight regarding the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management:
Was West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner acting illegally when he fired and replaced 16 employees in his agency, not long after taking office in January 2017?
It is a question to which Mountain State residents deserve an answer — but we may never get it.
Pointing out the people were “at-will” employees under the law, Warner has said he had every right to terminate them and replace them with better workers. But 12 of them filed lawsuits against Warner, arguing they were fired improperly.
In September, four of those who sued were handed a $1 million settlement by the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management. Warner has said BRIM officials plan to settle the remaining cases with settlements totaling about $3 million.
There will be no trials under that scenario.
Warner is furious — and justifiably. He wanted the cases to go to trial, where he believes he would have prevailed.
Settlements in such situations do not include admissions of wrongdoing. Still, handing out $4 million in taxpayers’ money will be perceived by many as admitting Warner was in the wrong.
Obviously, this is an extremely political situation. Giving Warner’s enemies ammunition such as that contained in the BRIM settlements probably would be harmful to his public service career.
But the settlements are not unusual. Each year, BRIM settles many claims against the state without allowing them to go to trial. That happens frequently in the insurance industry, where the rationale is that, guilty or not, going to trial would be more costly than simply settling a case.
Each year, BRIM spends about $12.5 million that way, according to Warner.
That is an enormous disservice to taxpayers for a couple of reasons. First, it may encourage frivolous lawsuits against state officials. Some who may want a nice payday may decide that netting a fat settlement is worth filing a lawsuit — whether they are in the right or not.
Second, settlements often are enormous disservices to the officials involved. Without ever providing an answer to whether they were in the wrong, they leave the impression of guilt.
Warner is right to want the Legislature to do something about that. There should be more oversight regarding BRIM, to prevent settlements such as those in his case.