Ron Gregory: Justice takes a risk on road repairs

March 23, 2019

If the roads to heaven are maintained like the highways in “Almost Heaven,” some may reconsider if they really want to go.

It’s been all the political discussion since last year, but the poor condition of West Virginia roads has long been lamented by Mountain State residents. This is not a new problem. Roads here have resembled a patchwork quilt for years. Road crews routinely patch the patches they patched last summer. Gov. Jim Justice rightly pointed out this week that the roads were as smooth as washboards before “Little Jimmy” (his nickname for himself; not mine) came to power.

So, the governor is right, but he’s oh-so-wrong. His direct responsibility came when he went across the state presenting the road bonds as the answer to all our prayers. Highway officials and engineers knew better. Surely, Justice had some inkling.

Average citizens wondered why elected and highway officials were so reluctant to pinpoint what roads they intended to pave and repair. Eventually, the state produced graphs and maps that made it appear the state would become a smooth ribbon of asphalt. Officials knew better.

Now, a year later, folks are looking around trying to find at least a few paving jobs. It’s a real challenge.

West Virginia, as in most other ways, is geographically challenged when it comes to roads. It costs more to construct curvy, mountainous roads than flat desert miles.

Realistically, Justice is not to blame for all current road shortcomings. But he must be careful of his promises. When he calls county supervisors in as he did last week and demands corrective plans “within 72 hours,” he’d better be prepared to follow with some corrective action of his own if the supervisors fail to get the job done.

Never take somebody else’s problem and make it your own - especially in the court of public opinion.

There must be realistic solutions coming from the current listening tour by the Legislature. And that includes not only financial matters like PEIA but repairing this broken-down road system as well.

• • •

Logan, where politics is a lifetime business, not a hobby, is already heating up for the 2020 election.

Rumors swirl about the state Senate seat that opened when Richard Ojeda resigned one week into the 2019 legislative session.

On the subject of Ojeda, there are those who “know” he pulled up his homestead exemption stakes and headed to Iowa. Others say he vowed to never return to the West Virginia hills he claimed to love so much before losing the 2018 3rd District congressional race.

Time will tell on that matter, but he surely has been quiet for weeks now.

Otherwise, on his old Senate seat, Justice appointed lobbyist supreme and former county manager Paul Hardesty to fill out the term. Voters will pick a four-year replacement next year.

Hardesty already says he’s running for the full term. Like Ojeda, Hardesty is a Democrat, and there’s the rub.

Ojeda defeated incumbent Democrat Sen. Art Kirkendoll in the controversial 2016 primary. Many believe Kirkendoll, a longtime county commissioner, wants to go back to the statehouse. Certainly, hundreds of Kirkendoll supporters have nursed a grudge since the 2016 loss.

If both Hardesty and Kirkendoll run for the Senate, it will set up a titanic battle. This will be added to by the fact that most offices are up for grabs next year, so it’s a full ballot.

Just sit back and watch America’s favorite spectator sport. Let’s watch it together.

• • •

Upstart Democrat gubernatorial candidate Stephen Noble Smith was emphatic about one thing this week: Chris Kimes “never” worked in Smith’s campaign. This clashed with rumors on the trail that he had.

Who’s Chris Kimes, you ask, and why does it matter?

Smith, it seems, served as director of the nonprofit West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. Kimes was on the staff and has been charged with embezzling more than $62,000 from the group.

The campaign scuttlebutt has been that Kimes was involved, at one time, with the financial end of Smith’s campaign as well. Absolutely not true, Smith said.

I appreciated Smith’s candor and quick response to all my questions.

It was a welcome relief from those who try to duck and dodge the inquiries.

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