For a second year running, West Virginia finished dead last in an annual business survey of state legal climates.
50 of 50, and a repeat performance no less, sounds a bit dire to us. But the news hit the rest of the Mountain State’s journalistic community like dog bites man.
West Virginia’s plight earned headlines in places like California, Arizona, Delaware and North Carolina. But it didn’t even earn a mention in this state’s largest newspaper, the Charleston Gazette.
Are we now so used to bad news about the state of this state’s courts that it is no longer newsworthy at all? Or have we simply taken to tuning it out, hopeless for real resolution and content to cope via denial?
Let’s hope for West Virginia’s sake that neither prove the case.
It’s easy to chalk up the Gazette’s noticeable silence as conscious and politically motivated. Its powers-that-be are notoriously chummy with the survey’s scapegoats — Attorney General Darrell McGraw and the local plaintiff’s bar. Moreover, the report in question was commissioned by Harris Interactive for a business association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also owns this newspaper.
Indeed, the Gazette never will be caught cheerleading for the business community.
But what about the rest of us? We can glance at the phone book and quickly surmise that West Virginia’s business climate is great for lawyers. That it isn’t for business itself, despite what the highway signs promise, begs a question of our collective political priorities.
The Harris survey says America’s fastest-growing employers are flat-out scared of West Virginia. Corporate executives fear coming here, for their arrival might earn them a big fat “sue me” target on their backs.
The trial lawyers, predictably, protest, suggesting this report is the work of corporations keen on gutting “consumer protection and workplace safety laws.” They want West Virginia leaders to focus on protecting citizens from businesses, rather than tuning our economic climate in their favor, attracting more of them.
So it’s fair to ask: do we want new technology and manufacturing companies from places such as California and Arizona and Delaware and North Carolina to invest here in the Mountain State? Are we even interested in tempting the jobs of tomorrow?
Or should we be satisfied with job growth at downtown Charleston law firms?
Because until we can see how we’re seen, that’s all we’ll be getting.