By STEVE COHEN
The new touch-screen technology on West Virginia voting machines makes casting a ballot as simple as milking a little cash out of your bank's ATM.
And just as the balance of your savings account is important to your future, so too is your decision about where to place your fingers on the electronic ballot Tuesday.
Wednesday morning has the potential to be the dawn of a new day for West Virginia. Where you place your fingers on the electronic screen Tuesday may help determine if your job, and your neighbor's, is secure. The men and women we choose to be our voice in the state Legislature make choices that affect not only taxes and government spending -- but also job growth.
For example, West Virginia allows out-of-state lawsuits that have little connection with our state to be filed in our courtrooms and at West Virginia taxpayers' expense. That can change after Tuesday.
In West Virginia, you may have to pay for damages caused by someone else. That can change after Tuesday.
In West Virginia judges can say, "No Proof? No Problem!" and allow lawsuits to go forward when there is no evidence of actual injury. That can change after Tuesday.
In West Virginia, our attorney general has been filing lawsuits and taking settlement money for what amounts to a personal political slush fund without giving any money back to the clients he represents. That can change after Tuesday.
Unfortunately, there is a powerful element in this state resistant to such change. The personal injury lawyers who get rich over lawsuits have spent, in just the last six weeks, $200,000 to bankroll their legislative candidates who are expected to stand in the way of any reforms that can help our job climate. As a matter of fact, according to official campaign finance reports on file with the Secretary of State, the lawsuit industry this campaign season has sunk a quarter-million dollars into the campaigns of just 12 candidates. With so much cash invested in this so-called "Dirty Dozen," it is appropriate to ask what these wealthy personal injury lawyers want in return.
True, West Virginia has taken steps to improve the legal climate so employers will create jobs. Our family doctors are no longer leaving in droves. An anti-jobs Supreme Court justice was thrown out of office by the voters, and another was passed over for the chief justice position. But more needs to be done if our state is to throw off its reputation of having out-of-control courts that discourage job growth.
Your fingertips have tremendous power to direct the future of our state on Tuesday.
By Wednesday we will know if West Virginia remains in the hands of the lawsuit industry and continues to discourage job growth -- or if 2006 and 2007 will bring economic promise and new job opportunities. Rarely have the choices on a legislative election day been so diverse and so important. Exercise your vote on Tuesday and restore faith in West Virginia's legal system.
Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.