By MICHAEL J. ROMANO
CHARLESTON -- For some crusaders, the facts just don't matter -- they twist them out of recognition or don't even look.
I'm actually not sure which is the case with West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse's Richie Heath, but his response to my recent column made it clear that CALA will rely on the absurd to convince you to give up your rights to a fair civil justice system. The truth exposes the great disservice CALA and groups like it have done to West Virginia's prosperity by effectively destroying our state's reputation as a place to bring business and jobs.
In a recent column, I examined why West Virginia has a hard time showcasing its strengths to prospective businesses -- in large part thanks to organizations like CALA. In that article, I suggested that one of the most enduring challenges to West Virginia's economic development is the very hills and mountains that make our state so unique and beautiful. Heath said I was dead wrong, claiming that Colorado has extraordinary economic growth despite its mountainous terrain.
Obviously Mr. Heath has never been to Colorado or did not let the facts get in the way of his attack. Yes, Colorado has mountains, but as anyone who owns a map knows, the Rockies cover only part of that state. Eastern Colorado, where her economic growth is centered, is part of the Great Plains and totals more than 41,600 square miles. Contrary to Heath's studied conclusion, much of Colorado is quite flat.
That's right -- flat, inexpensively developable land in contrast to West Virginia whose total land area is just 24,231 square miles. Colorado's flat land alone nearly doubles the entire size West Virginia with all her mountains and hills. Mr. Heath and CALA just won't let facts get in the way of a good piece of propaganda.
In a further attempt to give legitimacy to their claims, Mr. Heath blindly pounds CALA's drum again citing to "tort reform" studies which have long debunked by scholars. I challenged those studies citing nationally-recognized experts whose research was subjected to true peer review in their fields.
How did Mr. Heath rebut Dr. Elizabeth Thornburg's Judicial Hellholes, Lawsuits Climates and Bad Social Science which debunks much of the "tort reform" propaganda? He claimed that a couple of unidentified legislators called it "junk data."
In my world, you just don't counter the findings of a Cornell University law professor with anonymous quotes of "I hated it" from unnamed legislators -- not unless the facts make little difference. It's really like claiming that Colorado is one big mountain.
Even the conclusions of WVU economics professor Russell Sobel, frequently cited by CALA and Heath, have been debunked by experts. In reviewing Sobel's book, Ross Eisenbrey from the Economic Policy Institute wrote that "its arguments have little or no foundation in economic reality ... this backward view is the direct result of their shaky grasp of certain basic economic concepts: they start from wrong assumptions and, naturally, end with bad policy." (Sunday Gazette-Mail, August 12, 2007)
Even the book's historical perspective was questioned by noted West Virginia historian Dr. Kenneth Bailey who said that "it distorts history for a specific purpose." (Sunday Gazette-Mail, September 16, 2007)
Unfortunately, Heath's response provides a universal example of the hidden agenda of corporate special interests that put profits over the safety of West Virginia and its people who live and work here. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its phony front groups such as Heath's CALA are pursuing an agenda of total immunity from the rules when they injure our people, our businesses, and our land. For them, the facts don't matter, the rules don't matter and our state doesn't matter.
All that matters is increasing their profits by eliminating the rules that protect us. Their mantra takes a page from history's infamous propaganda schemes and the opening page of their playbook might very well read "never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it." (Produced for the British Office of Strategic Services, later published as The Mind of Adolph Hitler, p. 51.)
The inevitable result is that businesses that might locate here because of our strengths -- bringing us better jobs, better wages, and economic development -- won't take a first look when groups like CALA and the Chamber tell them to stay away.
Who would buy a house in a neighborhood if the people living said it's a bad place to live? The obvious answer: NO ONE. And as long as we allow CALA, the Chamber and their allies to continue re-writing the truth—including the geography of Colorado—new businesses just won't come here.
Editor's Notes: Romano is president of the West Virginia Association for Justice. Also, The West Virginia Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform.