THEIR VIEW: Robert C. Byrd holiday not needed

By The West Virginia Record | Feb 3, 2011

CHARLESTON -- During the West Virginia Legislature's regular session, there are a few ideas that are good, many that are bad, and some that just make you scratch your head.

The proposal making the birthday of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd a state holiday falls into the latter category.

Eleven members of the House of Delegates, all Democrats, are co-sponsors of HB 2865 that would designate Nov. 20 "Robert C. Byrd Day," a legal holiday.

There are so many reasons this is an empty idea it's hard to know where to begin, but let's start with the cost.

The state would have to pay state employees for not doing anything that day. In addition, the state would have to pay more to those who perform necessary functions and have to be on the job.

That one day would cost the state more than $8 million. That price tag does not include the cost to city and county governments, which typically follow the lead on state holidays.

West Virginia already has 13 legal holidays. We recognize all the big ones, such as Christmas and New Years Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. But we also shut down for West Virginia Day on June 20th and Columbus Day on the second Monday of October.

Do we really need one more holiday?

A few years ago, we abandoned Lincoln's Birthday as a state holiday, sort of. We used to close for a day in February, the month of Lincoln's actual birthday. But we moved that day off to the day after Thanksgiving.

Nationally, we have stopped acknowledging the individual birthdays of Lincoln and Washington and lumped all the Presidents into one holiday—President's Day or, as it's known in West Virginia, one of the biggest skiing weekends of the season.

I doubt many of us are doing much reflecting on the American Presidency on that day. Who's to believe that we would spend Robert C. Byrd Day with en masse celebration of the iconic Senator? It's more likely a few unfortunate souls would be forced or shamed into attending the obligatory ceremony that would no doubt be held at the Byrd statue in the State Capitol.

True, Byrd was the most significant political leader in the state's history, and the roads, bridges and government buildings that bear his name are constant reminders of the Byrd-led effort to redistribute taxpayer dollars to his beloved state.

It's hard to imagine West Virginians will have trouble remembering the contributions of Senator Byrd.

Still, if we want a way for future generations to acknowledge the late Senator, let's do it in a more Byrd-esque way, not with a day off, but rather with a day of work.

Byrd was responsible for the designation of Sept. 17 as Constitution Day, a day where schools are supposed to devote time to the study and appreciation of the country's founding document.

If we live up to that charge, West Virginians and all Americans will have a better understanding of the instrument and its critical importance to the nation. If, on that day, a West Virginia school child comes to understand why Byrd would pull from his breast pocket a copy of the Constitution and wave it with conviction, authority and pride, then we will have appropriately honored the late Senator's legacy.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

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