By MIKE STUART
CHARLESTON -- The 2011 Legislative Session was not only a failure, but also damaging to the perception of West Virginia for those that might consider this as a possible destination to locate their business.
Some may falsely argue that West Virginia has weathered the economic downturn better than most. The reality is that our unemployment rate is 10.3 percent, 1.4 percent above the national average. Nearly half of our counties have unemployment in excess of 12 percent and more than half a dozen are in excess of 14 percent. Our pension system, on a per capita basis, is one of the most indebted in the nation. Our court system has been called a "judicial hell hole." And our tax and regulatory climate is one of the most unfriendly to job creation in the country.
In the 2011 Legislative session, the Legislature under the substantial control of the Democrat Party, failed to pass a single bill that could even arguably improve our business climate. Quite the contrary, those things that did pass combined with those that did not, will lead to a continued loss of jobs, larger government debt, and the acceleration of the perception that West Virginia is not a place in which businesses can do business.
This session, the union-boss, liberal-controlled Legislature committed our state to more than $1 billion in new spending over the next 10 years -- pay raises for government workers, big pay raises for judges, and $100 million in subsidies for the gambling industry. The Legislature also passed such "taxpayer-unfriendly" acts as substantially increasing Department of Motor Vehicle and other fees, Obamacare, and, of all things, a resolution supporting Wisconsin public unions and condemning its duly-elected governor with a floor debate in which a Democrat legislator compared the Wisconsin governor to Adolf Hitler.
At the same time, the Legislature failed to address more serious issues affecting West Virginia. The Legislature said "No" to an intermediate appellate court, "No" to critically important Marcellus shale gas legislation, and "No" to any solutions for our very own "Wisconsin-like" pension crisis. And, while the Legislature was busy committing more than $1 billion in new spending, it could not find a single dollar to cut from the exploding state budget -- not one.
The reality is that elections have consequences. To solve our problems, we need new leaders elected to represent us in Charleston. We cannot sustain on the present course. Elected Democrats in Charleston no longer represent or share the concerns of rank and file Democrats in communities all across West Virginia. Most West Virginia Democrats are not "Obama Democrats" but, sadly, the folks they send to Charleston are fighting fiercely not for our agenda but for the Obama agenda.
There was a time in West Virginia where the argument "I am a Democrat so I may have a choice of candidate" made sense. That argument no longer is valid. There was a time when it could be argued that the Democrat Party was comprised of "good conservatives" but with the growth of the Republican Party and independents, the "good conservatives" have left. No longer can a business-oriented candidate be elected in a Democrat primary. The Democrat Party of my father and grandfather has been hijacked by the extreme left, union bosses and the liberals. The Democrat Party of my father and grandfather is dead.
Most West Virginians are reasonably conservative in their views. They support limited government, cutting government spending and taxes, building a business climate that can support our families, and they believe in the ideal of personal responsibility. Those are principles for which I and most other Republican leaders are fighting for today in West Virginia. We are fighting for positive "change."
I encourage and invite registered Democrats and independents all across West Virginia that no longer feel that Democrat elected officials represent their views or values to join with us as we continue to work to build a better future.
It doesn't have to be this way. It is far past time for a new direction, a new vision, and a better future. Join us as we work to build a state that can lead the nation.
Stuart is chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party and a Charleston attorney.