WHEELING – For years, West Virginia’s political class said that each progressive movement among Democrats came “too soon,” and they’ve gotten their way. But after another failed administration, it’s time to worry that the movement could be too late.
West Virginia’s peril has no precedent. Our population has more older folks, and more existing lung disease than any state in the union. Asbestosis, black lung, pollution, and smoking have taken their toll and in the best of times, older West Virginians need extra time to catch their breath.
These are not the best of times. The wolf is inside the door in the form of a deadly virus that spreads quietly and kills at unprecedented rates, but especially the old and those with compromised lungs. Strong action to control its spread was needed weeks ago.
The Republicans who control Charleston left town having done nothing. The billionaire GOP governor called on people to go ahead and go out to Bob Evans just a few days ago, against all sound public health advice. Testing so far has been basically zero — our captain was asleep at the wheel at best, consciously indifferent at worst.
I don’t much blame right-wing politicians anymore for what they do. They give fair warning year after year that rah-rah “West Virginia First” and “West Virginia Strong” sloganeering and corporate tax cuts will be their solution for every problem. They only barely pretend to care about the burdens ordinary families bear, and they certainly won’t help.
But what about our Democrats? What about the Party that is supposed to stand up for the working man and woman and their families? Time and again, they shot down the progressive plan — the tax credit for hard work, the raise in the minimum wage, the protection for equal rights. “Too expensive!” “What will the Chamber of Commerce say?” “What about my reelection?”
Four years ago, the grand poo-bah of West Virginia Democrats, Joe Manchin, was so worried about progressive candidates for governor that he endorsed the Republican — and helped deliver Jim Justice the governorship. While coronavirus took hold in West Virginia, big Jim was running his casinos, tending to his coal business, and playing at his hobbies. Jim has taken great care of Jim and put West Virginia in terrible danger.
How will we tell West Virginia’s little children that when the virus knocked on our state’s door, calling for their grandparents, that the governor was coaching basketball games and insulting the young girls on the other teams? How will we explain that big Jim was bragging about being friends with the President, while that same President said West Virginia wouldn’t need much help? Who can explain to them that we let hospitals close, one after another, just when we needed them most?
We don’t know the full price we are going to pay for having a big-mouth, low-effort, braggadocios buffoon as our governor in a time of true crisis. We just know it will be more than any of us can bear. We know it will be so much worse than it needed to be. We know already that the entire state has been shut down because the leadership could not be bothered to prepare.
The progressive movement in West Virginia today has a plan for coronavirus. Thousands of West Virginians literally cannot wait for it to be implemented. But when you have a rich person who thought it would be fun to get famous too running the state, you end up long on talk and short on plans and implementation.
The state needs to be mobilized to take every action possible to save everyone we can possibly save. Instead we get a quickie press-conference and the politicians all went home. We cannot afford any more of GOP indifference and greed. We cannot afford any more of the establishment Democrats’ lassitude and indolence.
As this article went to press, we learned that Republican US Senators like Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler actually traded out of stocks they owned when their committees received advance warning of what the country faced. They then went out to the cameras and told ordinary Americans everything will be fine. Government by the rich, of the rich and for the rich has got to end now.
West Virginia can’t wait for strong coordinated action in every county. It can’t wait for someone who is prepared to do the work with the people who suffer the most uppermost in mind. It cannot wait for Stephen Smith. People are talking about moving elections back. West Virginia needs to move its up, before it’s too late. West Virginia needs an uprising.
Regan is an attorney with Bordas & Bordas in Wheeling and the former vice chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party.