Going into week two at the Capitol
We made it through the first full week of the session, several bills have already been passed and sent to the next chamber, and the two major pet projects of legislative leaders — broadband expansion and workforce development — will be up for votes next week.
I won’t rehash a lot of that, as you can read my various reports online, but it’s a good start to the session. There’s not much of any real disagreements and a lot of bipartisanship.
That will all change at some point soon, but for now, it’s very nice. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t interesting things that happened this week.
First, let’s start with a poll that largely flew under the radar. Orion Strategies released a couple of polls this week that should have Republicans and Gov. Jim Justice smiling.
(Disclaimer: my wife works for Orion Strategies, though not in their polling division.)
Specifically, for Justice, 47 percent believe West Virginia is headed the right direction, with only 29 percent saying it’s not. While only 21 percent watched the governor’s State of the State last week, 55 percent gave it a positive ranking.
Democrats looking for 2020 to bring some clean sweeps should probably be cautious. According to the poll, 56 percent support President Donald Trump’s wall, 49 percent blame Democrats for the government shutdown (while 33 percent blame Trump and 2 percent blame Republicans), and 57 percent give Trump a good job approval rating.
Of course, those numbers were all done before the Buzzfeed story claiming that Trump ordered former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the deals for Trump Tower Moscow. I would expect some of those numbers to shift the next time a poll is taken in the state.
Lastly, for those wanting legal recreational marijuana, that’s not going to be any time soon in West Virginia. While 68 percent support the state’s legal medical marijuana initiative that goes live in July, 66 percent are opposed to legal recreational weed. I’d be curious to see what’s driving this. I imagine it skews older, with younger people being fine with legalization.
Speaking of the wall, an effort to send $10 million of state tax dollars to Trump to help build the wall is probably dead in the water before the three amigos who pitched the plan have even drafted it.
Delegates Carl “Robbie” Martin, R-Upshur, Patrick Martin, R-Lewis, and Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, proposed taking part of the state’s surplus to send down south to build the wall nearly 1,500 miles away from the state.
I have to question the thought process. Was this simply an effort to get state and national attention? They certainly got that, but I can’t imagine it’s the kind they wanted. The consensus from comments I’ve seen is that while many support Trump’s wall, they don’t support sending state tax dollars down to do it.
Who can blame the public? They’ve already paid federal taxes, which Congress and the president are fighting over. Additionally, $10 million of $5 billion, the amount Trump is demanding Congress give him, is 0.2 percent.
I’d suggest the three delegates remember they are West Virginia lawmakers representing their districts. If they want wall funding, run for Congress next time.
Lastly, southern West Virginia politics is just a strange thing to explain, particularly to people back in my home in Pleasants County.
For example, as I reported last week, Richard Ojeda resigned his state Senate seat representing the people of Logan, Boone and part of Mingo counties. He did this to continue his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, of which he is one of a gazillion candidates.
Prior to resigning, he raised concerns with West Virginia Public Broadcasting about someone he heard might be replacing him: Paul Hardesty, a long-time lobbyist, including for companies owned by Gov. Justice.
Well, after Ojeda resigned and after an extremely quick nomination process, Justice picked Hardesty from a list of three on Thursday (including a former member of the House of Delegates and the former state senator who held the seat before Ojeda).
Ojeda, I’m told, wanted to rescind his resignation. The Charleston Gazette-Mail also corroborates this. I don’t have much sympathy for Ojeda, however.
I think there are legitimate issues with picking your own lobbyist for a Senate seat (Hardesty, talking to reporters after being sworn in Friday morning, tried backing away from his Justice ties, saying he only registered as a lobbyist for Justice’s companies so people wouldn’t think he was lobbying without filing with the Ethics Commission). But Ojeda had a pretty easy way to keep this from happening: never resigning in the first place.
Most of the Ojeda supporters I talk to love him, but don’t really understand why he is running for president. Some even are offended he resigned.
Hardesty might not be ideal in some eyes, but it’s better than having an empty seat. Honestly, I’m more confused by why the 7th District Democratic Executive Committee picked Hardesty — a friend of the Republican governor — as one of their three choices.
It will be curious to see where he comes down on Justice’s legislation.
(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)