Reporter’s Notebook/Is anyone really gaming the system?
Alright folks, allow me to continue my weekly countdown to the 2020 general election. As of today, we are less than 30 days away from Tuesday, Nov. 3.
By the time you read this, I will have written campaign profiles of every Board of Public Works race except for the governor’s race (I’m doing that piece this weekend) and secretary of state, which is being handled by other reporters to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest (I’m a former press secretary for the current secretary of state).
I won’t beat a dead horse about deadlines, but I will just quickly remind you that you have barely two weeks (Tuesday, Oct. 13) to either register to vote or make changes to your voter registration. Wednesday, Oct. 28, is the final day to make sure your local county clerk has your absentee ballot application in hand.
You can update your voter registration, register to vote, or request an absentee ballot at GoVoteWV.com.
For those hoping for a coming together of the business and labor community behind one candidate for governor, you’re out of luck. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce endorsed Republican Gov. Jim Justice last week. The West Virginia AFL-CIO backed Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, Justice’s Democratic opponent, a month or so ago.
The last time both business and labor groups backed a candidate for governor in a prominent way was Joe Manchin back in 2004 for his first successful campaign for governor.
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Justice snagged the chamber endorsement. They backed his Democratic campaign for governor in 2016. The chamber has hosted its annual meeting at the Greenbrier Resort every August for years. Justice has been able to deliver on multiple chamber goals, such as broadband expansion, the Communities in Schools program, the Jobs and Hope program, and more.
“The year 2020 has been one of much uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Governor Justice has provided much-needed steady leadership to guide our state through this health crisis,” said chamber President Steve Roberts. “It is for these reasons and many more that the West Virginia Chamber PAC is proud to support Governor Jim Justice for a second term leading our state.”
Salango received an endorsement of his own from the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce. Also not a huge surprise. Kanawha County hasn’t had a governor since Bob Wise in 2001. Manchin was basically from Marion County. Earl Ray Tomblin is from Logan County. Justice is from Greenbrier County and won’t even spend the night at the Governor’s Mansion. Even though Salango is a Raleigh County native, his adopted home of Kanawha County has embraced him thoroughly.
We’ll see where the chips fall in November, but I suspect Salango will win Kanawha County easily.
Both teachers’ unions are raising a ruckus about the new County Alert System map and metrics. The West Virginia Education Association has threatened an injunction to block the current map and metrics. The West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers has reached out to its membership to “gauge what actions the local members are willing to take to address the issues.”
One thing that new metrics has caused is an effort to game the system. Remember how people were trying to game the system before by not getting tested in order to affect the map colors? As I noted here, that was never going to work because by not getting tested, it forced the metrics to get worse because it didn’t have the data to determine how the virus was spreading.
As a result, the Department of Health and Human Resources changed the way the metrics were calculated to go off of seven-day positivity rates in an effort to incentivize people going to get tested for COVID-19. Justice has been accused of forcing the development of new metrics to skew the data in favor of re-opening schools and getting kids back on the football fields. The data hasn’t been skewed; they just went with a different metric which makes the increase in cases not look as bad.
The problem is now people, in a new effort to game the system, are allegedly going to testing sites and getting tested every day when possible. The WVEA tweeted out a screengrab from an unnamed Putnam County Board of Education member claiming to do this, and Justice has been asked twice by Nexstar Media reporter Mark Curtis about these phenomena, particularly among student athletes and coaches.
Again, you can’t game the system. I’ve always understood that the DHHR database system and county health department systems are designed to weed out duplicates. Heck, I’ve been tested twice in Kanawha County where I live, though those two times were two months apart. DHHR officials said they haven’t seen this yet but were not happy that people were doing this.
So, what are the unions to do? Both originally called for all 55 counties to start school virtually (still a silly proposition for those counties that still continue to see few cases). Both have also endorsed Salango, which colors almost every move they do as political.
There’s plenty of data out there that shows most parents wanted their kids in school in person. There’s also a lawsuit in Kanawha County Circuit Court by a high school football quarterback calling for an injunction of Justice’s re-opening map and metrics. But that’s not to create a better map. It’s so his school can re-open so he can play football and get in front of scouts and get scholarships.
I don’t expect Justice will be hurt politically for creating a new map that allows more schools to re-open unless there are massive outbreaks. So far, there are 19 schools with between two and three cases. But unions need to be careful that whatever actions they take is based on protecting students and staff and not for politics.
(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)