Several months ago West Virginia began a series of four elections for governor over a period of two years (approximately one election every six months).
We're having a special election for a term of 14 months this year. We had the primary for that special election this past May. The special general election takes place this coming Oct. 4. You heard that, right? By the time this is being published early voting will have already started!
Perhaps you weren't aware. If not, don't feel like the proverbial "lone ranger." Many people have no idea this election is taking place.
In the primary the statewide turnout was only 18 percent. In the Eastern Panhandle we collectively barely got out of single digits. Here in Jefferson County the turnout did not get out of single digits.
I certainly hope we can gin up the turnout much higher than that this time. Eastern Panhandle turnout is usually slightly higher than the statewide average during regularly scheduled elections. But we tend to have lower turnout than the statewide average in special elections. I think that's because of the high percentage of the Eastern Panhandle's population that commutes to work long distances out of state.
Whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, a member of a smaller party (Mountain, Green, Constitution, etc.) or an independent, I urge you to vote for Earl Ray Tomblin.
Mr. Tomblin is officially the president of the State Senate. He has been, by the state constitution, acting governor for almost a year (since Joe Manchin was elected to the United States Senate to replace the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd). It's a stupid situation, but that's not Mr. Tomblin's fault. As I have said here in the past, I dearly hope we change that situation in time for the regularly scheduled election for governor in 2016.
Mr. Tomblin is more conservative than am I. Yet, I supported him in the Democratic primary over a couple of people who are closer to me philosophically than he is. He is, though, where I think West Virginia's governor should be on two critical issues.
He's been president of the Senate for about 15 years. Prior to that he was chair of the Senate Finance Committee. In those two positions he was as responsible as anyone for the remarkable fiscal transformation of our state.
Nineteen years ago, when I was elected to the House of Delegates and took my seat on the House Finance Committee, West Virginia could not pay its bills. Many health care providers would not accept insurance cards from the state agency responsible for public employees' health insurance. Many contractors refused to bid on state jobs - they weren't getting paid.
Now, our state is one of only four that is running a budget surplus. This year that surplus was a whopping 8 percent of the general revenue fund. We also have one of the four healthiest "rainy day" funds of the 50 states.
Furthermore (partly a result of that, I'm convinced), we've finally begun to climb out of the nation's economic cellar. After having been 49th in the country in per capita income for over a dozen years (barely ahead of Mississippi), we this year jumped two notches to 47th. While that might not sound like much, consider that states don't generally move up or down that list very quickly. And we gained per capita income in a greater percentage than all but five other states.
The other critical area of public policy in which I think Mr. Tomblin is absolutely correct is in higher education. He's the strongest supporter of improving higher education of the 14 people who originally filed papers to run for this office back before the primary.
Part of the reason for our (until recently) poor economic performance has been that West Virginia has not placed a premium on people having more than a high school diploma. Heck, for years one didn't even need that. Folks went to work in the mines or the mills with an 8th grade eduation and made good money. Those days are long gone.
Until a few years ago West Virginia lacked a real community college system. Mr. Tomblin was a strong supporter of developing one, which we finally did (full disclosure - his wife is a community college president). That lack of a community college system is also heavily responsible for our state still being 50th among the states in percentage of its population with any college credential at all. That's been a killer when it comes to attracting the attention of people who create jobs, but thanks to Mr. Tomblin, among others, we've fixed that problem.
Mr. Tomblin was quite supportive of my effort a few years ago to permit Shepherd College (now Shepherd University) and four other small West Virginia public colleges to offer master's degrees. Strangely our state then only permitted West Virginia University and Marshall University to offer master's degrees. No wonder we were also 50th among the states in the percentage of our population with master's degrees. That, too, made us unattractive for the creators of many kinds of jobs.
Mr. Tomblin is too close philosophically to the coal industry for me. But for heaven's sake he's represented Logan County (in the heart of our state's southwestern coalfields) in the legislature for many years. He has the same reason for supporting coal that I have for supporting the horse racing industry, as well as other forms of tourism. It's the lifeblood of his home region.
Mr. Tomblin's Republican opponent is Bill Maloney, a Morgantown businessperson. Mr. Maloney has completely bought into the Tea Party's rigid anti-government rhetoric.
Of the remaining three candidates, I like Bob Henry Baber, the nominee of the Mountain Party. I'm probably closer to him philosophically than I am to Mr. Tomblin.
Sometimes there are elections in which it makes sense to consider a candidate from a party other than the two major ones. But it does not make sense this time. The race is very close between Mr. Tomblin and Mr. Maloney. West Virginia must not have a Tea Party governor.