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Candidate’s views on economics & politics more ideological than practical & historical

By Staff | Jul 23, 2010

I feel that I should comment on Candidate Simon’s letter “On the Passing of Senator Byrd.”

I appreciate Mr. Simon’s tributes to Senator Byrd, a fine gentleman who did his best for the state, and whom I knew from various directly personal and indirect contacts over a period of two decades.

As for Mr. Simon’s perspectives on economics and politics, he appears to have an ideological as opposed to a practical and historical view of these matters. Properly understood, government has a key and utterly essential role to play in public life, and certainly in every facet of economics; every business is a delegation of public authority, in practical effect. Had it not been for the multitude of federal investments (note that I say ‘investments’ not ‘spending’) brought to the state by Sen. Byrd and others in past decades, West Virginia would be in far worse shape than it is today.

I should point out that to my certain personal knowledge, literally hundreds of legitimate businesses, large and small, have attempted to open in West Virginia in recent decades. Since land-use is left up to local authorities by long-standing tradition in the USA (there are no federal or state land-use policies, unfortunately), the hundreds of businessmen have come before local county commissions to gain approval for their efforts (and there are 55 counties in the state). The response they generally get from county commissions is this: “We don’t want all that traffic on our roads.” How does Mr. Simon propose to remedy this problem? What do the governor and legislature propose to do about this?

West Virginia continues to export its young people by the tens of thousands, because there is little here for them to do in the way of remunerative work once they receive an education. Various governors and the state legislature have sat on their hands on this for an entire century, while voting more and more money for a burgeoning array of state educational institutions. What is wrong with this picture? As Warren Mickey observed to me in the 1980s, “West Virginia is not really a poor state, just poorly managed.”

I came to West Virginia as a federal civil servant in 1977, and have been here in Jefferson County ever since, as a writer and journalist, doing various kinds of public service as a private citizen, often with a mounting sense of frustration and occasional revulsion. West Virginia’s state constitution and structure date from the settlement patterns and political peculiarities of the late nineteenth century, with fifty-five counties and profoundly fragmented governance. The late Ray Johnston, developer of The Woods in Berkeley County, and an historian and dedicated public citizen, proposed consolidating the state into nine super-counties to de-fragment governance; this idea has never received serious attention. All the various governors and legislators have never seriously considered modernization and updating of the state and its institutions and laws; the tinkering that has been done has amounted to something like slapping a little tar here and there on a broken and collapsing roof.

West Virginia’s governors and legislature continue to ignore the obvious value and utility of its rail infrastructure, which literally made the state possible when it was built in the nineteenth century (until June 20, 1863, West Virginia was a part of Virginia, then in rebellion against the Union), and which could be used to vast economic benefit now-despite the efforts of Sen. McCabe and others to bring these matters forward and promote greater use of this unique, unparalleled state resource.

Sen. Byrd was ever watchful to try to improve the state, and found the funding for a HUD special purpose grant of $500,000 in 1992 for the restoration of Shepherdstown’s 1908 train station. Del. John Doyle was immensely helpful in finding additional state funding to complete and fully modernize the facility, which re-opened for public use in 1997. This station is a great asset now to the community as a meeting place and public facility, and will be even more useful when MARC passenger train service to Hagerstown is established, hopefully in the near future. There is so much more to be done in this arena, and the public need for alternative transport in this region is huge and growing greater daily.

Sen. Byrd was a great asset to the state, and we all have reason to mourn him and to celebrate his many achievements and accomplishments.

Joseph J. Snyder