11 February 2011

The Governor’s Special Election: Laughing up the Sleeves; The NRA Misses the Broad Side of the Barn; And other tales

Government by Dairy Queen; The Special Election

I’ll have an ice cream cone – seven scoops, lemon, chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, coffee, pistachio and almond ripple. Covered with fudge. With sprinkles. Okay on second thought, I’ll take nine of them. No, no bag. Oh, no, I’m alone. I’ll just eat them here.

Elections are like ice cream cones. They are really good things. Delectable. Democracy in action. And consume too many of them in a short period of time, and you’re going to puke. And puke. And then puke some more, and not be very enthusiastic about them for a long time to come.

Welcome to the politics of West Virginia. We’re gearing up for the special governor’s election. The primary will be held on May 14. Then we will have a general election on October 4. Oops, then it will be 2012. Voters will go to the polls for the West Virginia primary in May. And, finally, and I’m not sure it if it will be climax or merely dénouement, but we'll finish off with the November 2012 General Election. And so, in a timespan of 18 months, West Virginians will abuse themselves with four contested, barn burning, hammer and tongs, knife in the kidney, slander and libel fest elections. I can hardly wait.

Oh, this follows the special senatorial primary election in August, 2010, plus the senatorial lovefest general election in November 2010

The cause of all of this was the death of Sen. Robert C Byrd in late June 2010. Sen. Byrd was the almost totally beloved and absolutely untouchable Dean of West Virginia politics. In a gesture to populism, the Governor and Legislature ordered a special election in 2010 for the open Senate seat even though that election was not necessary. Two years, they reasoned, was too long for an appointed senator not elected by the people. In any event, Gov. Manchin won that election which then created a vacancy in the governor’s mansion. Under the West Virginia Constitution, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin became acting governor. That, by the way, set up a power struggle in the Senate. They’re still cleaning the walls from the pie fight.

Let me take a detour from fact and political reality here: every politician says that he or she wants Biblical glory for Mother West Virginia, let the chips fall where they may. I am reminded of very sage advice I received years ago from my seniors – don’t appeal to someone’s better nature, they may not have one. Instead, appeal to their self-interest. Everybody wants to win. Quite a number of people have the taste of the governor’s chair will in their mouths, and they will stop at damn-all-nothing to slake that thirst. And if the people benefit? Well, that's OK too.

One of the players seeking election is Senate and Acting Governor Tomblin. The other players do not want to wait, primarily because that would permit Gov. Tomblin to amass two years of incumbency points.

I consider the necessity for three back-to-back years of elections to be a chicken bone in the throat of Mother West Virginia. But here is where our dedication to a government of law has to withstand a test. The necessity of a special election this year was confirmed by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. I didn’t like the result, but in reading the decision, they were exactly correct that the Constitution requires it. Last year, the whole special senatorial election was pushed as a trendy damn-history event. The 2011 election has to be held to satisfy the Constitution and to avoid it we would have to trash legal procedure. (One Supreme Court justice recused herself from the election things because she’s going to be on the ballot in 2012. Circuit Court Judge Larry Miller filled in. He’s a good friend and a totally upright guy. The fact that he signed off on the Supreme Court decision lends a particular credibility to me.)

So what do we have? On the Democratic side we have chaos in fratricide. On the Republican side, they are simply laughing their asses off. You see, Republicans in West Virginia have a fundamental problem – the great majority of the time, they lose elections. Therefore, any chaos will at worst leave them no worse off than they already are. Moreover, a 2011 primary process coincides with a convenient appeal to populism. Conveniently, it also aids Democratic Party fratricide and will require Democratic candidates to blow most of their resources on the primary. In my judgment, it would have been wiser and better to have used a conventional system which, up until last week, was what the law provided for. Of course, that would’ve affected the result of who the nominee was, mainly by leaving big money out of the process. I have a little problem tying big money to the public will, but maybe that’s just me. (Just like singing that phrase “world without end” in the Gloria Patria, this whole idea of a “public will” induces a chuckle every time I say it.)

As you might expect, everyone getting into the governor’s race sees himself or herself riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. One candidate announced “A new day in West Virginia!” I’m reminded of the comment made by Brother WC Fields that we don’t need a new deal, because we're going to get old double shuffle anyway.

I am not ready to handicap the election. Every election for 30 years, I've prepared a sample ballot about a week prior to the election and posted it in the back of the circuit clerk’s office with my predictions. I think I would have to write this one on Kevlar this year. So far, the Democrats have five reasonably heavy candidates in the race. State Treasurer John Purdue is smart and accomplished, but suffers from genuinely lousy PR. Speaker of the House Rick Thompson is primarily known in southern West Virginia and would have to hurry up to get a statewide reach. One of his strongest assets is his wife, who travels around with him and who is a GREAT campaigner. Gov. Tomblin is going to get some incumbent points and also points for having jumped in and taken charge. He, too, is known primarily in southern West Virginia and the disgraceful fight in the Senate likely has hurt him. Senator Jeff Kessler announced today. He led the revolution in the Senate which is the first thing that has given him any genuine statewide exposure and which carries some of its own negatives. Finally, there is Natalie Tennant, Secretary of State. While that may be a fairly unimportant job scheme of things, she has run and won a statewide election. Last week, she shot herself in the foot by having a bunch of posters printed at public expense on election issues featuring her photograph. A. James Manchin could get away with that kind of thing, but he’s gone now.

Republicans have a strong candidate in Betty Ireland, the former Secretary of State. She has stayed reasonably prominent since she left office and is already running hard. I have no doubt that she will get some pushback from others in Republican Party because she is just not doctrinaire enough. (That is not say that the Democratic Party does not have a crazy wing. However, the sane wing keeps winning elections, so the crazies stay at the back of the room.) I don’t see Ireland doing goofy things like invoking lasers in the sky, so she will benefit by the Democratic infighting. The question, of course, is how much will she benefit.

Permit me to remind you of something Will Rogers said: I’m not a member of a organized political party. I’m a Democrat.

Note: I finished Greg Icenhower’s biography of A. James Manchin yesterday. A James acted like a goofball, but he believed everything he said and he genuinely loved Mother West Virginia. In 1974, I was down at the Legislature on an internship through West Virginia University. We had an evening session setup by Doc Whisker with A. James. In the room were about 20 intense college students at the end of a hard week but still looking forward to hitting the bar at the Daniel Brown Hotel that night. A. James talked to us for a couple of hours and absolutely captivated us with stories of doing what he felt was the right thing for people. When he was head of the Farmers Home Administration West Virginia (a political plum for helping the Kennedy's in 1960), he attempted to fund a football field in Wetzel County. It was turned down in Washington because they had a rule against funding what were primarily spectator sports facilities. Undeterred, A. James proceeded to fund and approve an outdoor volleyball court 80 yards x 120 yards.

Unrelated note: I read a brief biographical sketch of Lewis Wetzel this evening. He was a well-known Indian fighter on the frontier when the frontier was here in West Virginia. Manifest Destiny aside, the local warfare was intense and Wetzel was a positively accomplished practitioner. He developed the usual skill of being able to reload a flintlock rifle while at a dead run.

The NRA Misses the Broad Side of the Barn

Jeez, and Bro. Dave says I'm a bad shot. I got an e-mail this afternoon from the NRA. Let me say at the outset that I’m a member of the NRA. I argued the gun statute case before the West Virginia Supreme Court for the NRA after the enactment of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment to the state constitution. I support gun rights. I like guns.

Today’s e-mail proudly announced that the NRA is backing two new bills introduced at the West Virginia Legislature. The first is stupid and the second is both stupid and unconstitutional.

“House Bill 3084 would clarify the training requirements for concealed carry applicants, such as the misunderstanding about the existence of a live fire requirement.”

In West Virginia, one must have a permit to carry a concealed firearm. (To openly carry a firearm is lawful so long as one does not brandish it. In other words, if you carry a handgun, leave it in the holster. That's still stupid, though.) The existing statute requires that you have to be a graduate of a recognized training course in order to qualify for the permit. People with law enforcement training or military training have had those courses automatically. NRA courses are specifically approved within the statute. What is, apparently, unclear to some is whether the courses need to include “live fire,” that is, going to a range and actually firing a weapon.

This bill clarifies what nobody in their right mind already knew, that there need be no requirement of “live fire” to obtain a pistol license.

Nor should there be a requirement of working on patients to get a surgeon’s license. Or ever starting an IV to get a paramedic’s license. Or actually donning turnout gear to obtain a firefighter certificate.

Maybe the thinking behind this bill is some “slippery slope” thing that is driving maniacal resistance, for example, to questioning 30 round pistol magazines. (Of that, a discussion on another day.) But, Lord Jesus, please don’t tell me that we will have ignoramuses who have never felt recoil or heard anything go “bang” carrying firearms.

Incidentally, initial life fire is nowhere near enough. If you’re going to do anything dangerous, you need to maintain your skills.

“The second, House Bill 3085, would prohibit physicians from making unrelated
inquiries into a patient’s status of firearm ownership.”

You really have to read some of the language of this one to get the full belly laugh. It would permit the Board of Medicine to suspend or revoke a doctor’s license to practice for any ONE or more of the following 9 causes: (The first 8 are already in the law.):

(1) Conviction of a felony . . . ;
(2) Conviction of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude;
(3) Violation of any provision of [the licensing law];
(4) Fraud, misrepresentation or deceit in procuring or attempting to procure
admission to practice;
(5) Gross malpractice;
(6) Advertising by means of knowingly false or deceptive statements;
(7) Advertising, practicing or attempting to practice under a name other than one's own;
(8) Habitual drunkenness or habitual addiction to the use of morphine, cocaine or
other habit-forming drugs;
(9) Making an oral or written inquiry of a patient concerning the possession, ownership, or storage of firearms, where the inquiry has no relationship to the practice of osteopathic medicine or the medical condition of the patient and is for the purpose of gathering statistics or to justify patient counseling unless the inquiry is the subject of a request or related to a medical complaint made by the patient.

The statute has the distinction of being insulting and unconstitutional.

Some months ago, I answered some sort of written questionnaire prepared by some national company as a part of some medical care. It had three or four questions about the ownership and use of firearms. Do I think that my doctor needs to know that? No, not really. It would be a little tacky to go tooled up into the doctor’s office, especially if one were going for an examination required disrobing. (I remember some funny scenes from the Police Academy movies where the gung ho character Tackleberry would occasionally relieve himself of his many firearms and stack them up.) But I do not need the Legislature or my mommy to tell the doctor what to ask me, or to tell me how to answer him or her. I’m a big boy. I have a choice to answer “Yes,” “You bet your ass!,” or “Sorry, Doc, that’s really none of your business.” See? I didn’t need the Legislature to protect me, I did it all by myself!

I really hope I don’t need to expound much on constitutionality. This is America. We have free speech. We can say things and ask questions with very few limitations. Those who would "protect" us from speech are insulting us. Oh, and they are also very much into Selective Socialism.

By the way, sometimes I'm asked "Should I get a gun?" And my answer is, How the hell should I know. I'm not YOUR mother.

Pippa passes.


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