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Editorial: Living in a time with a deficit of political courage

From the Register-Herald of Beckley:

We’ve always thought that West Virginia needs visionary leaders at state and local levels – from education, industry, business, labor and government – to come together and chart a way forward, to have an honest and engaging discussion, not just about how the state can make progress against all of the ills that affect us, but also about leveraging our inherent potential.

Unfortunately, we cannot depend on the political class. It is clear that too many of our elected officials stubbornly side with party dogma or ways of old rather than with the magic of possibilities.

Yes, we have – it is all too apparent – a deficit of courage.

Likewise, after witnessing the embarrassment that was the special budget session, we are certain that leadership in the state’s capitol – especially in the House of Delegates – is seriously lacking. The only discernable skill set exhibited by House Speaker Tim Armstead was taking a butcher’s knife to a budget and handing out participation ribbons to like-minded Republicans.

Thankfully, Dr. E. Gordon Gee – president of West Virginia University – is taking a more intellectually honest approach.

In a meeting with The Register-Herald editorial board, Dr. Gee revealed that the university has hired a global management consulting firm to conduct “a deep dive” on West Virginia.

“How do we think about West Virginia?” Dr. Gee asks. “How do we reinstate it? How do we reposition it?”

We are all too familiar with the problems in West Virginia – or at least those that are most obvious. Health issues alone consume entire chapters on our medical charts.

Dr. Gee wants us to think about solutions and to focus on our assets. From energy to manufacturing, from tourism to agriculture, from entrepreneurialism to health care, it should all be examined.

Gee is hopeful that the study – to be delivered at the Economic Summit in August at The Greenbrier – will provide ideas that will find fertile soil and take root.

“We don’t understand how good we are,” Gee said. “We spend a lot of time talking about our problems, and not enough talking about the opportunities and solutions we have.”

And that, in part, is what was so discouraging about the Legislature this year.

Gov. Jim Justice – even before winning the gubernatorial race last year – talked about all of the opportunity that is obvious in West Virginia. He saw potential, he was hopeful and he dared to dream big.

He had a plan.

The Legislature, on the other hand, couldn’t see beyond the wart on the end of its collective nose. And it sure as heck did not put any faith in the people of this state.

Tax hikes that would have generated revenues to invest in better outcomes?

The answers we heard from Charleston – in no particular order – were “No,” “Hell, no,” and “We have to live within our means.”

Had the session drug on any longer, we are certain we would have been told to quit playing with our vegetables.

Well, guess what. Cutting a budget year after year has only pushed this state deeper into the tank. And the math remains the same. We will be facing a huge deficit next year – early estimates: $500 million.

Gee understands that in order for a state to change course it must invest in itself. We are certain that he is not a lonely soul on this point.

“We have a lot of very talented people here, but we have to create a culture in which their talent is recognized and which is valued and which they believe we believe in them.”

Courageous decisions – decisions that require raising revenues and then investment – must be made.

“We have to start thinking about moving from a deficit mentality to that notion of investment,” Gee told us.

We agree, but old clothes, no matter how threadbare, are often more comfortable.

Besides, it takes courage.


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