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Senate president’s vision for state — jobs, judicial reform, education, regulations


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Senate President Mitch Carmichael talked about his view on leadership and where he thinks the state should go in the future, especially moving forward into the next legislative session.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, speaks with the media during the spring legislative session.
(Register-Herald photo by Andrea Lannom)

Carmichael, R-Jackson, was elected to the West Virginia Senate in 2012 after serving as a member of the House since 2000. He has been in his leadership role for nearly a year and said his goal has been to approach the position as more of an “inspirational leader” as opposed to being a “dictator.”

“That’s 100 percent where I am from a leadership perspective,” Carmichael said. “I truly want to be aspirational and that’s the direction I want to take the state. Others are included in the vision so that it’s a more cohesive team-building approach to leadership as opposed to an individualist mindset that sort of pushes away inclusiveness or other input from other sources.”

In his first year as Senate president, Carmichael said he learned several aspects of the job, especially relating to motivation.

“I have to be cognizant that people are motivated by different influences,” he said. “People are influenced by different things and just being correct and right in terms of policy doesn’t always win the day. Part of the problem with our state’s economic condition is special interest groups have incredible influence that we must rise above and do what’s right for the good of the entire state, not just special interest groups.”

He also said he believes a key role of a leader should be to advance measures that are good for the state even if it may adversely affect a person’s own interests.

He referenced House Bill 3093, the broadband bill, which established broadband enhancement and expansion policies. It called for counties to form nonprofit cooperative associations for internet services.

Earlier this year, Carmichael lost his job as director of external affairs at Frontier Communications. At the time, he said he believed the loss was tied to his vote on the broadband bill. A Frontier spokesman said in an emailed statement at the time that Carmichael’s position was eliminated as part of a larger reduction in staff, but said he could not comment on how many other people lost their jobs.

“I took a lot of personal flack for the broadband bill,” Carmichael said. “Not that I’m perfect but I try to do the right thing. People from a leadership perspective sense is a willingness to advance positions that may be personally an opportunity or may hurt me personally. I still want to do the right thing for West Virginia.”

Moving into the 2018 session, some have said the Legislature could face a struggle similar to this year’s in coming to an agreement on the budget.

The Legislature failed to find agreement on revenue measures, especially whether personal income tax should be reduced or eliminated, a concept proposed by the Senate and later advocated by the governor.

Both chambers ended up passing a budget following 21 days in special session. House and Senate leaders previously have contended that the special session was not necessary because they had passed a budget on the last night of the regular session.

“We tried to advance a budget we felt was the absolute best we could do for West Virginia,” Carmichael said. “We tried to incorporate tax reform and put our state on a better footing and we couldn’t get it through the process. It’s a bicameral Legislature that requires both houses to vote on passage of the budget. There is never an inclination on behalf of the Senate to shut the government down. Government provides the vital public services. We are going to provide certainty going forward.”

Gov. Jim Justice allowed the budget bill that passed in the special session to become law without his signature and criticized it, calling it a “travesty.” His concerns included the use of surplus money to backfill Medicaid and cuts to higher education. Justice has continued to express his concerns about what the budget could mean for West Virginia, criticizing it as a missed opportunity.

Justice’s Chief of Staff Nick Casey, who has since left the administration, said the state started the fiscal year, which began July 1, about $11 million in the hole. He said the reason is because the state ended the 2017 fiscal year creating a surplus because of money taken out of the Rainy Day Fund and “sweeps” of various state accounts.

West Virginia also was recently ranked as America’s worst state for business in 2017 in a CNBC report.

Carmichael commented, “When I read the report, there was a lot about workforce readiness and the decline of the coal industry. There is not a lot of coal industry due to national administration’s policies. This didn’t just happen and West Virginia should have been preparing for many years. This is the result of, frankly, one party rule for 83 years that we never prepared in West Virginia. Infrastructure is also mentioned in this plan. It didn’t just go back overnight.”

He said his vision for the state involves four pillars — jobs, judicial reform, focusing on education and regulations.

First, Carmichael wants to focus on policies to create jobs instead of focusing on social issues.

“I respect different and abide by social mores but the goal is to create jobs and opportunity. The way we do that is fundamental overhaul of the tax system. The current system is not working. The tax structure is not serving our state. We’re 50th. We’ve tried and we’re going to continue to overhaul our tax code.”

He said the second thing he believes will move West Virginia forward is judicial reform.

“We have been world-renowned as a judicial hellhole. We are aggressively moving to change that.”

He also said the state must focus on its education system.

“One of the things on the (CNBC) report is workforce readiness. Our educational system needs to perform at a higher level. It’s our moral imperative to provide world-class education to the next generation.”

He also said he believes the state is “overburdened” with regulations.

“We are overburdened with regulatory schemes that need to be improved and streamlined.”

Email:; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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