Getting things done early

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register     

WHEELING, W.Va. — Republicans and Democrats in West Virginia often differ substantially on the role of government. Undoubtedly there will be disputes, perhaps big ones, during the current session of the state Legislature.

But Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin got it absolutely right in his State of the State speech Wednesday night. “This is West Virginia, not Washington, and we work together to meet the challenges we face as a state,” he reminded lawmakers.

Then Tomblin followed a pattern many governors use in their annual addresses. He reviewed progress made in West Virginia. Instead of limiting his history lesson to the past year, however, Tomblin went back decades. He reminded listeners of important strides such as improving the Workers’ Compensation system, dealing with medical malpractice litigation and paying down unfunded liabilities.

“We accomplished these things together,” he said more than once.

Tomblin, along with fellow Democrat leaders including state Sen. Jeff Kessler of Marshall County and Delegate Tim Miley of Harrison County, have gone out of their way to emphasize they hope to cooperate with rather than confront Republicans who now lead both the state Senate and House of Delegates. Kessler, formerly Senate president, and Miley, who had been speaker of the House, now lead minorities.

There will be battles in the Legislature. Count on that, especially in view of challenges such as closing the $195 million gap expected for next year’s budget.

But as Tomblin demonstrated in his speech, Democrats and Republicans in West Virginia have worked together – very productively – on controversial issues in the past.

On major issues likely to come up during the Legislature’s 60-day regular session, there will be more agreement than national Republican and Democrat leaders might expect. Perhaps GOP leaders should use that, along with the current era of good feelings, in setting their agenda for the session.

By addressing big, yet less-contentious issues early in the session, they may be able to accomplish more than if they allow the battles that eventually are inevitable to consume time and energy, diverting it from more bipartisan action.

West Virginians have a history of showing the folks in Washington how to avoid political gridlock. As Tomblin suggested, let’s keep up the good work.

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