The first half of 2017 was certainly a unique time in West Virginia politics.
West Virginians inaugurated a Democrat Governor who followed the Trump wave and campaigned as a successful CEO and political outsider. Meanwhile, a new Republican-majority Legislature was sworn in, with roughly a third of those lawmakers being new to the legislative process.
Many of the 134 legislators campaigned on controlling government spending and fighting tax increases. Meanwhile, the new Governor used his first State of the State address to lay out an ambitious new spending plan backed by $450 million in new taxes.
The stage was set for conflict, and the battles were fought passionately over the first half of the year. The Legislature – twice – passed a balanced budget the Governor didn’t like; eventually the Fiscal Year 2018 budget was passed and became law without his signature.
That’s the history. It’s time to look to the future.
While the budget that’s law now may not be ideal – there are parts in it I really wish I could change – it’s the budget that the majority of the people’s representatives supported, and we must accept that. It’s keeping our government open, our education institutions functioning and delivering the critical healthcare services our people need.
It stabilizes the patient in the present and gives us time to debate and decide where we go from here. And I’m looking forward to working toward a brighter, more optimistic future in this state.
However, I’ve been disappointed at the tone coming out of the Governor’s Office of late. In just the past week, we’ve seen a flurry of releases blaming the Legislature for everything from putting the state’s economy in last place to spending money to make Capitol bathrooms accessible to people with disabilities.
This is not productive.
As Finance Chairman in the House of Delegates, I have a lot of experience working with people who passionately disagree with others’ ideas. On the Finance Committee alone we have 25 people with 25 different ideologies, ranging from progressive liberals who want to see substantial new investments in social programs to Tea Party conservatives who believe we’re taxed-enough already.
If I want to get anything passed through my committee, I need to know how to work with these different people to craft good legislation that can pass the Legislature.
It takes good relationships, trust and a willingness to hear as well as listen to the other side of an argument. While my Minority Chairman Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, is on the other side of the aisle, I need to be able to talk with him to see what it might take to get his caucus on board on an issue and where there’s room for compromise.
This attitude and behavior is necessary to get things passed in the Legislature. It’s something I wish our Governor would understand.
I’m generally leery of being publicly critical of any particular public servant – given that we have to work together to get things done – so consider this friendly advice. I think our Governor is too used to being CEO and having people follow orders, and isn’t used to needing to work together with people to get things done.
I’ll let others judge how well this management style has worked in his private business, but it’s not been productive this year at the Legislature. I hope he’s open to change, because he’s going to need supporters on both side of the aisle to get things accomplished during the remainder of his term.
This is more important than ever now, with the state less than 90 days away from a critical vote to approve $1.6 billion in road bonds.
I support the bond issue. My constituents have said loud and clear we need to improve our roads and build up our infrastructure. I voted for the revenue measures to support this, despite criticism from more conservative members of my own party.
In fact, one of the reasons CNBC ranked us dead last in its “2017 Top States for Business” report was due to our deteriorating infrastructure. (Infrastructure was the second-most influential category in its rankings.)
This is one of the reasons I’ve been disappointed to see the Governor so openly throw the Legislature under the bus in recent days. If the road bond is going to pass, he’s going to need public support – including the support of local lawmakers.
The Governor needs to make the case for this bond and not take public support for granted, or say things like people who are against it are from “Planet Mongo.”
I encourage the Governor to build a coalition to rally support for this issue, and that’s hard to do when you’ve insulted or alienated the majority of elected officials – including those in one’s own party.
We must work together to get things done to improve West Virginia. It’s time to turn the page, put attitudes aside and cooperate in a way that lives up to the high standards the people expect of us.
Republican Delegate and House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson represents the 35th District, which includes portions of Kanawha County.