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Lawmakers in West Virginia are up to their necks in explaining the decision to dismantle the state’s Department of Education and the Arts. Coming on the heels of a nine-day teacher’s strike that netted the educator’s a 5% raise, the bill, HB4006, is now on its way to Governor Jim Justice for his signature.
If Justice signs the bill, the Department of Education and the Arts effectively goes away – whether by program and personnel absorption into other departments or removal altogether – and the state saves around $750,000.
Now Let Me Get This Straight…
GOP lawmakers run a bill through, with a Republican Governor on tap to approve, and Democrats lose their minds. It conjures images of coatless orphans, laying with arms outstretched in the winter streets as they beg for an education while well-dressed rich folk laugh as they step over their malnourished, uneducated little frames. Gosh, conservatives are so mean.
Well, stop the crocodile tears right now and listen up; West Virginia is a confusing jumble of departments and programs. Although you may have come across screaming headlines on social media, they are not, I repeat, NOT, getting rid of the Department of Education, which run the state’s K-12 schools. They are just eliminating the Department of Education and the Arts, which focuses more on cultural programs.
This is an Outrage!
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is rallying a cry to beat back the decision by state lawmakers after essentially likening them to the D.C. Swamp’s game players. Normally a level-headed centrist on the political spectrum, Manchin sharpened his pencil and his tongue and tweeted his opinion:
“Sadly, just like in Washington, it looks like political gamesmanship is winning the day & preventing a bipartisan compromise led by the Governor to help our educators & public employees, fix our PEIA system & get students learning again from becoming law.”
But to be fair to the good senator from West Virginia, Manchin was simply saddling up his white steed to intervene on behalf of his wife, state secretary of the Department of Education and the Arts, Gayle Manchin. Her cabinet job was on the chopping block, and those optics of being summarily removed with no offered alternative simply would not do.
Mrs. Manchin was told by the Governor’s office to refrain from public comment until he had decided whether to sign or veto the legislation. She agreed – temporarily. Approximately four hours later, Gayle let fly a news release.
“In an obvious rush to score partisan points, the Republican state legislature passed dangerous and destructive legislation to eliminate the Office of Education and the Arts on a mostly party-line vote. This is a cabinet post that reports directly to the governor and serves thousands across our state; it helps the disabled, provides summer programs for our children through federal funding, and many others that touch families all over West Virginia.”
But the piece de resistance was her vow to fall on her sword to save the program, should it come to that. And it did. She valiantly concluded the press statement with, “I want to sit down with the Governor, and if it helps, I’ll resign to remove any political pressure to save all of these important programs for West Virginians.”
Governor Justice agreed to let her take one for the team and accepted her resignation. Who didn’t see that coming?
Firing back, Governor Justice issued his own statement:
“In her press release she offered to resign and remove any political cloud. If there weren’t any earlier political cloud, now there surely is one. She was very critical, made it political, and put me in a very, very bad position. She was told that we accepted her resignation, she refused, and we terminated her.”
I guess there are no do-overs in West Virginia politics.
What a Difference a Day Makes
If HB 4006 is enacted, Governor Justice will be held to his pledge to “preserve and promote” the arts while exercising cost savings measures, such as redistributing Gayle Manchin’s salary where needed. One thing is certain: The governor is not decision-impaired. But will he sign the bill or not? Let’s give him a solid 24-hours before we start making demands, shall we? It worked for Mrs. Manchin.