Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. July 12, 2021.

Editorial: Joe Jeffries: A hypocrite judged by hypocrites

Gov. Jim Justice is calling for West Virginia Delegate Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam, to resign over a vulgar post on social media app TikTok in which Jeffries offers lewd advice to women on hygiene and how to receive oral sex.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, has removed Jeffries from most of his committee assignments. In a statement, Hanshaw said he doesn’t feel like he has the authority to demand Jeffries’ resignation. Whether he stays in office is something voters should decide in the next election, Hanshaw said.

Obviously, what Jeffries did was highly inappropriate, especially as an elected official in the House of Delegates. His response to the backlash — Jeffries hasn’t apologized and simply privatized his TikTok account, while offering only that it had nothing to do with his duties as a legislator — has been weak. It also suggests Jeffries severely lacks the proper understanding of why so many people were bothered by it.

Jeffries’ actions were also hypocritical, considering he headed legislation in this year’s session to ban education on sexuality in West Virginia schools, adopting a pretense of moral authority. Jeffries also made a vulgar comment about the governor in the waning days of the session, and mocked the state’s COVID-19 guidelines as West Virginians died every day. Hanshaw, in his statement, referred to Jeffries’ run of late as “repeated, reprehensible behavior.”

Jeffries is a piece of work, no question.

But why should he listen to Justice? After all, the governor has: flipped parties; refused to live in Charleston, despite what the state constitution says and a lawsuit settlement agreeing to do so; continually circumvented procedure to get what he wants; apparently continued to run his businesses; and has a documented history of dodging fines, fees and legal settlements. While Justice has every right to be outraged with Jeffries’ behavior, the governor isn’t exactly the paragon of service and responsibility as an elected official.

Hanshaw has also shown some inconsistency on these types of things. The House Speaker didn’t do much of anything in 2019 when former Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, made national headlines for anti-gay remarks. But Delegate John Mandt, R-Cabell, resigned late last year after a discussion with Hanshaw concerning Mandt’s latest misadventure in homophobia on social media. Of course, Mandt’s name still appeared on the ballot in November and he was reelected. Maybe Hanshaw doesn’t want to get burned again. At least he took some action by stripping Jeffries of most of his committee assignments.

The Legislature would probably be better off without Joe Jeffries. But if he steps down, or even comes up with the gumption to apologize, it should be because he realizes his behavior is inappropriate, unbecoming of a legislator and an embarrassment to himself and the state. Given the actions of more than a few state legislators recently, don’t hold your breath for such a revelation.


The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. July 11, 2021.

Editorial: Justice must let Marshall presidential search proceed without interference

The immediate future of Marshall University is in Gov. Jim Justice’s hands. Will he resist the temptation to remake the school’s governance to reward his friends, or will he use this opportunity to move Marshall forward in ways that would make its peer institutions envious?

The answer will come in the next few months as Justice fills the three top positions at Marshall. President Jerome Gilbert gave notice in April that he will not ask that his contract be extended when it expires a year from now. Former Provost Jaime Taylor has left to become president of Lamar University in Texas. The athletic director’s position has been vacant since Mike Hamrick decided to “step down” at the end of June and become special assistant to the president for facilities and fundraising.

How those positions are filled and who fills them will play a large role in Marshall’s future.

In theory, Justice won’t be the one to make those decisions. Those are the responsibility of the Board of Governors. But Justice appoints the board’s members, and governors are known to leave their marks on state universities. Remember how then-Gov. Joe Manchin had the West Virginia University Board of Governors appoint his friend Mike Garrison, who had no academic administrative experience, as president? That was a short-lived presidency that was — let’s face it — a mistake.

In addition to that, Justice appoints members of the Marshall Board of Governors, subject to the state Senate’s approval. A public university’s board of governors is a great place for the governor to reward his friends and donors. That’s not how it should be, but that’s how it is.

Gilbert became president of Marshall in January 2016, succeeding Stephen Kopp, who died suddenly. Under Gilbert, the university has established the School of Aviation set to have students this fall, renovated the Memorial Student Center, built a new School of Pharmacy and graduate apartments along Hal Greer Boulevard and began plans to construct a new College of Business. The long-awaited baseball stadium also made momentum before the pandemic.

The university was given the prestigious R2 research institution designation by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education under Gilbert. He has also overseen the addition of multiple high-demand programs such as biomedical engineering, aviation, physician assistant and specialty agriculture, as well as early assurance programs in the health professions.

Gilbert also navigated declining enrollment and state budget cuts.

So what’s the problem?

Gilbert and Justice are oil and water. The Marshall president is an engineer, a scholar and an experienced administrator who treads political waters with few public complaints. That temperament suits the highest-ranking administrator of a public university whose state support has not always been reliable.

The governor, on the other hand, is a person who inherited his wealth, who speaks in a folksy manner that embarrasses some people and who sometimes relies on cringe-worthy stunts to get attention. It’s hard to imagine Gilbert standing before Marshall faculty and answering their concerns by lifting the lid of a silver platter to reveal a pile of cow manure.

There were published reports in 2017 that shortly after Justice was elected in November 2016 that he summoned Gilbert to the Greenbrier, where he told Gilbert to fire football coach Doc Holliday and replace him with former coach Bobby Pruett, a friend of Justice’s. That was an amateur move. Gilbert refused. In March 2017, Justice approached five members of the Marshall Board of Governors and told them to fire Holliday, Gilbert and Hamrick. The four members refused. None of the five are on the board now.

So does Justice want a yes man in the president’s office at Old Main? That would be a disaster for Marshall.

It’s clear that the next president of Marshall must be someone who can get along with Justice and with the Republican-controlled Legislature. It must also be someone who recognizes that college education is falling out of favor in a state where degrees do not always correlate with earning power. And it must be someone strong enough to resist the political pressures that come with the job.

The Board of Governors has announced plans to seek input from various constituencies of the Marshall community as to what they want in the next president. To assume that Justice will have no input in the selection of the next president at Marshall is naive and foolish. For all anyone knows, Justice may have already chosen who the next president will be. If that’s the case, these community meetings will be mere charades.

No one outside Justice’s inner circle knows what his endgame is, assuming he has one. The Marshall community has its endgame, though. It needs a strong president who will fight for the university’s interest in Charleston, who has the ideas and force of will to do what’s necessary so Marshall can grow in enrollment, financial stability and prestige.

Directly or indirectly, Jim Justice will play a huge role in Marshall’s immediate future. He needs to step away from politics and self-interest and consider what is in the best interest of the university, this region and the state as a whole as his appointees work through the process of finding a president, a provost and an athletic director.

Can he do that? For the public’s good, he must.


The (Martinsburg) Journal. July 10, 2021.

Editorial: Science, tech offer opportunities for West Virginia

Most West Virginians do not think much about our state’s role in helping our nation reach for the stars.

We are the home state of one of NASA’s “hidden figures,” the late Katherine Johnson, whose mind was so sharp, some of the early astronauts would trust computer calculations only after she had confirmed them; the late Chuck Yeager, who after breaking the sound barrier became part of a test pilot training program for NASA; and Jon McBride an astronaut who reached the rank of captain.

But hidden in a remote pocket of Pocahontas County, in the heart of the U.S. National Radio Quiet Zone, is the Green Bank Telescope and Observatory, the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world. Among its most recent discoveries is a previously unknown structure that could extend to the more distant parts of the Milky Way Galaxy.

We’re not talking a new planet or moon, but a structure made up of molecular gas, which would not have been detected without an instrument of the Green Bank Telescope’s sensitivity.

“The existence of this massive structure has implications for star formation theories, as well as the structure, make-up, and total mass of the interstellar medium,” the GBT reported.

In other words, it — and many other discoveries made right here in our mountains — are a big deal.

We don’t talk enough about the proof West Virginia has the “right stuff” when it comes to location and workforce that will propel us into the economy of the future. Though too many of our brightest and most capable young people feel as though they must leave the state to find jobs that will suit their dreams and skillset, they were raised and educated right here — plenty of them in our own colleges and universities, too. We’ve got the land. Just ask the folks planning to build the Virgin Hyperloop Certification Center in Grant and Tucker counties.

Perhaps development bureaucrats should reach for the stars in playing up what the Mountain State has already contributed to science and technology fields, as they seek to attract new employers who could find the same success.