Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. Nov. 21, 2021.

Editorial: Remember ACF; full speed ahead on its replacement

The old ACF factory in Huntington’s Highlawn neighborhood may soon be gone, but it won’t be forgotten.

At a news conference last week, Huntington Municipal Development Authority Director Cathy Burns announced the organization had entered a partnership with Marshall University’s Archival Department, putting photographs, documents and other materials and artifacts on display at the university.

Lori Thompson, the head of Special Collections at Marshall, said the historian inside her realizes the importance of the materials and artifacts from ACF and called it an honor to be a part of the effort to preserve part of Huntington’s history.

“As communities shift, grow and evolve and as the physical landscape changes, as is what’s happening behind us, each item provides proof of existence, proof of the hard work, proof of the struggles and proof of the celebrations and enjoyment,” she said. “Its documents not only inform future generations and historical researchers, but proof of those that did the work. It celebrates, respects and honors them.”

Thousands of workers produced thousands of railroad cars in the decades ACF was in operation. The city and Marshall are to be commended for preserving artifacts and other materials from the old factory. ACF was one of the industries that built modern Huntington, and it must be remembered in some form.

Yet the demolition of ACF points to an undeniable fact about the city’s future: As much as some residents miss the old smokestack industries they grew up with, that part of Huntington is gone, and it’s probably not coming back.

The roll call of industries that left Huntington is a sad one: ACF, Owens-Illinois, Houdaille and BASF, among others. Expand that to the larger region and you add AK Steel (formerly Armco), Dayton Malleable and Allied Chemical. Of course, we still have Special Metals and the Marathon refinery at Catlettsburg, Kentucky, along with many smaller industries whose presence and importance often go unnoticed.

This region would embrace another company that wants to manufacture rail cars, but such a company likely would look for a greenfield site outside the city, not a brownfield site inside it. Mayor Steve Williams sees the former ACF site as the hub of what he calls the Huntington Brownfields Innovation Zone, or H-BIZ. That project would connect St. Mary’s Medical Center to the east with Marshall University to the west to create new economic activity.

Preparing for the future is important, but so is remembering the past. Preserving ACF’s history while preparing the site for redevelopment accomplishes both.

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The (Beckley) Register-Herald. Nov. 20, 2021.

Editorial: No easy fix, but we must try – beginning now

As the state and New River Gorge region continue to recover from the economic devastation of Covid’s arrival a year ago March, and as federal resources in large sums are being shipped to West Virginia, we must make certain that those dollars are spent wisely – locally and statewide – on programs that will lift entire populations up off the floor boards of despair.

Toward that end, we are impressed with the collaboration across various local governing bodies, colleges, trade schools, nonprofits, the local chamber of commerce and the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority. Clearly, there is a shared interest and energy and theirs is a shared mission, sans politics, to be better connected, married in a symbiotic relationship in service of whole communities to create a tide of economic growth that will lift all boats.

Demographic data speaks to the stubborn, old challenges that many of those organizations, if not all, are battling. If there was a message that resonated from the Economic Summit in Beckley on Thursday, it was this: The region and state will never unlock the shackles of economic underperformance if we do not invest in people – “human capital” in economic parlance – so that they are clean and sober, educated and skilled, healthy and alert, ready and willing, prepared, in short, to participate in and stoke the fires of a resurgent economy.

Dr. John Deskins, who serves as director of the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at West Virginia University, said during his summit presentation that the potential exists to change the region’s prospects. But he also said that it would be no easy lift. We are dealing, after all, with decades-old problems. The state ranks dead last in workforce participation and has had the problem with people showing up for work since the 1970s. The state also trails all other states in the percent of the population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. West Virginia ranks first in overall mortality rate thanks to the known ravages of smoking, obesity and heart disease. And the state is also tops, No. 1, in drug overdose deaths.

Not exactly a badge of honor to wear, a flag to wave or a statistic to market a wild and wonderful experience.

Under these conditions, the future is nothing but cloudy, dark and dreary, not exactly the ball of sunshine that attracts newly minted college graduates or convinces others to stay put. It is no wonder that outmigration of people, especially our best and brightest, has helped put our state’s population in a perpetual retreat.

So how do we fix all of the above?

The state may never see federal investments of this magnitude for another generation – if then. Likewise, the state’s revenue surpluses and its rainy day fund are flush with cash. In the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, at least $6 billion is headed to the Mountain State, and all of that is welcome as our state’s roads and bridges, water and sewer lines, broadband and transportation systems all need serious upgrades far in excess of what monies are headed this way.

But all of that is just a start on hard infrastructure, all of which will largely be for naught if we do not address the foundational issues of drug addiction, education and workforce participation.

Some of that is addressed in another bill in the U.S. Senate that carries a $1.85 trillion price tag, targeting, among other worthy projects, access to education for young and old alike.

Meanwhile, here in West Virginia, we cannot make headway if we have a Legislature that thinks it’s a good idea to put harsh and punitive regulations on harm reduction programs. And if the numerous surges of Covid infections have taught us anything, it is this: Our public health system leaves a great deal to be desired. When our county health boards, understaffed and overwhelemed, were overrun throughout this pandemic, unable to keep pace with necessary mitigation efforts, they also had to curtail their outreach in support of those desperate to crack their substance addictions.

Additionally, we cannot have a governor who runs around the state on the taxpayer dime, bragging about his popularity in polling while the state he governs ranks last in educational achievement, where too many of our graduating high school seniors are sent into remedial college classes – to learn what they should have learned in high school – once they arrive on campus, and where too few high school grads pursue higher education.

Fixing the education component is far more complex than giving teachers a raise and opening the state’s border and pocketbook to charter schools.

But this is the time to get serious about it all – if, in fact, we want to remove all that is standing in the way of growth, of achievement.

Several folks at the local level are showing us all how to do just that, without the political infighting. The governor and state legislators might want to pay attention.

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Charleston Gazette-Mail. Nov. 18, 2021.

Editorial: McKinley, Mooney about words vs. action

The rarely seen Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., is crowing about his endorsement from former president Donald Trump for the 2022 election.

Mooney told MetroNews “Talkline” host Hoppy Kercheval that he’ll be using that endorsement at every opportunity running up to the 2022 primary against Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.

The two congressmen are squaring off because West Virginia’s continuing decline in population has eliminated another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, leaving the Mountain State — which at one point had six seats — with only two House districts.

The race is an interesting one, pitting words against deeds. McKinley was one of 13 Republicans to help pass President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, which will bring $6 billion to West Virginia to improve the state’s crumbling infrastructure while also creating jobs. Mooney and fellow Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., voted against the plan, and McKinley said his fellow Republicans lobbied him hard not to vote for it, because it would be seen as a “win” for Biden. McKinley countered that it was a win for West Virginia.

So, McKinley will be spending his time talking about jobs and infrastructure, and Mooney will spend his time blasting McKinley for breaking with the party, and touting the blessing of a twice-impeached president.

Mooney is a prime example of a large chunk of the modern GOP, which holds fealty to Trump, furthers the disgraced president’s consistently disproven lies about election fraud and votes against anything that might involve a Democrat. It’s clear to see what Mooney’s against but harder to determine anything tangible he’s for. It’s certainly easier to screech “Socialism!” and “Radical leftist agenda!” than to take on the responsibility of solving real problems.

McKinley is more reminiscent of old-school Republican conservatism, where there are boundaries to spending, an adverse approach to big government and certain social concerns, but heads don’t burn like a vampire hit with holy water just for talking to someone who has a different take on an issue. Those in this camp often toe the party line, but they don’t pass up working across the aisle on important issues or bills that will bring a major boost to their constituents.

But does McKinley’s approach still work?

Trump’s word and cash on hand could be more than enough for Mooney to win. And he truly has little else, if anything, to show for his time in Congress. The Marylander who moved to West Virginia to seek office is hardly seen in his district, unless it’s at a fast-food drive-thru for a meal he’s charging to his campaign (something Mooney apparently did so frequently that it triggered an investigation from the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics, which voted unanimously to pass the case along to the House Ethics Committee).

Mooney’s strategy of putting Trump on the ballot also carries a certain risk. If he doesn’t win, and has other political ambitions, he can’t go back to Mar-a-Lago for help. The former president is more than willing to make these races about him, but quickly distances himself from those he sees as having failed.

Time will tell how all of this plays out, but Mooney knows having a “T” in his column is every bit as powerful, for now, as an “R” behind his name.

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