Welcome to the fifth week of the legislative session, where politics and the looming 2016 elections seem to have put the lobbyists, the lawmakers and everyone in between on a high-speed spin cycle of rhetoric and reaction.
In our system, where election cycles start less than 12 months after the voting booths close, and the cost of running for office grows and grows (in more ways than one) what does it look like to make policy without the contortions of politics dictating each day, each speech, each vote?
Last year was a unique year in the West Virginia Legislature, with a new majority party for the first time in over 80 years. But this year feels even more unique – more uniquely political than last year or years before.
Politics are certainly looming large over the statehouse. It’s an election year, with a huge opportunity for new leadership in the Governor’s office. For the first time in many years, an incumbent or next-in-line is not on the ballot for that seat. No matter who wins the Governor’s race, it will be a new face and likely a whole new set of folks brought in to help run the state. The impact of that can’t be understated.
It’s also a presidential election year, with an especially vibrant primary process playing out in both parties. That’s got to trickle down to our state a little bit, at least in the sense of feeling like you can’t get away from politics and political grandstanding, no matter where you turn.
But this year is also different in another, more disheartening way. There seems to be a breakdown in decorum, a breakdown in encouragement of public engagement (with increasing security and restrictions on use of phones and cameras in the Capitol), a breakdown in real, bold policy-making to address the challenges facing West Virginia.
The politics seems to have overwhelmed the policy this year, and West Virginians are getting tired of it.
Our system requires us to hire politicians to make our policy, for better or worse. Once they’re in office though, we expect them to be policy-makers first and foremost.
We’ve got three more weeks to see a little more bold policy and a little less bold politics. It would be a good way to end a uniquely challenging – and often uniquely disheartening – year of West Virginia legislating.