Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Journal on the census:
Knowing how many people live where in the United States is more than a matter of satisfying curiosity or writing books on demographics and geography. The Census conducted every decade has enormous ramifications.
How about $1.5 trillion in federal funding is doled out to localities and states, including school systems, is determined in part by results of the Census. How many members of the House of Representatives go to each state is a matter of population. So is membership in the Electoral College, which names the president of the United States.
Convincing Americans to participate in the Census and finding those who require personal contact is difficult enough in a normal year. COVID-19 has made it the challenge of a lifetime this year.
How did Census Bureau officials react to obstacles? By giving up early.
Initially, Census workers were to continue the population count until the end of this month. Several weeks ago, the bureau announced it would stop doing that a month early.
That would be incredibly irresponsible. Yet bureau officials refused to budge on the change.
They persisted even after a lawsuit was filed against them. Late last month, U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh, in San Jose, California, ordered that the bureau suspend its efforts to stop the counting early.
But Census officials kept going with their retreat. Last Thursday, a clearly angry Koh ordered that the bureau send a text message to each and every one of its employees, telling them the count will continue through Oct. 31.
Good. Koh is right. Ending the count early would have risked a more severe undercount of Americans than would have resulted anyway. Even as it stands, problems resulting from the bureau’s refusal to obey Koh’s earlier order will make it difficult to keep going effectively.
In fact, Koh ought to hold the bureau responsible for failure to comply with her September order. Thumbing one’s nose at a federal judge smacks of “deep state” arrogance — and the judge should make it clear such behavior will not be tolerate.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on the resignation of a West Virginia House delegate:
Following a tumultuous tenure in the West Virginia House of Delegates, John Mandt, R-Cabell, resigned over the weekend after he appeared to be caught making offensive remarks about minority groups for at least the third time over the past two years.
Taylor Stuck of The Herald-Dispatch reported that Mandt, who also owns and operates Stewarts Original Hotdogs, was part of a Facebook group called The “Right” Stuff and messages in which Mandt used homophobic and anti-Islamic slurs were obtained by the Huntington paper. Mandt claimed the messages were fabricated, but The Herald-Dispatch reported that it was able to authenticate them through a source.
This is now a pattern of behavior for Mandt.
Last year, Mandt went on Facebook to criticize a vigil at a Huntington mosque where locals gathered to honor the lives of victims in a mass shooting of Islamic worshipers in New Zealand. When the post generated backlash, Mandt went through a litany of deleting, revising and reposting, eventually claiming it was a misunderstanding, before pivoting one last time to claim his account had been hacked. Shortly after that, he made demeaning remarks about the LGBTQ community.
In August 2019, the food service contractor for Marshall University severed ties with Mandt’s business, which had sold Stewart’s hotdogs at Thundering Herd sporting events for 30 years.
Mandt did not apologize for his most recent remarks in a statement on his resignation. He has, however, deleted the statement that asserted the slurs were fabricated and part of a “design” to attack his business and his family. In previous incidents, Mandt not only changed his story, but seemed to come away with the impression that he, somehow, was the victim.
More troubling is that Mandt doesn’t appear to have learned anything from these incidents. It creates a question of whether he’s stepping down just to get away from public criticism, rather than a realization that his remarks are unbecoming of his office, completely inappropriate and hurtful to a large number of West Virginians.
Such antagonism toward certain groups of people certainly has no place in the West Virginia Legislature, so it is, at least, beneficial to West Virginians that Mandt will no longer be there for the rest of this term. Of course, Mandt is still on the ballot, because it’s too late to remove him. He could try to reclaim his seat if he gets enough votes. Again, that would show he’s learned nothing. Mandt needs to be able to see and comprehend the full picture, and the damage of his conduct, rather than perpetually playing the victim, if he hopes to make any meaningful progress as a human being and right his wrongs.
The Register-Herald on Gov. Jim Justice and West Virginia's handling of the coronavirus:
If West Virginia wants to suppress Covid-19 transmissions and simultaneously keep its citizens informed, as well it should, it ought to invest resources toward testing and tracing via county health departments, and then punctually communicate clearly and precisely all of what is going on. To do that, its communications channels, public health care networks and their data must be aligned, accurate and as transparent as possible.
We know they are not.
What we have, in the interest of local control, are 55 different counties conducting public health care business in 55 different ways, no two playing by the same set of rules. Far be it for the state government to tell the county how to conduct its affairs in a public emergency that Gov. Jim Justice has cited to keep control of some $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act funding. But in that tangled bureaucratic and political spider web is the loss of public confidence in the governor’s leadership to coordinate an effective response to the pandemic.
The governor has been pounding the table with his insistence that the state increase its testing to 7,000 to 10,000 Covid-19 tests per day. While it is an admirable and worthy goal, one that would help reduce the incidence of viral transmission, he’s been saying as much going on two weeks now and we are nowhere closer to realizing that fantasy than when he first implored his pandemic panel to get it done.
Since Monday, Sept. 21, the day the governor talked the talk on testing, the state has seen 64,245 results delivered to the Department of Health and Human Resources – an average of 5,354 tests per day – with a high of 9,909 and a low of 2,927.
Oh, yes, the governor has put his fingerprints all over the state’s confusing color-coded map that tracks the virus’ rate of transmission. Forget the fact that by one measure on Saturday, Kanawha County ought to be buttoned up tight, while by another qualifying indicator the school district is in the least restrictive category of all.
At this critical juncture, if this is what constitutes our state’s moonshot, we need something stronger than a slingshot.
For now, the state testing effort is wholly reliant on its National Guard – which numbers some 400 troops – and county health departments that are both understaffed in normal times and overextended in extraordinary circumstances the likes of which no one living can remember.
So, yes, we have a definite lack of trained and ready manpower for both missions, but no answers and certainly no plan from the governor on how to staff up – on the run.
Likewise, how county health departments dispense information is different pending on what side of the county line you stand. By way of example, some counties have regularly updated Facebook pages where citizens can check infection tallies, testing locales and news of the latest outbreak. In other counties, well, all you hear is crickets.
Justice has acknowledged that local health departments can’t do the testing on their own, and if they can’t get that done, then communication is going to be a bridge too far.
“We have to help them with resources,” the governor said. “It’s a monumental task for people who are already doing incredibly good work, but we will find a way.”
Again, that was nearly two weeks ago and, now, seven months, 357 deaths and 16,468 infections since this pandemic showed up on our front porch back in March.
And yet nothing, really, has changed. Justice remains in reactionary mode – “running to the fire,” as he is fond of saying.
Well, that may work as long as you have small brush fires to extinguish, but you risk the forest with such a strategy.
The better way forward, for starters, is to improve the delivery of public health which this pandemic has exposed as a fraud. To do that, counties – each and every one of them – will need additional funding.
And then each and every one of them will need to execute on science-based state protocols in dealing with outbreaks as well as single incidents – with contact tracing and with providing information on a timely basis that the public has a right to expect.
The governor needs to think bigger, less reactionary. Seems to us that he has been spending too much time coloring maps and too little on painting a bigger picture.