Neither our President-elect nor our Governor-elect won with a majority vote, so there’s a pretty good chance you’re upset at the outcome of the 2016 election in one way or another. Ignore the wave of populist anger at your peril!
Both major parties put forward national candidates in 2016 with historically high unfavorability ratings. And WV presented us with similarly stomach-turning gubernatorial choices from the major parties. The most impassioned argument to vote for Justice was the ringing endorsement I’ll paraphrase as: “At least he’s not Cole.”
But keep in mind that the staggering failure of both parties to provide reasonable choices leaves millennials having experienced a particularly rude political awakening. And it’s important to recognize that their experience is more than what we went through. While Baby Boomers and Gen Xers will remember with pain when our own young eyes were opened to the way politics works, millennials are the first generation having their political coming-of-age defined by the effects of the disastrous Citizens United decision that legalized unlimited corporate spending on elections.
No, this isn’t the same-old, same-old politics. This isn’t a group of young people who have had their naivete ground down to inevitable mellow wisdom and perspective of age. If you don’t see that the awakening of 2016 is different than what came before, then you are still asleep.
Wake up! Because what you have may not be wisdom: it may be apathy.
You wonder why Democrats are having so much trouble in this traditionally blue state? You wonder why we lost control of the legislature to the GOP? You wonder why the biggest Democratic victory in our state was for a guy who doesn’t actually share any values with Democrats? WAKE. It’s because big corporate donors are getting a lot of bang for their outside bucks here, and the WV state government is a great bargain. But just because our state is poor, it doesn’t mean we should be easy to buy off.
WV Millennials are #WokeAF and Angry
A recent report by West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections about the effects of the outside spending in our state revealed a dark reality:
“This influx of money [into WV] from super PACs puts into question the independence of [WV] elected officials. Do our elected officials do what is best for their constituents or are they obligated to their special interest supporters and campaign contributors?…
“In 2014, Super PACs spent $2,748,287 on West Virginia legislative races. This was a five-fold increase in the amount of outside money spent to influence legislative races in 2012 and more than eight times as much as was spent by third parties during the previous midterm election in 2010.”
By November 3, outside spending had reached nearly 20 million here.
Be aware that this is the terrifying new reality millennials have Woke to. It is NOT equivalent to politics as usual. Millennials have seen the alarming trend that both parties have been complicit in selling WV off to the highest corporate bidder. How else to explain WV throwing its primary votes to Clinton when Sanders won here by such a large margin? How else to explain that the state party chair called our work on the 2016 platform and the resolutions—our very principles—a “slap in the face“?
As we’ve seen, just casting a vote doesn’t fix anything when corporate interests are leading both parties by the nose. We have to be able to put up principled, independent candidates, or we’ll be voting for corporate puppets ’til kingdom come.
But we can’t ignore that many people here in WV saw their vote for Trump as the proverbial brick chucked through the window of corporate, establishment politicians that are bought and paid for. Trump is uncontrollable, they thought, but at least he’s not Clinton.
So, they did it. That brick has been thrown; that window is shattered. Now we have the aftermath.
So don’t just vote: Holler.
That FU brick has done nothing to fix our political system. But at least it should wake everyone up. You Woke, too? We have to fight for progress, for people.
We can’t wait until the next election, and we can’t wait until January. Our biggest concern over the next few months is that our new governor will appoint his cabinet members, including the next Secretary of the WV DEP.
That’s right: a deadbeat coal baron climate-science-denier that the majority voted against… that guy is going to be appointing our state’s next Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. It would be laughable were it not so dangerous.
People will die. They’re already dying. We’ve seen the data. If we can’t stop the corporate takeover, we’ll have militarized police here in WV acting as mercenaries protecting corporate profits with brutal force, like they do at Standing Rock with the Dakota Access Pipeline. But our communities and our people must matter more than corporate profit.
Appointing a Secretary of the WV DEP for the People
WV’s current Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection Randy Huffman has been a tragedy for this state.
Huffman has acted as if his job is to protect Resource Barons, not the environment—and most certainly not us. Huffman is on record wanting to eliminate newspaper public notice requirements for some pollution permits, although that was eventually dropped due to objections. He has actually come out against environmental justice, and is working to make certain that the financial burdens of extraction remain on regular people. He has also acknowledged that his recent rules changes means we’ll be exposed to more carcinogens in our water in exchange for making it more profitable for extraction industries to operate. He actually called that “a step in the right direction.”
When Huffman was confronted at a public meeting by West Virginians who are being abused by Extraction Barons, people pleading for his help, his response to the small—and eminently reasonable—request for him to carry their pleas to ears that could help them was this: “They’d laugh me out of the capitol building. It would limit my effectiveness… it’s above my pay grade.”
In other words, Huffman was concerned about displeasing those above him if he even voiced the concerns of West Virginians in jeopardy. He weighed his job and paycheck—his own self-interest— against the interests of the people, and concluded that HE is more important than we are.
We can’t have corporate toadies making up the Cabinet. This is why Huffman’s “Cancer Creek” proposal “mirrors one frequently lobbied for by state industry groups.” Cancer Creek is what corporations paid for; Cancer Creek is what they got.
Such actions go directly counter to our state Constitution, which guarantees that all West Virginians…
… have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity, namely: The enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
Safety. We cannot by any compact divest our children of their ability to pursue happiness and safety.
Yet the WV DEP has acknowledged that its new rules will make us less safe. Further, the WV State Constitution promises that
Government is instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people, nation or community. Of all its various forms that is the best, which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety, and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration; and when any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community has an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish it in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.
Further, WV law requires that “The secretary should have broad authority to condition the issuance of well work permits when, in the secretary’s discretion, it is necessary to protect the safety of persons…” and he may decline to issue a permit if “The proposed well work will constitute a hazard to the safety of persons” or “fails to protect fresh water sources or supplies.”
We can’t allow greedy politicians to continue sacrificing us in order to secure campaign contributions.
We have to do more than that because if the 2016 election has demonstrated nothing else, it’s that there are a lot of people who will put party over principles, and will support someone with a D (or an R) beside their name, even if that person is patently unfit for office. As long as corporations can buy candidates, we’ll get corporate candidates.
This was the appeal of Trump here in WV. It’s not that the majority of WV voters are racists and misogynists. It’s that WV voters recognized that, if nothing else, a vote for Trump would be far more of a blow against establishment politics, and it would wake some people up.
So tell me… Woke yet?
We call on Justice to appoint Mike Manypenny as Secretary of the WV DEP
WV law requires that “A public official or public employee may not knowingly and intentionally use his or her office or the prestige of his or her office for his or her own private gain or that of another person.” While it is Justice’s duty to appoint a cabinet, he should not use his position to continue to advance his fortune at our expense.
It is the Department of Environmental Protection, not the Department of Corporate Protection, after all. Justice must make the effort to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and appoint someone who will work for the safety of all of us, as required by our state constitution—not someone who’ll continue to contributing to the abuse we’re enduring while Justice profits from it.
Manypenny is a former state delegate with a degree in forestry and a history of fighting to protect West Virginians and their rights to clean water and air.
Take These 7 Steps to Fight for the WV We Love
1. Acknowledge the problem. Get Woke. If you’re guilty of it, stop pretending that money in politics doesn’t matter, and stop putting party over people. Then take one hour—probably far less, if you’re quick. Write some letters as outlined below. If you are moved, please send copies of your letters to me (via my Contact page). I want to hear your voices.
2. Write a letter, a real letter in your own words, to Justice urging him to appoint Manypenny. It needn’t be long. Be firm. Be courteous. Be strong. Speak from your heart. Be factual. Express your love for WV. Explain why it’s more than just what can be carted out of here and sold. And let Justice know what else on this list you’ll be doing—what pressure you intend to bring to bear. Tell Justice that your life matters, too, as do the lives of your children. Demand to hear back from him.
Until Justice takes office, you can use this physical address:
Justice for Governor
PO Box 40027
Charleston, WV 25364
Justice doesn’t seem to have a public email address or contact page. (If you can find a public email address, let me know and I’ll share it here.)
3. Write a letter to the editor, a real letter in your own words, calling for the appointment of Manypenny as Secretary of the WV DEP. Write to your local newspaper and also to the Charleston Gazette. You may even consider writing a letter to a national paper. In your letter, call for the appointment of Manypenny, and an end to a WV DEP directive to protect the profits of Resource Barons at the expense of our lives.
4. Get your local party club or committee organized and on board with pushing for Manypenny as Secretary of the WV DEP. If you are involved in your County Democratic Committee or your local chapter of the WV Federation of Democratic Women, contact the chairs and your fellow members. If you are in a leadership position already, encourage members to kick the pressure up the ladder to protect regular West Virginians. Advocate.
5. Write your state senators and delgate/s a letter, a real letter in your own words, about the need to appoint Manypenny as Secretary of the WV DEP. Find current delegate email addresses here, and current senator email addresses here. If you have new representatives, you’ll have to look for contact info.
6. This may be the most important step of all: Get three friends to take the same steps.
Don’t send out an impersonal email or three and never follow up with them. Find three people who will agree to spend an hour. Then remind each of them to find three more people to write and call and exert pressure to name Mike Manypenny as our new Secretary of the WV DEP.
7. Love WV. Stay here and fight.
Does it sound like a lot of work? You’re tired of politics? Man, I hear ya. This year has been brutal.
But don’t rationalize inaction; don’t rationalize doing the bare minimum. It’s just an hour—an hour you could take to be a champion and make things better, lift WV up. If you’re Woke enough to see the influence outside dark money had on our elections—if you’re WokeAF and angry…
Do more than vote: Holler.
11/13/16: This post has been updated to reflect that newspaper public notices for pollution permits will continue. It has also been updated to include language from the Horizontal Well Drilling Act.