- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Dec. 10

Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail on economic freedom:

The Fraser Institute’s annual Economic Freedom of North America Report is out, and once again, West Virginia ranks among the “least free” states, at 45th.

The only other states ranked lower are Maine, Vermont, Mississippi, New York and Rhode Island. Texas earned the top spot, followed by South Dakota, North Dakota, Virginia, New Hampshire and Louisiana.

The ratings consider tax systems and regulations in the states, along with legal systems, property rights protection and the size of state government.

West Virginia fares particularly poorly on the latter metric. One in five employed West Virginians works for the state government. The state’s low workforce participation rate partially accounts for that figure, but that explanation only makes the picture look grimmer. Too few West Virginians are working, and too many of the ones that are working are for the government.

The report spells out why that’s a problem: “Government, in effect, is using expropriated money to take an amount of labor out of the labor market. High levels of government employment may also indicate … that government is engaging in regulatory and other activities that restrict the freedom of citizens.”

There’s little doubt that the state’s burdensome regulatory and legal climates are restricting freedom - the freedom to start and operate a business, to buy goods and services, to work for a living. These freedoms aren’t just about money; they can affect nearly every part of citizens’ lives.

West Virginians don’t need to look far to see an example of a state that grants its citizens more economic autonomy without descending into dystopian anarchy. In addition to being a top-five state in economic liberty, Virginia has a far healthier economy and ranks higher than West Virginia in a host of other economic measures, including median income.

For the first time in more than eight decades, West Virginia’s Legislature will have a Republican majority when it convenes next month. The GOP isn’t perfect when it comes to economic freedom, but it’s likely to be far better than the party that has controlled the state for so long.

If legislators keep economic liberty in mind when crafting reforms, West Virginia can look forward to rising out of the ranks of the “least free” states.




Dec. 10

Bluefield (West Virginia) Daily Telegraph on Senate President Bill Cole:

It is official. Mercer County’s own Bill Cole will be the new West Virginia Senate President, as well as lieutenant governor, come Jan. 14. Cole, a well-known Mercer County businessman also will hold the unique distinction of becoming the first Republican lawmaker to lead the state Senate since 1932. That’s quite an accomplishment, and certainly history in the making for the Mountain State.

After more than eight decades of one-party Democratic control in West Virginia, Republicans will now control both the state Senate and House come January. And the new GOP majority is vowing to tackle issues such as job creation, the war on coal, energy, taxes, health care, transportation and infrastructure, education, state finances and good government in general.

Cole, 58, the son of Carol and Paul Cole of Bluefield, was selected by the West Virginia Republican caucus Sunday to serve as Senate President and lieutenant governor. Cole will succeed current Senate President Jeff Kessler, who will become the Senate Minority Leader effective Jan. 14.

Cole met Monday with other Republican lawmakers, including U.S. Sen.-elect Shelley Moore Capito, U.S. Congressman-elect Evan Jenkins, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Tim Armstead, who will become House Speaker effective Jan. 14. It was the first gathering of what the GOP leaders say will become regular occurring delegation meetings between the state and federal elected leaders.

The new GOP majority in Charleston - with help from the new GOP majority in Washington - is in a unique position of power to help the Mountain State, and the embattled coalfields of southern West Virginia in particular.

We are excited about the potential for positive progress in West Virginia - and southern West Virginia in particular - with the new leadership team in Charleston. For far too long, southern West Virginia has lacked a strong leadership voice in Charleston. That won’t be the case with Cole.




Dec. 8

Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia on police defusing police encounters:

In large protests in Atlanta and Boston this week or in small-town forums in Huntington, the concerns are the same.

When it comes to police encounters, many feel non-whites are too often treated unfairly.

The recent deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., have fired the debate, but the discussion runs much deeper than just those two cases. Decades of injustices and personal experience color perceptions as well.

Sadly, the end result is an erosion of trust in the justice system. As one mother speaking at a forum at First Baptist Church in Huntington Thursday said, she lives in fear that something might happen to her son based solely on the way he looks. Interestingly, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio who has a son who is black made similar remarks earlier in the week.

In poll after poll, non-whites show significantly less confidence in police protection and the justice system than whites. Whether or not elected officials or law enforcement agree with that assessment, the breakdown in trust is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed.

Solutions range from body cams to tougher accountability for officers, but also there seems to be a need to review policies and training on how police handle confrontations on the street. Those often involve split-second decisions, but some departments around the country are exploring how to better defuse tense situations.

In the Staten Island incident, Garner was suspected of a very minor crime selling cigarettes. When police approached, video surveillance showed he became agitated and uncooperative. Officers listened patiently for several minutes, but ultimately decided that he needed to be placed under arrest. It was the force of that “take down” and the use of a “chokehold” that alarmed much of the public.

Garner had health problems, and the medical examiner ruled the compression of his chest and neck during the physical restraint by police killed him. Yes, he should not have resisted arrested, but few would argue that this was an acceptable outcome.

Certainly, there are life and death situations in which police are forced to make quick decisions. But the Garner case was not one of those, and it underscores the need for law enforcement to find alternatives to quick offensive action.

Police work is dangerous work, and the public should appreciate the risks and sacrifices involved. But equipping officers with better training and tools for de-escalating situations could improve safety as well build trust in the community.



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