- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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April 7

The Herald-Dispatch on the return of sports tourism:

Sports tourism is coming back after taking a hiatus last year, and that’s good news for the Tri-State area and the Kanawha Valley.



Kanawha County officials on Monday announced that the 2022 US Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships and the Eastern Presidents Cup will return to the Barboursville soccer complex and the Shawnee Sports Complex at Dunbar. Combined, that’s 12 days of soccer split between the two communities.

Barboursville and Shawnee co-hosted both tournaments in 2019. The two sites will also co-host this year’s Eastern Regional Presidents Cup June 19-23.

“These tournaments alone will have an estimated economic impact of $28 million,” Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango said. “That is in addition to the $8 million economic impact we are expecting from the 2021 Presidents Cup.”

In 2019, the Eastern Regional Championships brought 225 state champion teams from 13 states to West Virginia to compete for a chance to participate in the national tournament. That influx of people resulted in 41 hotels from Grayson, Kentucky, to Clendenin, West Virginia, being sold out. About 4,500 rooms were booked. According to Google Maps, Grayson and Clendenin are about 101 miles apart, meaning the economic impact was spread over a wide area.

Sports tourism is a special opportunity. Instead of expecting people to come here and partake of unique entertainment options, it brings in families who stay several days to enjoy the companionship of families from other areas who share the same passions.

These two soccer tournaments attract families from Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia. These families get a firsthand look at the Metro Valley of West Virginia and the opportunity to compare life here with the stereotypes they have been taught.

Obviously people in the Tri-State and the Kanawha Valley are doing something right to keep this tournament here on the far western reach of the Eastern Region, and the entire community benefits.

As has been noted in this space before, the success of soccer in the Metro Valley and ATV trails in southern West Virginia show that tourism is more than festivals, ball games and concerts. It’s a wide- ranging industry whose potential is growing. It’s hard to say how long it will be before the field is saturated when every community tries to duplicate what we have here. Local officials are wise to be out front in this effort.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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April 3

The Register Herald on proposed voter registration laws focusing on early voting deadlines:

Of all times for our country to be engaged in a political fight over providing citizens with easy access to the ballot box, now, less than a year from the death of civil rights icon, John Lewis, who was beaten to within an inch of his life fighting for voting rights, seems to be an especially egregious time to be putting up tall and wide barriers to progress. And yet that is exactly what is going on across the country, and right here at home in West Virginia, too.

The arc of our nation’s history should be bending towards justice and inclusion not bending backwards toward a time when, once again, a person’s inherent value to our democracy was judged by the color of his or her skin.

But sadly, and to our nation’s great embarrassment, here we are once again.

Despite all other issues that will keep the administration’s midnight lamps burning, the fight over voting rights is making its way to the top of the list as one of the defining conflicts of the Biden era. Georgia fired off the opening salvo with new restrictions for voters, but it is not acting alone.

In more than 24 states, including West Virginia, Republican-led legislatures are moving bills that would clamp down on the ease voters have at casting a ballot on and before election day.

In Georgia, broad new provisions represent a substantial edit of a state’s voting system. It imposes stricter voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limits drop boxes and forbids – for heaven’s sake – giving water and snacks to voters waiting in line. It also shifts the power and oversight of elections to the Legislature and further empowers the state Board of Elections to have jurisdiction over county elections boards, including the authority to suspend officials in, say, heavily Black and Democratic counties.

For their part, some West Virginia Republican lawmakers are trying their best to advance deadlines for absentee and early voting.

As detailed in a story posted on The Register-Herald website, Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, is sponsoring Senate Bill 565, which includes multiple changes to state voter registration law. Roberts’ bill would move the early voting period further out from election day, from 7 to 17 days prior to an election compared to the current 3 to 13-day period.

As such, Roberts’ schedule no longer includes the Friday and Saturday immediately preceding an election, makes the deadline earlier for registering for an absentee ballot, and ends the state’s years-long efforts to implement automatic voter registration at West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles offices, which was approved by the Legislature several years ago but never implemented.

The bill also tightens the deadline to vote absentee, from six days to 11 days before the election.

West Virginia has had early voting for nearly 20 years, and now, suddenly, it’s a problem?

Poppycock.

People are used to having early voting be available to them on a schedule they have become familiar and comfortable with.

Rest assured, no groundswell of citizen complaint was calling for these changes. This is not the work of a politician who is acting in the best interest of his constituents, but, instead, attempting to disenfranchise voters by suppressing the vote of certain sociological, demographic and political stripes, thus cementing his own position and the party’s already commanding control of the Legislature.

It is beneath Roberts’ dignity, we believe, and casts him as a conniving politico interested only in promotion of party rather than what is best for the citizens – all citizens – of the state.

If Roberts were truly interested in improving voting rights, to finding means for all citizens to them to participate in the most basic and sacred of our democratic rights, and to making sure our elections were free and fair, he would work towards opening doors, not closing polling windows.

Online: https://www.register-herald.com/

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April 2

The Charleston Gazette-Mail on a proposed budget plan that would cut funding from West Virginia Public Broadcasting:

West Virginians knew the Legislature’s budget proposal would include cuts. After all, the body is trying to repeal the state income tax and the state inventory tax while also doling out millions in public funds for privatizing education.

While troubling, it’s no surprise that budget plans unveiled this week include cutting funds to West Virginia and Marshall universities. The Senate’s budget plan also would remove all funding - $3.8 million - for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

There’s no way Public Broadcasting could make up what it needs to operate through donations alone. The Senate’s plan would essentially kill a valuable source of news and entertainment that reaches all West Virginians via TV, radio and the internet for free.

The proposal in the Senate not only is reprehensible, it’s deceptive. One of West Virginia’s most iconic programs, Mountain Stage - a show with a global audience that spreads a positive image of West Virginia every week - would still receive its $300,000 in state funding. That might cause some to think the program would be spared. In reality, that money wouldn’t cover what it costs to keep Mountain Stage afloat.

As one of the program’s staff explained to the Gazette-Mail, the state budget allocation is about one-third of Mountain Stage’s annual budget. The rest comes from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, which also serves as the show’s base of operations and provides vital resources and support. In other words, if there’s no Public Broadcasting, there’s no Mountain Stage.

It’s hard to fathom that cutting $3.8 million from Public Broadcasting would help the state financially, when Gov. Jim Justice’s plan to repeal the income tax would blow a $1 billion hole in the state’s budget in the first year, and the House plan would gash at least $150 million in revenue.

Perhaps this is a negotiating tactic. In 2017, Justice’s budget zeroed out funding for Public Broadcasting, which led to some hardball back-and-forth. Public Broadcasting limped away with some of its funding intact. It still resulted in a loss of services and stations. Young, talented people - the folks the governor and Legislature say they’re trying to attract - left West Virginia for other jobs amid the uncertainty.

This particular Legislature seems dead set on eliminating anything that would project a positive or welcoming image of West Virginia, so the Senate might not be playing chicken at all.

Whatever the scenario, cutting Public Broadcasting’s budget will eliminate good jobs, programming enjoyed across the state and around the world and, likely, create more young, talented ex-pats. It’s a bad move all around.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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