West Virginia editorial roundup

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Oct. 8

The Herald-Dispatch on the challenges that potential candidates for West Virginia governor may face:

Now that Joe Manchin has said he will not run for governor next year, potential candidates for governor and other state offices are announcing their intentions. Some are still in the trial balloon stage. They put their names out as possible candidates to see if there is any support, especially in securing name recognition and raising money.

A person can say he or she is considering a run for office, but nothing is official until papers are filed. The filing period for the 2020 election is Jan. 13-25.

The list of issues in voters' minds is obvious: Drugs. Public education. Higher education. Roads. Water, sewer and broadband service. Taxes. Jobs. Poverty.

One of the big problems that will need to be addressed by candidates is trust in government. In the past few years, we've seen justices on the Supreme Court of Appeals impeached over mismanagement of public money. We have a governor who brought bovine manure into the Capitol to make a point in a dispute with the Legislature. Most important, voters have often seen a state government that is unable or unwilling to deal with the problems mentioned above.

Some of these problems are rooted in culture, in lifestyle or in economic distress. They are beyond the ability of state government to solve in a single 60-day legislative session. Nevertheless, voters want answers and a vision of what government can do about them.

These are more important for some offices than others, of course. There's not much the state treasurer can do about treatment for opioid addiction, for example, but that person can run the office in a way that inspires trust that the functions of that office will be carried out efficiently and provide good service to taxpayers who need its help.

Statewide, will the candidates for governor and the Legislature offer a vision of what they can do? And can they assure voters that the day-to-day working of state government will be better — that potholes won't aggravate drivers for months before a patching crew shows up, or that contact with social service offices will be pleasant instead of aggravating or intimidating?

In some games, that is known as the difference between strategy and tactics. One is the broad vision of what needs to be accomplished. The other is what specific steps need to be taken to make that vision become reality. ...

When he ran against incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan asked a question that summed up the point of his campaign: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

So, is West Virginia better off than it was four years ago? ...

The answer depends on what is important to each individual voter. It likely will spur some people to vote, but it could also drive people away from the polls if they believe their one vote doesn't matter.

The 13 months between now and Election Day 2020 should give us an indication of how the majority of voters will answer that question.



Oct. 6

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register on a lawsuit against the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources over resources to help the state's foster children:

Nearly 2% of the children in West Virginia — more than 6,800 of them — are in some form of foster care administered by the state. Are we doing enough for them?

A lawsuit filed against the state Department of Health and Human Resources last week argues we are not, to the point that court intervention is necessary for the youngsters' welfare.

Filed in federal court, the lawsuit is on behalf of 12 children in the foster care system. It was initiated by a Charleston law firm, Disability Rights West Virginia and a national advocacy organization, A Better Childhood. It raises questions about institutionalized children, mental health services and whether the state has enough caseworkers to deal with the youngsters.

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch points out that it may cost the state millions of dollars to deal with the lawsuit. That is money that could have been used to improve the lives of children in foster care, he notes.

At the same time, Crouch makes at least part of the plaintiffs' case. In discussing the matter with a reporter at The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, Crouch pointed out that during the past year, the DHHR has added more than 50 Child Protective Services personnel. Even more are funded for the coming year. And, Crouch notes, salaries for CPS workers have been increased to attract and retain people in what is an incredibly frustrating, demanding job.

Crouch's comments could be taken as an admission that in the past, state government has not done enough for at-risk children. At the same time, however, increased funding is a reflection of much higher need because of the drug abuse crisis that has fractured so many Mountain State families.

"We welcome the opportunity to make our case in court," Crouch told the The Herald-Dispatch. It appears it will come to that — a debate over whether the state is meeting what a federal court determines are the constitutional rights of foster children.

As always when our children are the issue, we West Virginians wish fervently that we could afford to do more for all of them. But we are a poor state, unable to have many things we would like from our government.

We are trying to do better for foster children. There is no doubt about that. Perhaps the key question regarding the lawsuit is whether we are doing the best we can with what we have. We may be about to find out.



Oct. 4

The Inter-Mountain on a federal grant for West Virginia University to study rare earth minerals:

Mention gadolinium, ytterbium and praseodymium to a friend and the reaction is likely to be, "Huh?" Yet the substances and 14 others also classed as rare-earth minerals are important. They are used in a variety of manufacturing, including cellphones and television sets.

Until the 1980s, a mine in California was among the world's primary sources of rare-earth minerals. It closed years ago. Now, 81% of rare-earth production is in China.

Yes, that is a problem, for various reasons including our economy and national security.

U.S. researchers are attempting to find other ways to produce rare-earth minerals. One possibility — and it is only that, at this point — is coal mine tailings.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., has announced that West Virginia University has received a $5 million federal grant to pursue research in rare-earth mineral recovery. That is excellent news, in part because if there is a way for such work to benefit West Virginia, WVU is likely to find it.

A team of WVU researchers led by Paul Ziemkiewicz is studying concentrations of rare-earth minerals at 120 acid mine drainage treatment sites in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Good luck to them in a very important project.