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The New West Virginia Civics: A Fable
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by Jim Sconyers, Chapter Chair | 2012

Did you pass high school civics? Bet you didn't compare that class with this one!

As the legislative season winds down, it is time for a primer for citizens of our fair state. It’s The New Civics —  same as the old civics?
Think back to your school daze, when you learned all about how democracy works in America — purportedly the same model in use in the states. We have three branches of government, remember? They’re called the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. Let’s review how they function.
The Executive Branch is made up of the Governor and the Lobbyists. Lobbyists are the uber-Cabinet who advise and guide the Governor. When important matters must be decided, the Lobbyists call the Governor into the Inner Sanctum, a secure location far from the meddling eyes and ears of the citizens and the media. The Governor asks how to respond to the issue at hand, and the Lobbyists tell him what they will allow.
The Judicial Branch  is our court system. Matters of the utmost importance work their way up the food chain to the highest arbiters of all, the Supreme Court of Appeals, fondly known as “The Supremes.” Wealthy individuals and corporations vie with one another to buy one or more of the seats on this bench. The Supremes are “the court of last resort,” unless of course the U.S. Supreme Court finds it necessary to reprimand them for becoming too obvious in their service to their buyers.
And finally, we have the Legislative Branch, which meets officially every winter in the gold-domed edifice overlooking the coal barges on the Kanawha River. The Legislative Branch, or more simply the Legislature, is made up in turn of two “houses,” which we call a bicameral arrangement. These are the House of King Coal and the House of Big Gas. We will now follow two recent bills to see how the democratic process that is the cornerstone of our way of life works.

The Mine Safety Bill  
Following one tragedy after another in our coal mines, culminating in Upper Big Branch, the worst mine disaster in forty years, our leaders vowed “Never again!” This is the required mantra in all such situations. Some brave soul wrote a bill that would do much to save lives in the mines. The leaders of the two Houses (remember them?) then took the bill to the Governor. The Governor convened the Lobbyists in the famous Inner Sanctum, where they handed him a new bill. The new bill was a nicer bill, because like a dog that might otherwise bite, it had had dental surgery and was rendered toothless. “Take this bill to your Houses and pass it,” they said. And the Houses made it so.
The Forever Fund
Our new century has brought new wealth, seeming to pop right out of the ground. It’s as if Jed Clampett was out shooting some food, and up from the ground came — not Texas tea — but gas ... lots of gas. All of a sudden we had a new vocabulary and arithmetic. No longer were millions big enough, instead now we have to wrap our heads around billions and even trillions. Somebody is going to make a lot — a LOT — of money here.

Time for someone with vision to enter. Here’s an idea: How about we capture some of that bonanza in a Future Fund, to benefit all the people and the state, far into the future, paying off even after the gas is gone? Is this a radical idea? Hardly — other states and most foreign countries use this model. Do we need it? Think roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and more. Talk about forward-looking! And the outcome? “What? Are you crazy? Get that cockamamie bill out-a-here!” And the Houses made it so.
Class? Are you still with me? Any questions? No? OK then — quiz on Monday. Class dissed ... sorry, I meant dismissed.

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