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Statehouse Beat: Don't get mad, get even

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As the events of Thursday played out in Building 6, my mind flashed back to the late afternoon on July 27, 2010, as then-Gov. Joe Manchin made comments on a just-ended special session on public education reform -- a session that had ended in a colossal flop, without any of his key initiatives passing.

The session marked the third try in seven months to pass the education reform bills -- including the regular session and a week-long special session in May -- with legislation to permit charter schools, pay higher salaries to math and science teachers, and require annual performance reviews for teachers. For the third time, Manchin's agenda had been squelched in the teacher union-friendly House of Delegates.

I don't recall ever seeing Manchin quite so incensed. In fact, as someone who had enjoyed tremendous success getting his agendas through the Legislature, he was practically shaking with anger over the triple-setback.

Knowing that Joe Manchin doesn't get mad, he gets even, it occurred to me then that Manchin was going to get these bills passed one way or another -- even if it took years, and even if he had to do it from 500 miles away in Washington.

It is no coincidence that the outcome of the Nov. 6 election -- which saw the teachers unions' hold on the House of Delegates greatly diminished, and saw the defeat of Attorney General Darrell McGraw -- was followed by Thursday's firing of state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple.

In the space of 10 days, conditions became significantly more favorable to get those education bills passed in the 2013 session, albeit with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's -- not Manchin's -- name on them.

It is worth noting that the governor's office has been silent on the whole Marple affair, even though, as would be expected, Tomblin had been notified in advance of what was coming down.

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Meanwhile, the wildest post-election speculation has been that Manchin will run for governor again in 2016, and upon taking office, appoint outgoing Gov. Tomblin to fill his unexpired term in the U.S Senate.

That would set up the possibility for Manchin, assuming his health and popularity remain strong, to become the only four-term governor in state history, surpassing family friend Arch A. Moore Jr., who served three terms (or four, if you count his term in Alabama ... )

Certainly, the events of the past week do nothing to diminish that speculation.

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Regardless of whether they thought Marple's removal was positive or negative, many Capitol observers were disappointed to see the state Board of Education revert to backroom, sleight-of-hand politics that led up to the termination, something many hoped was on the wane in the era of transparency in government.

A couple of readers inquired as to whether members of the board could be removed from office for violating the state Open Meetings Act.

The answer, apparently, is no.

Enforcement provisions in the law include going to circuit court to obtain an injunction to overturn whatever action was taken in violation of the act. Public officials who knowingly violate Open Meetings law also can face criminal prosecution but, alas, conviction carries a maximum penalty of a fine of no more than $500.

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Speaking of Tomblin, it has been said his strongest asset in both his 2011 and 2012 gubernatorial campaigns was his wife, Joanne.

Whereas Gov. Tomblin is not an especially gifted public speaker, she is a natural, having spent many years doing live stand-ups as a television reporter. And, whereas the governor can be somewhat aloof at times, the first lady is personable.

It could be argued that in the 2011 special election, two campaign ads made the difference in the race: One early on that featured the first lady, and one in the closing days featuring Sen. Manchin.

This fall, the first lady was on campaign trail for the better part of a month, effectively allowing team Tomblin to campaign at two places at once at any given time.

Which raised the question: Did she get a leave of absence from her day job as president of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College?

The answer is yes, with the college's Board of Governors approving Tomblin's use of 19 annual leave days to campaign, beginning on Oct. 15 though Nov. 9.

Tomblin returned to work at the college last Tuesday. (Monday was a state holiday.)

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Finally, living in a house on California Avenue across from the Capitol served McGraw well in 1992, when then-Attorney General Mario Palumbo surprised everyone by filing to run for governor at 9 p.m. on the last day to file for office, simplifying McGraw's journey to the secretary of state's office to make a literal 11th-hour filing for attorney general.

However, as a reader pointed out, that location now offers McGraw the disheartening prospect of being able to watch rival Patrick Morrisey going to work each day at his old office.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.

 


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