CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Poor Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. He spent the first 20-some months of his administration putting out brush fires left by his predecessor -- only to turn around and find his key legislative agenda for his first "real" session as governor sabotaged.
By all indications, Tomblin was preparing to make public education reform, using the Public Works LLC education audit as the platform, the hallmark of his 2013 legislative agenda.
With Tomblin "acting as" governor in 2011, and facing election years in both 2011 and 2012, the 2013 session was to have been his first opportunity to really wield influence as governor.
While those who maneuvered to remove Jorea Marple as superintendent of schools may believe they were trying to help Tomblin by removing a possible obstacle to enacting the reforms recommended in the education audit, many Statehouse observers believe the whole Board of Education imbroglio complicates matters to the point where Tomblin may not even be able to pursue an aggressive education agenda in 2013.
While the influence of teachers' unions in the Legislature will be diminished in the coming session, the board's misdeeds will likely stiffen their resistance to any proposed changes -- which is unfortunate, considering that American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and West Virginia Education Association representatives had been meeting with Tomblin aides to come up with a workable education reform package.
(Certainly, Tuesday's WVEA rally on behalf of Marple suggest the unions at the moment are not in a forgiving mood.)
Likewise, even reform-friendly legislators may be forced to distance themselves from any proposals endorsed by a Board of Education whose credibility has been shattered by the firing fiasco.
History lesson: Recently, I bemoaned how the Legislature failed to include a provision in the gubernatorial secession amendment to eliminate the month delay in the start of the regular session in years after governors are re-elected.
I was reminded that gubernatorial secession also effectively ended the autonomy of the state Board of Education.
With nine members serving staggered nine-year terms, the board was autonomous, since barring mass resignations or health issues, any one governor would not be able to appoint more than four of the nine board members.
That went out the window with gubernatorial succession giving any re-elected governor the power to appoint a majority of members on the board, as we saw when the so-called "Gang of Five" Joe Manchin appointees voted to fire Marple, (including Manchin's wife, Gayle).
History lesson, part II: For some, events of the past few days harkened back to a power grab then-Gov. Gaston Caperton attempted in 1989, when he got legislation passed dividing up state government into seven departments -- including a new Department of Education and the Arts.
Then, as now, the department oversaw agencies including Culture and History, Educational Broadcasting Authority, the Library Commission, Archives and History, and Rehabilitation Services. Initially, it also was over the state college and university systems -- authority since shifted to the Higher Education Policy Commission and Council for Community and Technical College Education.
As envisioned by Caperton, Education and the Arts was to oversee all public education in the state, from pre-school to grad school.