CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Senate President Jeff Kessler gave the 2013 legislative session an "A," most would conclude he was grading on a curve.
Kessler did make a good point that at least two of the key bills passed this session, on public education reform and to curb prison overcrowding, were the result of comprehensive studies by independent organizations looking at the issues.
"We need to continue to look at things more comprehensively, instead of putting band-aids on problems at the back-end," Kessler said at the end of the session.
While Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was pragmatic in addressing small portions of each issue, and while each bill was watered down through the legislative process, I think the consensus would be that both bills will make progress in addressing the problems.
Kessler might have reduced that grade to a "D" had legislation he advocated, to authorize a tax increment financing plan for a major development project outside of Morgantown, failed.
Both it and the bill it was tethered to, for magistrate pay raises, passed in special session, no small thanks to negotiations by the Tomblin administration.
While it seems, as Minority Leader Tim Armstead put it, "unconscionable" that the fate of the two bills were linked, a little political background explains a lot.
The main sponsor of the magistrate pay bill, House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, is expected to run for state Senate in 2014 against Sen. Sam Cann.
Recall that both Miley and Cann were nominated in January to fill the vacancy created when Sen. Joe Minard resigned to become Senate clerk, and Tomblin selected Cann, a logical choice since appointing Miley would have caused an upheaval in the House, having to appoint a new Judiciary chairman.
While the pay raise bill does not affect Harrison County magistrates, in the other counties in the 12th Senatorial District, Lewis County was one of the four where magistrates and staff took pay cuts Jan. 1 because of population losses, and magistrates in Braxton and Clay counties will get $6,375 raises in 2017 under the bill.
Never underestimate the political influence of magistrates, particularly in small counties.
Complicating matters during the fight over the magistrate pay/TIF bills is that Cann is good friends with Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, and Prezioso was adamant early on that magistrates should not be singled out for pay raises this year.
Should make for an interesting May 2014 primary.
(Speaking of the session, Delegate Kelli Sobonya wanted to clarify that while she was bird-dogging the House-Senate conferees on the home rule/municipal gun ordinance nullification bill, she was not advocating for an amendment barring city officials from performing marriages.)