Among local columnist Mike Myer's favorite Obama quotes is one from his 2008 campaign for the presidency. Candidate Obama was speaking about why some of the people in central Pennsylvania, specifically, and rust belt Americans, more generally, didn't vote for him, when he said:
They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
On the campaign trail, Obama was criticized for his remarks, especially by Hillary Clinton, and the quotation later was appropriated by Mike Myer (see here, here, or here for instance) to suggest that Obama stereotypes and looks down on West Virginians even though Obama, if you look at the quote, was not specifically talking about us. Myer often follows this with a "West Virginians are smarter than everyone else" point which praises his readership as he denigrates the president.
As I watch what the West Virginia legislature has been doing for the last month, I can't help thinking that Obama may have been on to something back in 2008.
Despite a state economy that has produced a huge budget deficit, the legislature appears to be most concerned with guns, killing labor unions, and "religious freedom." On guns, the legislature quickly passed a concealed-carry-without-a-permit bill thanks to a Democrat who switched parties, resigned, and then took a cushy job with the National Rifle Association (what a coincidence!). The Concealed Carry Bill awaits the governor's signature or, more likely, another run through the legislature to override his veto.
Getting lots of ink outside of Wheeling is this year's "religious freedom" bill which will allow discrimination based upon a person's sexual preference. As Delegate Rupie Phillips, a Democrat from Logan County explained:
But Delegate Rupie Phillips, one of the bill's 10 co-sponsors, said late last week that LGBT rights actually are at the heart of the issue. He was asked if support for the “religious freedom” bill stems from opposition to same-sex marriage.
“Pretty much,” Phillips, D-Logan, said.
The Republican Party has trumpeted that this legislative session is all about jobs, jobs, and jobs and yet it's hard to see how any of these three would boost West Virginia's economy. The Republicans claim, with biased evidence, that instituting a right-to-work law and eliminating the prevailing wage will attract new businesses. (Of the three, this is the only one that deals with jobs.) On guns, I have no idea how a law allowing concealed carry would attract new employers. If anything, it would probably have the opposite effect. An employer looking to relocate would take one look at this law and move on -- why would you start or relocate your business in a state that is returning to the 19th century?
The proposed religious freedom law is even worse. As others have pointed out, most major corporations now have anti-discrimination rules and practices in place and they take diversity seriously. One look at this law and they will go elsewhere. As an aside, I would also note the importance of keeping our recently-educated 20 and 30-somethings in the state -- a group that, for the most part, does not share a lot of the prejudices about sexual preference sometimes found in the state's older generations.
Finally, this proposed legislation is also a major job killer as the city of Indianapolis learned a couple of weeks ago. A similar law cost the city of Indianapolis $60 million in economic input in 2015. Obviously, no city in WV is the size of the Indianapolis but that is not to say that places like Oglebay, the Greenbrier, and Morgantown don't host a number of small to medium-sized conferences. My experience with professional organizations is that very few, if any, would hold a conference in a state that had such a law in place. Not surprisingly, state hotel operators are lobbying against the bill. Unfortunately, the "religion" issue will likely trump the jobs and obvious civil rights issues. I'm pessimistic on this one -- the WV legislature looks determined to move us backwards.
For our legislature, it certainly appears to be about "guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them." And what about our local "newspapers?" Yeah, predictably, they've been cheerleading the anti-union legislation and even occasionally printing AP articles on the concealed carry gun law and the debate over "religious freedom." While we are not that far from yet another column/editorial about what a great job the legislature is doing on job creation, I doubt that it will mention the effects that the legislature's surrender to the gun lobby and its acceptance of intolerance in the name of "religious freedom" will have on attracting new businesses. And will Mike Myer admit that Obama might have been right about "guns or religion, or antipathy to people who aren't like them" at least as it applies to the legislature and voters who elected them? Definitely not -- he doesn't have that kind of self-awareness and besides, the Obama quote works so well in his columns.