Unsolicited advice is usually annoying, but I’m going to offer some anyway.
This legislative session, be annoying.
(Auto-correct thinks I mean to write: “This legislative session is annoying.” That will probably also be true, but I said what I said.)
As I’m writing this, the West Virginia legislative session is scheduled to start Wednesday, ending on March 12. It’s always a whirlwind, as thousands of bills are introduced and hundreds are passed in just sixty days. This year, Senate President Craig Blair has already indicated lawmakers plan to move swiftly, and Saturday night, Governor Jim Justice called a last-minute special session for Monday, apparently to pass bills that couldn’t wait for two days.
Maybe if lawmakers checked their emails more often, I could feel comfortable recommending that method of reaching them as sufficient, but I’ve heard too many of them say they don’t read them to recommend that in good conscience. And maybe if West Virginia newsrooms weren’t constantly shrinking, and West Virginia officials routinely responded to questions from reporters, I’d feel comfortable saying do your best to keep up on the news and you should have a good overview of what you need to know.
And if your local lawmakers do answer emails, regularly host town halls and respond to phone calls from constituents, maybe this doesn’t apply to you. And I know some lawmakers who seem to have their hearts in the right place.
If not, like I said, I believe the current state of West Virginia politics means if you care about what your leaders are doing, you’re going to have to be a little annoying.
People may not realize this stuff who aren’t journalists, but absolutely no one will stop you if you see your local lawmaker at the grocery store and decide to ask them a question they wouldn’t answer when a reporter asked.
You’re allowed to repeatedly call your lawmaker until they acknowledge your concerns. If they still ignore you, you’re allowed to show up at their offices.
After all, as a voter, you are the boss and you pay them for their work ($20,000, plus a per diem pay of $131 each day of session).
The West Virginia Legislature website is not the most user-friendly for people who want to keep up on what lawmakers do every day, but I’ll try to offer some help:
First go to www.wvlegislature.gov. Then click on House or Senate, then Committees. Search through what each legislative committee has on their next agenda. (The process is not user-friendly, because they change these agendas frequently.) You can listen to those meetings by going to wvlegislature.gov and clicking on Streaming Video and Audio in the lower left-hand corner.
Those who want to keep up can also follow reporters they read and respect on Twitter for live updates from the Legislature.
I think sometimes people hear “politics” and think about the hot-button issues like immigration taking up airspace in national media. I think even West Virginia politicians seem to think sometimes their job is to watch those stories, tick themselves off and convince themselves that there ought to be a law about it.
We forget that West Virginia politicians are supposed to be working on problems specific to West Virginians.
You also can and should be telling your representatives about problems in the state that they need to be thinking about and how to fix them.
We all know what our problems are: population loss, poverty, poor health, the foster care crisis, the overdose crisis. If they try to talk to you about critical race theory, you can change the subject and ask them about the mental health crisis instead.
You can read about what other states are doing and come to them with ideas. You can call them out when they make promises they don’t keep. When they say a proposed bill or solution will work, you can ask them how they know that. If they deflect, you can ask them again.
When they tell you there is no money for rural healthcare or child protective services workers or rural water service, you can ask them why there is enough money to give multiple tax breaks yearly to big business and industry.
Before I started paying attention to the state Legislature for work, like many people, I got swept up by the drama of presidential races and Congressional coverage in national media. Through covering local and state government, I’ve learned regular citizens can make a much bigger difference when they take an interest in smaller lawmaking bodies.
Yes, you can call, email and write letters to members of Congress. You can sometimes meet with their representatives.
But Senator Joe Manchin got about 290,000 votes in his last election. In 2020, Harrison County Delegate Ben Queen led the slate with 16,245 votes, according to WBOY.
I won’t pretend to understand the rationale behind every policy decision a lawmaker makes. But I can tell you that if a lawmaker looks at each constituent call or email as a potential vote for or against them, it makes a bigger difference if you make up 1/16,000 of their votes than if you make up 1/290,000 of their potential votes.
I won’t pretend I haven’t watched lawmakers make lots of decisions that don’t seem to be based on feedback from West Virginians.
I don’t think average West Virginians were begging for charter schools, which mostly locate in more populated areas. And oftentimes, they put forth boilerplate legislation they received from national advocacy groups working to pass bills in every state.
However, I’ve also seen those bills evolve once West Virginia lawmakers got their hands on them. And I’ve also seen lawmakers appear to listen to public opinion.
West Virginia took longer than any other state to implement its medical marijuana program, according to the Washington Post, following passage of a law making way for the program in 2017. The first dispensary opened two months ago.
But West Virginia lawmakers likely wouldn’t have passed that law in the first place without the onslaught of annoying calls, emails and in-person requests they received from constituents.
Speaking of drug-related legislation, in addition to telling lawmakers about what they should be working on, you can also tell them about ideas you don’t like.
Substance use is common in Harrison County and elsewhere. So, for example, you could also tell your lawmakers that instead of voting for harsher penalties, we could be focused on addiction treatment, prevention and stigma reduction.
Here’s contact information for Harrison County representatives (The phone numbers are those they’ve provided legislative staff).
Delegate Danny Hamrick:
Capitol Phone: (304) 340-3141
District Phone: (304) 250-9848
Delegate Ben Queen:
Capitol Phone: (304) 340-3171
District Phone: (304) 709-2013
Delegate Laura Kimble:
Capitol Phone: (304) 340-3102
Delegate Clay Riley:
Capitol Phone: (304) 340-3144
District Phone: (304) 844-5679
Senator Patrick Martin:
Capitol Phone: (304) 357-7845
Senator Mike Romano:
Capitol Phone: (304) 357-7904
District Phone: (304) 624-1100