Constitutional Crisis in West Virginia as reflection of American Political Problems
CHARLESTON – October 17, 2018
True chaos has been unleashed in the small, quiet, and in many ways “forgotten” state of West Virginia. It’s considered to be of less importance electorally speaking, since it can only boast of 5 electoral votes, unlike, for example, neighboring Pennsylvania and Ohio with their 20 and 18 Electoral College points respectively. With only 1.8 million people living there, West Virginia’s problems don’t make it onto the federal agenda very often, so the locals have to tackle them on their own.
Yet, what has happened there recently could serve as a great reflection of American political problems in general, as state institutions in West Virginia and “the system of checks and balances” have simply collapsed.
Everything started in late 2017, when several State Supreme Court judges were accused of the improper use of government funds, for office repairs in particular. The scandal had been smoldering until August and burst into flame after the decision approved by the House of Delegates to impeach the entire West Virginia Supreme Court. As all judges of the local Supreme Court lost their jobs, the state’s judicial branch was beheaded. One of the judges fired, Margaret Workman, disagreed with the ruling and filed a lawsuit for the decision to be recognized as illegal.
Workman encountered a simple problem: There was no institution that could consider this case, so she asked former Justice Thomas McHugh to appoint an active Chief Justice, which led to Harrison County Circuit Judge James Matish taking the office. With the help of other appointed justices, he ruled that both the Senate and House of Delegates of West Virginia were wrong and had no legal basis to fire the whole State Supreme Court. Of course, neither the House of Delegates nor the State Senate ever agreed to it, so the small and quiet state’s state institutions collapsed.
Local residents are very confused about what is going on in their own state, as well as social network users:
“The state legislature are a bunch of clowns, both parties. Always have been. It's a problem with a "citizen legislature." They meet for 60 days each year, then a couple of days each month (interims), and the hotel bars and reception circuit in Charleston are lit when the legislature is in town. It's just not a very professional operation. Most of the legislators rely almost entirely on the staff to tell them what they're doing, what they're voting on, etc…”
Or even more precisely:
“To any outside confused by WV politics: imagine two drunks both saying they’re good to drive. The driver inevitably crashes and the other drunk takes the wheel, repeat until an entire generation leaves the state…”
Note that Judge Workman represents the Democratic Party, while the majority of seats both in the Senate and in the House of Delegates of West Virginia are controlled by the Republicans, so any state with the same proportions could encounter the same problem.
Against the background of the upcoming mid-term elections, the political struggle between Democrats and Republics is sure to only get tougher.