WV Clean Elections Legislative Update by Janet Fout

April 14, 2005

This Year's Session Underlines Need for Fair and Clean Elections

Is it just me or have the rest of you noticed that special interests "ruled" during the 2005 legislative session? Where were the bills that would have improved the quality of life for average West Virginians? When we can't even get lawmakers to approve a bill that allows nursing mothers to feed their babies in public (note: this is the primary function of mammary glands), how much do they really care about the needs of people?

When rule-making authority for water quality issues is transferred out of the hands of an objective body of experts (the Environmental Quality Board) and into the hands of the Division of Environmental Protection, a political agency that bows to the demands of polluters, what does that say about how well our legislators look out for the public interest? One has to wonder how much our politicians are listening to the people when the biggest environmental "victory" was defeating a resolution meant to halt the possibilities of new wilderness designations in West Virginia.

When we examine the special interests issues that passed this session, there's little room for doubt who was calling the shots under the dome. Julie Archer, lobbyist for WV Citizen Action Group, had this to say about the session:

"I really think this legislative session is indicative of why comprehensive campaign finance reform is needed -- from third party bad faith and other tort reform measures, to tax breaks (severance tax reductions) for industries (coal, oil & gas and timber) that profit from OUR natural resources. Industry also successfully gutted the EQB by taking away its rule making authority and succeeding in getting legislation passed to stack the DEP advisory panel with its cronies and hacks. Oh, I almost forgot that the pharmaceutical companies successfully gutted the bill to give the new Prescription Drug Advocate the power to negotiate drug prices. Need I go on?"

If ever a legislative session underscores the need for "voter-owned," Fair and Clean Elections in West Virginia, it was this one. Although the Clean Elections pilot project bill (which would have provided a test run in the 2006 elections) was on the House leadership's "fast track" for passage, in the end, it stalled in Senate Finance. The good news is that we made more progress than ever, shepherding the bill through both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

We can't thank members of Citizens for Clean Elections enough for phone calls, letters, postcards, and e-mails from their members. The West Virginia Council of Churches, which chose Clean Elections as their number one legislative priority, can take much credit for garnering the support of legislative leadership. While many of our coalition partners had other front-burner issues, they made certain that legislators knew of their interest and involvement in Fair and Clean Elections. Who can remember a time in West Virginia when the faith community, environmentalists, educators, organized labor, senior citizens, social workers, advocates for children and others were working together? It truly is inspiring and more than that- it's powerful.

Rather than be discouraged, Citizens for Clean Elections will continue to meet on a monthly basis and begin planning a new campaign to raise awareness that regular West Virginians deserve better treatment from the legislators. "Voter-owned," Fair and Clean elections is the much needed first step to breaking the strangle-hold of big special interests on our politicians.

For more information about Fair and Clean, "voter-owned" elections, check out our website at www.wvoter-owned.org.

Voter-Owned Elections

Citizens for Clean Elections P.O. Box 6753 Huntington, WV 25773-6753 304-522-0246