League of Women Voters, Opinion

Decide where our state is going

A recent commentary (DP-02-11-24) discussed the choices we have in responding to today’s political turmoil. We can be fatalistic. Or, “we can look at it as a call to action.”

The League chooses to act. Voting is the most powerful act in our republic.

Are you registered to vote? We urge you to confirm it. Last month, the secretary of state reported that over 400,000 ineligible registration files had been removed from the Statewide Voter Registration System since 2017. That’s a shocking number.

The deadline to register to vote for the May primary is April 23. If you’re not registered by then, you cannot vote.

It’s easy to check your registration online at https://ovr.sos.wv.gov/Register/Landing.

If you aren’t in there, you can register online. If you’ve moved, you can update your registration online. Or, you can register with your county clerk or at the DMV.

Some argue that the primary in May is more important than the November general election, especially in states where political power is unbalanced. In the primary, we decide within our political parties which candidates best represent our views and have a plan to move our government forward.

For some non-partisan offices, the primary is the general. Those include: state Supreme Court justice, Intermediate Court of Appeals judge, circuit court judge, family court judge, magistrate, Board of Education and conservation district supervisor.

There are other reasons your vote is important. Since the West Virginia legislative session began in January, we have had many questions about who is driving the bus and where this bus is going.

It all began with a call for another so-called “flat budget” (now a 6-year phenomenon), tax cuts that disproportionately benefit higher-income earners and more unfunded mandates. This combination equals a lack of investment in the needs of our citizens. Then, at fiscal year’s end, politicians brag about budget surpluses while ignoring the government’s failure to ensure priorities are fully funded based on accurate revenue projections.

Flat budgets inevitably cause decreases in existing services because costs go up. Benefits for employees increase annually; cost of living increases for employees help retention in fields already short-staffed; and costs of materials post-pandemic have risen and cannot be ignored.

 Flat budgets and unfunded mandates are failing public K-12 and higher education institutions and their students. K-12 is rapidly losing state dollars as money is diverted to alternatives, an approach sanctioned by the West Virginia Supreme Court. Children in foster care, childcare for working parents and health care for our most vulnerable are all being adversely affected.

We’ve seen proposals to add an expensive bureaucracy to restrict SNAP eligibility and to alter the safety net of long-term care Medicaid funding for our most vulnerable senior citizens. Working parents are forced to reduce hours or resign when a small increase in paychecks result in loss of benefits for their children.

Discrimination seems to come at no cost in our Legislature. Copious hours are devoted to stripping LGBTQ rights, but not to ensuring equal rights. This practice of objectifying anyone deemed “other” will not grow our state. It is an aggressive method of distraction from the real-life concerns about food, housing, education and a sustainable environment for everyone now and in the future.

Yet, one bill proposes that West Virginia send $100,000 in our taxpayer funds to the State of Texas to buy razor wire, to keep desperate immigrants out, despite the Supreme Court ruling it illegal. Why would this Legislature propose such waste rather than invest funds here at home?  

We have the power to control the direction our bus is going. We can refuse to accept the politics of fear, division and waste. Voting is our only method to course correct. Know your candidates, know who is funding their campaigns. Listen carefully to their messages and decide if the messages reflect your reality. Then vote.

The League of Women Voters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting informed and active public participation in government. For more information, go to https://lwvwv.org/