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Tom Miller: Election followed by wave of state secession petitions

Nov. 18, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

It might well be nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to the results of the Nov. 6 general election that saw incumbent President Barack Obama re-elected for a second four-year term. Or it could just be something in the water. But residents in 39 of the 50 states — including West Virginia -- have begun petition drives to secede "peacefully" from the United States.

These petitions began appearing on the White House's "We the People" website soon after the Nov. 6 general election. This platform was actually created in September of 2011 to give citizens an opportunity to express their First Amendment right to petition the government. But petitions for secession almost certainly were not what the White House had in mind.

An individual who identified himself only as Daryl N. from Vienna in Wood County is credited with initiating the West Virginia petition. It already had 3,651 electronic signatures in one week after the general election. However, about half those signatures apparently came from individuals who live in other states, according to a report in the Charleston Daily Mail.

The header on the petition states that "we petition the Obama Administration to: Peacefully grant the State of West Virginia to Withdraw from the United States and Create it's own NEW Govern (sic)."

Bob Bastress, a constitutional law professor at West Virginia University, said the results of the civil war when West Virginia broke away from Virginia to become a state in 1863 provide ample evidence that "it's not constitutional to secede." Virginia and all the other Confederate states rejoined the union after losing the Civil War.

Perhaps that is why West Virginia's response is nowhere near the most ambitious among the 39 states to initiate these petitions. Texas already has 81,023 signatures, which is the most of any state and Louisiana -- credited with being the first state to begin such a petition drive after the election -- had just over 30,000 signatures by last Tuesday.

Fortunately, no one in West Virginia has weighed in on the opposite side of this issue. But there has been a definite reaction by some Texans. The city of Austin has filed a petition on this same federal website seeking permission to withdraw from the state of Texas and remain a part of the United States. Austin's petition, which also seeks to annex smaller towns of Dublin, Lockhart and Shiner, has 1,007 signatures so far.

Another reflection on the other side of this dispute is a petition on the White House website to "Strip the Citizenship from Everyone who Signed a Petition to Secede and Exile Them" that has 4,011 signatures at last count. It was posted by a resident of Escondido, Calif. There is also a petition that calls for those who have signed these succession petitions to be deported. At last count, it had 7,139 signatures.

Since West Virginia chose to remain as a part of the United States nearly 150 years ago, surely the majority of residents here will still want to maintain that connection now. Hopefully most of this state's residents are reasonable people who have no desire to engage in another civil war.

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The latest trend in Promise Scholarships seems certain to produce an effort to enact legislation to eliminate students in West Virginia from receiving this financial support if they plan to attend a private college or university in this state. This is the view of Chancellor Paul Hill of the state's Higher Education Policy Commission.

The number of Promise scholars attending colleges and universities in West Virginia currently is at its lowest level in four years. The number of new freshman Promise scholars this fall is 3,104, which is about 200 less than last year. And the total number is now 9,769 -- about 50 less than in 2011.

As you might expect, West Virginia University has the most Promise scholars, but the 4,296 at WVU this fall is about 100 less than a year ago. Marshall University, meanwhile, saw the largest increase this fall among the four-year institutions with 1,779 students compared to 1,646 a year ago.

Prior to 2010, those students receiving a Promise scholarship received the full cost of tuition at any public university in the state. And those who attended private universities got the same amount as charged by the most expensive public school. But now the award is capped at $4,750, and the average cost of tuition for an in-state student at a public university is now $5,459.

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Incoming Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has an ambitious agenda in which he even suggests that individual members of the Legislature could ask him to issue advisory opinions about his interpretation of state laws and regulations. This is his idea of how to "kick start" a better business climate in this state.

As a Republican office holder, he faces an uphill battle since Democrats control every other executive branch agency, both houses of the state legislature have Democratic leaders and Democrats also hold a 3-2 edge on the Supreme Court of Appeals. And state Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he interprets current state law as specifically naming the state Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Delegates as the only legislators who can ask for these opinions.

Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.

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