Tom Miller: GOP will need court ruling to replace candidate
It has been more than 20 years since the West Virginia Supreme Court ordered the State Election Commission to allow the Republican party to replace a candidate on the ballot after the original nominee withdrew. And Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's office announced last week it would require similar court action before the state allows Marie Sprouse-McDavid to replace Delegate Suzette Raines on the ballot.
A spokesman for Tennant's office said Sprouse-McDavid filed a certificate of announcement and paid the $100 filing fee needed to become an official candidate in the race for a seat in the legislature from the 35th District. However, the State Election Commission recently ruled the Republican Party could not replace Raines on the ballot because her reasons for withdrawing from the race did not amount to "personal extenuating circumstances."
Raines said recently that she could not serve if re-elected because she is coping with grief following the death of her mother in March as well as the end of a romantic relationship in 2013.
At a meeting earlier this month, members of the State Election Commission said they sympathized with Raines but decided her circumstances didn't meet the legal criteria needed for a replacement. No commission member made a motion to vote on whether a replacement was warranted.
Commission Chairman Robert Rupp said previous replacements were approved for "very bold and dramatic reasons" including such problems as "death, heart attack and disqualification." He mentioned another recent decision where the commission determined a Mingo County Democrat candidate's health issues didn't warrant replacement on the ballot, as a mark of consistency by the commission.
Tim Leach, an attorney for the secretary of state, said there is no appeals process but state and local Republicans continued last week to explore ways to get a replacement on the ballot. After Kanawha County Republicans nominated Sprouse-McDavid as their supported candidate on Aug. 16, state GOP party chairman Conrad Lucas said they were considering legal action to get her on the ballot.
More than two decades ago, in 1992, Republicans were able to force the election commission to authorize a replacement by filing a petition with the state Supreme Court. It came after Ron Foster announced that summer that he wanted to withdraw as the GOP nominee in the 2nd Congressional District, citing "personal family commitments" and "obligations to my children" as his reasons for leaving the race.
Republicans picked Samuel Cravotta as their replacement candidate and the five-member State Supreme Court of Appeals -- all Democrats -- ordered the state election commission to authorize the Republican's candidacy. Veteran Democrat incumbent Rep. Bob Wise easily defeated Cravotta in the general election, receiving more than 70 percent of the vote.
The Secretary of State has to certify ballots on Aug. 25. There are four seats up for grabs in the 35th Delegate District but without court action there will be only three Republican candidates and a disclaimer of "no candidate" on the ballot in place of Raines.
Last year in Kanawha County -- this state's largest public school district -- a total of 216 teachers quit their jobs. About 75 percent of them were retirees. Statewide in 2012, at least 1,850 teachers retired in West Virginia. That was about 230 more than the number retiring in 2008, according to the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board.
The state's teachers unions have been warning of what a Baby Boomer mass exodus will mean for the public education system and urging officials to increase teacher pay and provide more mentoring and benefits to new teachers in order to attract and retain them. These union leaders also point to the fact the state is losing teachers due to more than just retirement. They point to teachers who drive across state borders to work for higher salaries in other nearby states.
Even more alarming is the fact that in 2013 about 1,700 college students in West Virginia majored in education. This was a decrease of more than 8 percent since 2008, according to the Higher Education Policy Commission. President Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association said those numbers are not surprising. The average teacher in West Virginia earns about $45,000 a year, which ranks this state 48th in the country when it comes to teacher compensation.
Teachers in this state just out of college earn about $32,000 annually. The WVEA's campaign wants to increase the starting teacher salary in West Virginia to $43,000 by 2019. President Christine Campbell of this state's branch of the American Federation of Teachers said state legislators are aware of the problem but instead of focusing on attracting new teachers, they are looking for ways to keep teachers who are eligible for retirement to continue teaching.
International competition to provide coal in the United States is making a significant dent in the market to the detriment of Central Appalachian steam coal production. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that while coal mines in West Virginia and surrounding states are announcing closures, this country's coal imports are rising sharply. The paper reported coal imports surged to 5.4 million metric tons during the first six months of 2014 -- up 44 percent from the first half of 2013.
What has caused this shift? The answer is price, according to research firm IHS Energy because U.S. plants have been buying Colombian coal for about $75 to $82 a ton for most of the year. That compares to the $79 to $86 a ton they are being quoted by Central Appalachian producers. And even though labor costs are lower in Columbia, the bigger savings comes from shipping costs. It's $11 a ton cheaper for Florida power plants to have coal shipped from Columbia than from Central Appalachia.
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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