Leaving It Up to Local Voters

Ryan Ferns has made mistakes, and he admits them. Last week he avoided what many of his constituents seem to believe would have been another error – resigning from the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Ferns, a Democrat, is in his first term as a delegate from the Third District, primarily Ohio County. During his time as a lawmaker, he has adopted a bipartisan approach to doing what he believes is best for those he represents in Charleston. He’s a committed Democrat, but he’s willing to listen and work with Republicans. And he recognizes that sometimes, they have good arguments for or against legislation.

A few weeks ago Ferns committed a serious lapse in judgment. He was arrested by Wheeling police and charged with driving under the influence. He quickly pleaded guilty and apologized. Then he announced he planned to resign from the House and not seek re-election this fall.

He did not submit his resignation immediately. During the days after he revealed his intentions, he heard many expressions of support – and many people urging him to reconsider. During the May 8 primary election, after he’d announced plans to leave the Legislature, he received 1,925 votes. That had to have affected his thoughts about staying in the game.

Last week Ferns said he has done just that. He will serve out his term as a delegate. During the next several weeks he will decide whether to keep his name on the November election ballot. His thinking may well have been influenced by conversations with fellow lawmakers in Charleston for interim committee meetings this week.

No doubt his political opponents – including both some Democrats and some Republicans – will try to pressure Ferns to abandon the Legislature. As ammunition they will point to a previous scrape with the law, when he was a college student in 2003.

That situation, in which Ferns pleaded guilty to underage consumption, was somewhat unusual. It turns out he might not have been arrested had he not obeyed a security guard’s directive to move his car out of a restricted parking space.

Yes, Ferns has made mistakes. But he is taking steps to avoid such lapses in the future. And, to judge by the votes he received in the primary election, many of his constituents like his work in the Legislature.

Ferns was right to decide to serve out the remainder of his term and to reassess whether to run for re-election. In the end voters, either by expressing concerns or support during the next several weeks or, perhaps, in the November election, will make the decision for him.

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So, how important was President Barack Obama’s announcement he favors same-sex marriage? Politically, it was huge, if only because it reminds U.S. liberals Obama is one of them.

Some analysts say gay voters were likely to vote for Obama anyway. Perhaps. But consider voter apathy. In 2008, when Obama set records for mobilizing voters, only 64 percent of voting-age Americans went to the polls. About one-third stayed home

Assume apathy is about the same among gays. Last year the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law released research estimating about 8 million Americans are gay or bisexual. One-third of that number is about 2.6 million potential voters.

They now have a reason to turn out en masse to vote for Obama. That’s 2.6 million votes he may gain. Add whatever number of Republican gays might have voted for Mitt Romney had Obama not made his announcement, and the numbers go higher.

Consider, too, the fact that gays now have a reason to become activists – to urge their straight friends, who may have been wavering about the election because of the economy, to vote for Obama.

Make no mistake about it: Obama’s decision was big, politically motivated – and it will pay off for him. In 2008, Obama beat Sen. John McCain by slightly fewer than 10 million votes, in what some saw as a runaway. This time around, against Romney, it’ll be closer. Will, say, 4 million votes be the difference?

Myer can be reached via e-mail at myer@theintelligencer.net.