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Respecting Ferns’ Decision

May 5, 2012
By MIKE MYER , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

It will be interesting to see how many votes Ryan Ferns receives in the primary election Tuesday. A substantial number of people don't seem to want to take "no" for an answer from him.

Ferns resigned his post in the West Virginia House of Delegates after being arrested on a DUI charge last month. He did the right thing, pleading guilty and apologizing to his constituents. He then resigned and said he won't be a candidate for re-election.

It was already too late to change ballots, however, so Ferns will be listed as a candidate for the Democrat nomination for House of Delegates. Some people will vote for him because they've been vacationing on another planet and aren't aware of events during the past couple of weeks. Some will hit the election machine button for him out of habit.

But others may vote for Ferns as a show of support, perhaps in the hope his mind can be changed.

Registered Republicans can't vote in the Democrat primary - but independents can, if they request Democrat ballots. Quite a few independents are conservatives who have much in common with Republicans.

Ferns has a lot of support among conservatives because he has tried to work with Republicans in the House, instead of adopting what sometimes is his party's knee-jerk reaction against anything or anyone connected to the GOP. In recognition of that, two prominent Republicans - Ohio County GOP Chairwoman Elgine McArdle and Marshall County Commission candidate Bob Miller - sent us letters to the editor in support of Ferns.

That is virtually unheard of, and it caused ripples among some Republican leaders. One wondered aloud whether McArdle had forgotten the chief responsibility of a party official, to get people from her party elected and support them once in office.

Indeed, particularly in West Virginia, the GOP faithful have to concentrate hard on that mission. Democrats still account for more than 52 percent of registered voters, compared to nearly 29 percent for Republicans (the rest are independents or Mountain Party). The gap is narrower in Ohio County, at about 47 percent Democrat to 30 percent Republican.

But even though conservatives seem to be gaining strength in our state - both voter registrations and election returns indicate that - it's probably going to be awhile before the GOP has any hope of controlling the Legislature. That means that if conservative agendas are going to be pursued successfully, some Democrats will have to support them.

That, I think, is part of McArdle's reasoning. She and other thoughtful Republicans believe people like Ferns should be rewarded for at least considering a bipartisan approach to government. They're right.

Ferns is quite popular. In the 2010 election, he was a strong second in a four-person field seeking two House seats from Ohio County. It's understandable some people don't want to lose him.

What about Ferns? I don't know him well and won't pretend to know what he's thinking. But from all accounts, he believed resigning and withdrawing from the general election race was the right thing to do - for himself and his family as well as his constituents. If that's the case, his wishes should be respected.

Perhaps the best answer I've ever heard (in context, at least) to the question, "Name some rights guaranteed to Americans," was voiced the other day in a college history class.

I happened to be present in the class, taught by Professor Lynn Caseman at West Virginia Northern Community College in New Martinsville. He began the session by asking several current-events type questions about government.

Caseman put one quick-witted young man on the spot with the rights question. The student thought quickly and creatively and answered, "The right to remain silent."

Well, yes - especially if you don't want to answer any more questions from the professor.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at

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