Despite the Drama, Business Got Done
The 2019 regular legislative session was by far one of the wildest I’ve ever seen, but even with all the drama this year these 134 lawmakers were still able to get a lot done.
On the House of Delegates side, other than the controversies over the anti-LGBTQ remarks by Del. Eric Porterfield and the drama 11 days ago that resulted in House Minority Whip Mike Caputo kicking in the door to the House Chamber and injuring a doorkeeper, it ran fairly smoothly.
I imagine some GOP operatives would disagree with this assessment. But through it all, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw did his job, which is to keep legislation moving. Probably my only complaint is it appeared he let his committee chairs and even his leadership team have too much latitude.
In a way it reminded me of the “Team of Rivals” concept, when President Abraham Lincoln specifically packed his cabinet with people who would disagree with him and disagree with each other. I think that concept can work in a small group, but I don’t know that concept can work when trying to manage 100 people, and specifically a 59-member Republican caucus.
Some have blamed Hanshaw for allowing these differences to bubble to the surface. I’ve never understood why the house speaker or the senate president for that matter are held responsible for their caucuses. Those two jobs involve managing the entire chamber, not just the members of their own parties. That’s the role of your majority and minority leaders and whips.
There is no doubt there are huge differences of opinion and process between the 59 house Republicans. That was apparent on education reform when one House committee reduced the number of charters and eliminated education savings accounts, then another committee tried to put it all back in via a parliamentary maneuver.
It was blatantly apparent on Campus Carry, when House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott tried to send it to the finance committee, only for House Majority Leader Amy Summers to make a successful motion to not send it to finance. That decision was reversed the next day. Shott later made a motion to put the bill on the inactive calendar, only for it to come back off. Any attempt to amend it to add limitations by Shott was shot down (no pun intended).
It was also apparent Friday when two resolutions were introduced to censure and expel Caputo for actions that caused the injury of a doorkeeper. Caputo apologized last week to both the House and the Republican caucus. Hanshaw removed him from all his committees for the duration of the session.
That wasn’t enough for 29 House Republicans who signed onto the censure resolution. Never mind that a censure resolution does nothing. It’s symbolic. It has no force or weight other than making others feel better. There was no way the expulsion resolution was going to pass, having needed two-thirds of the House to approve it.
You have to give it to House Democrats for keeping their powder dry and not retaliating, though I’m told they had their own censure resolutions ready to go for Del. Porterfield and others. They chose to wait and see what the votes were and when both resolutions were tabled, they let the matter die.
At the end of the day, there is a divide between the far-right conservatives in the House and those who are more moderate in their approaches. Oddly enough, when teachers took credit for causing some House Republicans to lose their elections in November, they took out some of the more moderate Republicans and replaced them with more Trump-like Republicans.
But back to Hanshaw. Through all of this, he still got legislation through and made sure all bills went through the meat grinder of the committee process. The budget was completed Friday, and most major legislation was complete long before midnight on Saturday.
The Senate, on the other hand, is why we’re having to have another special session. It didn’t have to be this way had senators accepted the version of SB 451 that came from the House and realized there were serious issues with getting everything they wanted through the House. They could have come back next year to try for more charters or education savings accounts.
Now lawmakers, stakeholders, and Gov. Jim Justice will use the next month or so to hammer out a deal that gets teachers the pay raise he promised, but also gets the Senate the kinds of education reform they want. But this isn’t going to work if the Senate wants something the House can’t deliver. It’s also not going to work if the Senate keeps playing word games and being vague in an effort to hurt teachers’ unions.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the readers over the last 60 days. I’ve received several emails from readers thankful for more informative coverage of the session. Thanks for reading and thanks for spreading the word. I’m also thankful for the reporters at your local newspaper who helped by talking to your delegates and senators and showing how legislation in Charleston affects you.