Christopher J. Regan

(Earlier this month), Governor Jim Justice announced that as students returned to WVU and Morgantown, he would re-open the bars there. Never mind that infections were rising in Monongalia County at an unprecedented rate (the previous) weekend, the governor had a reason for what he was doing — he said he promised the owners of the bars he would allow it.

The results were totally predictable — an even more out-of-control spike in infections, a university crackdown, and the doors slamming shut on the bars just two days later. But the damage has been done, as hundreds of people mingled together without masks, distancing or unimpaired judgment. When in-person learning is curtailed in Mon County, we’ll know why.

Justice followed that up with an about one-quarter-baked testing plan for school sports. The scheme was to test students once, and only once, wish and hope tests come back 100 percent negative, and then “let the games begin!” This cock-and-bull notion had so little going for it that the local school boards all turned Justice down flat. So he accused them of causing deaths.

School officials around the state have been patiently trying to explain that they do not have adequate supplies of cleaners and personal protective equipment to open under the existing guidelines. From the bunker at The Greenbrier, Justice has declared these critical reports “politics.”

A leader has got to listen to the people out in the field doing the work. What does it say about our governor, who never tires of telling us what a qualified educator he is, that he didn’t even bother to check with the superintendents about his test-and-reopen plan? He just thought it up and shot it over the transom like a paper airplane. When it went down in flames he blamed everyone else.

That’s not leadership. Coronavirus cases in West Virginia are “spiraling upward.” Sometimes a person is so rich he decides the rules just don’t apply to him, but they still apply to the rest of us, and that includes this virus. We either do the right thing or we lose lives, jobs, businesses, schooling for our kids, and everything else we’d like to have. Jim Justice has the money to hide from this problem, but most people don’t.

Jim Justice likes to call any criticism he gets “politics.” Anytime he fails to respond to problems and someone points it out, “that’s playing politics.” If he holds onto federal money the people need to open schools, preserve businesses or pay rent, and someone takes note of that, it’s “just politics.” We had all summer and hundreds of millions of federal dollars to help West Virginia get ready to reopen schools. The governor wasted it on his pet projects. How’s that for “politics?”

And now we may as well face it. A lot of schooling is going to be online when we wanted kids in class. School sports will be a fractured, canceled, postponed, later-vacated mess when they are able to happen at all. Teachers, cafeteria workers, janitors, bus drivers, and hundreds of thousands of parents and family members are all going to be at unnecessary risk.

Why? Because the man at the top can’t get his act together. If anyone tells him a fact he doesn’t want to hear, they get fired. If he doesn’t like the results of the Harvard map, just make up your own. Numbers too high? Count 20 infections as one or two. The state government has been an absolute mess just when West Virginia needed it most.

The virus is real. The crisis is real. West Virginia can’t afford an empty suit, even if it is size 74, or an empty governor’s mansion, at a time like this. We need a full-time governor who is willing to work with all the people and for all the people. And West Virginia will get a chance to vote for one on Nov. 3.

Christopher J. Regan is an attorney with Bordas & Bordas, PLLC, in Wheeling.

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