When lawmakers in West Virginia introduced formal resolutions this year, inviting rural and conservative parts of Virginia to join our rural and conservative state, we thought it was a one-note story, good for a nervous chuckle and a shake of the head. We hoped the world at large would not notice, would not regard it as yet another example of how certain citizens in this state often go out of their way to confirm the negative stereotype others have stamped on our collective forehead. We wanted to believe that serious lawmakers would turn the Legislature’s focus back to the more important issues of state – because there is, in fact, a pile of problems to address.

But then Gov. Jim Justice jumped on board with both feet this past Tuesday. And for those of you who think those rural and conservative Virginians were cheering our governor, they were not. That was laughter you heard.

“What are they doing, a comedy routine?” said Sen. Emmett Hanger – a Republican from Augusta County just over the state line.

Less funny and most troubling, the governor made it clear what kind of people are welcome in West Virginia – and, through inference, what kind of people are not. In short, diversity is out, homogeneity is in, and not everyone is welcome.

In an appearance with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., the governor did, indeed, urge unhappy Virginia counties to secede and come on over to its neighboring state to the west. Justice, a political chameleon and populist who sways with the prevailing winds, laid it all out.

“If you’re not truly happy where you are, we stand with open arms to take you from Virginia or anywhere where you may be,” said the Republican who was elected as a Democrat. “We stand strongly behind the Second Amendment and we stand strongly for the unborn.”

Falwell chimed in, too. “Democratic leaders in Richmond, through their elitism and radicalism, have left a nearly unrecognizable state in their wake.”

You see, in the first time in a generation, Virginia Democrats – by popular vote in the last two elections – took back control of the governor’s office and both the state House and Senate. Politics have been moving to the left of the political spectrum in the Commonwealth for a while. Now, both U.S. senators are Democrats as are seven of the 11 representatives to Congress. In short order, the newly emboldened Democratic majority in the General Assembly pledged to enact gun-control measures, roll back abortion restrictions and prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people. For good measure, the Virginia Democrats also ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the 38th state to do so – after it had languished under GOP rule for more than four decades. West Virginia did so way back in 1972.

Radical? Hardly.

Regardless, their agenda sparked a conservative backlash with tens of thousands of gun-rights activists flooding the capital in protest.

So, we get these West Virginia resolutions, one of which says the “government at Richmond now seeks to place intolerable restraints upon the rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Of course, it’s a cheap stunt and diversionary technique that smells of desperation. Clearly, we have legislators and a governor who are at wits’ end on how to diversify the economy, how to improve educational outcomes, how to care for some 7,000 children in foster care, how to build and maintain our roads, how to crack opioid addiction, how to deliver broadband service to every nook and cranny, let alone how to lay a pipeline of clean water to each and every home.

All of that is hard – too hard for this crew. So, yes, why not send out an invitation? That’s easy.

Well, consider this. The Virginia population, since 1980, has climbed steadily, from 5.444 million people to 8.518 million, a 56 percent increase. At the same time, West Virginia’s population has fallen from 1.954 million to 1.806 million, a loss of 148,000 people (or, put another way, more than three times the number of people who inhabit our state’s largest city, Charleston).

The governor’s invite ought to be to people from all walks of life, making sure folks know that The Mountain State welcomes all – regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or political persuasion. Who knows, with a larger pool of new arrivals there might be more who can open a business, hire workers, repopulate church pews, buy a car, subscribe to a newspaper, broaden the tax base and contribute to the vitality of life here. Maybe they could help us unravel the Gordian knot of issues holding our state back.

Or, in contrast to the governor’s message, do something to offer our kids hope – and a future.

— The Register-Herald

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