Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Secretary of the State of West Virginia Betty Ireland: Leadership for WV's Future

My state and local government class had a special guest speaker today.  Here in the eastern panhandle, we aren't too frequently visited by the leadership from Charleston, so any time one of these folks "throws us a bone" and stops by is exciting.  The fact that she is the highest ranking woman in West Virginia government ever, the first woman to work as a high ranking member of the executive branch and the fact that she is currently the highest ranking republican in Charleston added to the excitement of having Ms. Betty Ireland, Secretary of the State (SOS) of West Virginia (left) in our modest classroom at Shepherd University.

For today's post, I think I will share some of what I learned from the Secretary, as well as my impressions of her. First of all, I must comment on Ireland's stature.  She is a tall woman who, to say the least, commands respect and is not easily pushed around or bullied.  That being said, it may also be noted that she is a woman who, I imagine, can be quite intimidating. 

Ireland began her conversation with us by giving us an overview of her job description.  I, for better or worse, was not particularly familiar with what the SOS did.  She corrected this issue by sharing much of her job description with us:

  • Election official

  • Keeper of executive records

  • Signer of all official WV Executive Orders and documents

  • Keeper of the Official Executive's Journal

  • Overseer of election fraud claims

  • Overseer of election campaign finance

  • Keeper of and publisher of all administrative law

  • Keeper of the register of all charities and fund raising entities

  • Chief of Business licenses and registration

  • Chief assistant for those attempting to acquire citizenship

  • Recorder of all foreign child adoptions

  • Chief regulator of commerce

  • And others

I personally found this to be quite a list of job duties/ responsibilities.  She, however, seems more than able to handle the task with a staff of just 55 persons. 

Ireland also elaborated on her goals for the WVSOS's office.  Perhaps the most important goal she elaborated on was full compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).  She explained that, though Congress allotted nearly $20 million in funds to reach compliance by January 2006, it simply wasn't enough money even for a small state like WV.  According to her records, nearly $17 million was spent simply on acquiring the machinery to implement electronic voting.  This is a problem.  She claims that she needs nearly $3 million more than what Congress allotted her.  Aside from needing more, it is my understanding of what she said that they have not even provided a full 2/3 of the promised $20 million.  Ireland expects that Congress will further articulate their expectations of HAVA and involve themselves more and more in state issues though she'd prefer if they, "just stayed out." 

On the topic of elections, Ireland explained that another of her goals was to "combat election fraud."  She explained that since she has taken office, she has attempted to digitize WV's records, creating a statewide voter roster, rather than the county-by-county method previously used.  In doing this, she eliminated 6,000 "dead voters from the WV rosters," though she expects that the number could actually be closer to 4,000 after accounting for those with similar names (such as John Doe and John Doe Jr.) and basic record keeping mistakes.

Ireland's office also seems to be leading the charge in attempting to implement the use of technology in Charleston.  She hopes to be a leader in this.  Her office has created several websites aimed at assisting in clearly illustrating voters' rights, responsibilities and regulations.  She has also worked to put technology in place to ease the burden on businesses in the state. 

Ireland described herself as a "social liberal, but a fiscal republican," and she certainly sounded just as such when she spoke of the importance of business in WV.  "We need to simplify tax codes and business regulations to open this state up," Ireland said when asked how to attract more business to the state. 

Though unrelated to her field, Ireland also believes that the WV Teachers' Unions need to "wake up" and begin endorsing locality pay for teachers in the Eastern Panhandle.  As a future educator, that remark alone deserves a gold star.

Overall I was quite impressed by Secretary Ireland.  She seems to be right on track in regards to leading WV into the 21st century with a bang.  She seems to have a firm grasp on the importance of bringing business to the state through smart development by simplifying the horrifically complex tax codes and registration process.  She is also transforming WV into a leader for implementation of HAVA and she is finally showing WV the beauty of implementing technology on a governmental level, making life easier for all of us. 

Though she skirted around a question regarding her political future ("so will you be running for reelection in 2008, or will you be on the ballot for governor"), I believe it is safe to say that should she run for governor of WV, I will more than likely be solidly in her corner.

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