Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Speaker Review: WV State Senator John Unger (D-16th District)

Now I'm not one to take up for a majority of democrats, especially in a democratic strong-hold like West Virginia.  But this guy really is something different. I wrote my "speaker review" for class (ok, so it's not an example of my strongest writing).  I tired to keep in objective, so I will treat it like a news article and it (the review) will be block quoted with my opinion threaded through as commentary. Here we go:

Senator John Unger, the democratic state senator representing the 16th district, visited with my State/Local Gov. class on Thursday, September 7, 2006.  He offered insight into duties of a state senator and discussed some of "the issues."

Using Abraham Lincoln as a model, Unger began his presentation with an outline of the importance of voting from one’s conscience, rather than voting as the polls dictate saying, “if Abraham Lincoln had listened to what the polls said, he probably would not have voted to pass the Emancipation Proclamation.  We (politicians) have an obligation to do right, even if it’s unpopular.” 

Excellent point, John.  This is much of the reason that we so called "Bushies" support the President.  The public may not approve of the tactics being used to interrogate terrorists, but that doesn't mean it isn't still acceptale. The war in Iraq may not be a "popular war" but that doesn't mean we aren't doing what needs to be done. 

Unger took time to elaborate on why he got into public service.  He explained that he wanted to open the government system up to the people.  He also proclaimed that he “won’t be senator forever, [and] probably shouldn't be.”  Echoing the words of Ronald Reagan, Unger stated that people believe that government is the solution to all problems, but that it is actually the problem; the people, he stated, are the solution.  He elaborated on this, saying that it is for this reason that we (the electorate) must hold all elected officials responsible.

Wow!  Is Mr. Unger a D-WV or an R-WV in disguise?  It sure sounds like he could be an R...or maybe he's just an example of that moderate democrat we hear so much about but rarely see...

Perhaps most surprisingly, Unger expressed his belief that the federal government is actually devolving and therefore shifting much of its power to the state government.  He cited No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as evidence of this shift.  This seemed strange and somehow illogical.  Many proponents of education and of state’s rights cite NCLB as doing the opposite; most see this as an example of how the federal government is seizing power from the state.  This view seems more logical and correct: when the federal government dictates to the state what they must achieve, it (the federal government) is taking power, not giving it. 

NCLB is criticized as taking state's rights.  Bush is criticized as grabbing power from the states.  Am I missing something?

Senator Unger provided a brief overview of just what it is that our representatives do.  Specifically, he explained that our state senate is compromised of 34 members.  These 34 members are given plenty of opportunity to serve in various committees. Through these committees, senators are able to carefully review proposed bills, thereby eliminating “bad bills” in committee, rather than waiting to debate each and every bill on the senate floor.  Other responsibilities Unger outlined include constituent services, such as workers compensation, voter registration, etc.. 

Previewing the upcoming election, Unger cited what he sees as the two single most important campaign details: campaign finance and having a chairmanship in the senate.  Unger seemed to take issue with contributions made to his compititoin, Jerry Mays, from big coal companies, but he didn't give specifics.  Further more, he didn't outline why the contributions would be wrong/unethical.  His chairmanship argument was more logical (we shouldn’t replace him because it may take Jerry Mays a long time to earn a chairmanship) yet still weak: we shouldn’t keep a representative simply because of the perks that come from that particular representative.

The question and answer session was the most interesting.  As an education major, the prospect of working in WV where I will make $10-$20,000 less than if I were to travel to Virginia or Maryland to teach.  Mr. Unger proudly proclaimed his support for locality pay, even if that means taking on the WVEA.  He used the argument, “are teachers professionals?  Do all professionals in other professions make the same amount of money?  Then why should teachers?”  This is an excellent argument, and I took much comfort in his very apparent disapproval of the WVEA and his pledge of support for local educators.

Surely a DEMOCRAT was not heard being critical to any union, let alone the teachers' union!!  It's possible, I think, that Mr. Unger could very well be ensuring his political death by combating the WVEA.  On the other hand, Jefferson and Berkely counties are not union strongholds and they are certainly the biggest benefactors of the proposed locality pay issue.

Finally, it was clear to see that Mr. Unger represents the feelings, if not the precise positions, of many residents of the Eastern Panhandle and its nearby counties:

“I view Charleston in this way: there is the Kingdom of Kanawha, and then there are 54 colonies which it rules.” 

I think this echoes the thoughts and beliefs of much of WV, particularly, though, the Eastern Panhandle. 

Yes.  Yes yes yes  That is exactly how anybody who studies--even slightly--WV politics ought to feel.  Charleston doles out money and authority according to who is loyal to the King--that is, who helps keep the people of Charleston in power. Shelly Moore-Capito (R-WV) of the House of Delegates [typo] Representatives is NO better, even though she sits on a federal level.  She and esteemed WV delegate Mollohan are practically neighbors in the Huntington/Charleston areas, yet they claim to represent all of WV.  It's a sad truth...I'm not saying I don't like her, but come on.

As I am not a resident of District 16 and can therefore not vote for or against Mr. Unger, it is not important that he should have convinced me that he is the best candidate.  However, I can say that if I were eligible to vote in his district, after hearing his “lecture,” I would have to be crazy to not at least consider him as a serious contender for my vote.

It'll be interesting to see how all this pans out.  Jerry Mays is supposed to speak to the class this week or next, so I'll follow up with that.

For more on John Unger, WVExecutive.com has an intriguing piece on him and his accomplishments.  You can also visit his (partially completed) homepage.

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At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can you use names and words: right, responsible, Iraq war, Bush and Lincoln in the same blog and not physically become ill? It has been said that only 2 types support Bush; the rich and the ignorant! I can only guess which group you fall into based on what I'm reading.

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

You are misquoting me, sir (or mam--I can't be sure, seeing as how you posted anonymously). The idea the doing what one feels is right or responsible was one which was brought forward by a democratic WV senator who is seeking reelection, as was the bit about Lincoln. I am simply equating the idea that Lincoln did something that he felt was right and responsible (Emancipation) even though it would probably not have one a popular vote. Bush, in the same token, is doing what he (and many of us who support him) sees as right and responsible even if folks like you would not support it. That is the point I was making, and it seems to be that it's a valid point. Bush and Lincoln both made decisions based on personal convictions even though the decissions made were unpopular. How can you (or anybody else) argue otherwise?


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