Monday, December 07, 2009

Will Charleston FInally Have Minority Representation in District 31?

In 1991 a "minority influence district" was created by the legislature when they re-drew boundary lines to include census tracts that contained the largest concentration of African-Americans. This affirmative action gerrymandering was done in broad daylight and was met with approval by most Charlestonians, except for some Republicans who said it was simply a Democratic ploy to insure an extra seat in the legislature.

The move was greeted particularly well by members of the African-American community who saw it as a chance to have real representation in the state legislature. Several political newcomers tossed their hats in the ring in the first two elections after the creation of the district. They found out the hard way that it takes money and influence to win even in a small, targeted district like 31.

Unfortunately for minority candidates, the gerrymandering included the more affluent sections of the East End that has become an attractive place for young attorneys and other professionals to make their residences. This comparatively well-to-do minority of the district has dominated, politically. There has never been an African-American, nor any other minority candidate, elected to represent the district. White and affluent Carrie Webster has held this seat for several years.

But now that Carrie Webster has been named as the replacement for Circuit Court Judge Irene Berger (who was recently named to the federal bench) perhaps we will finally see a minority in the seat. In the last election Webster was challenged strongly by Meshea Poore, an African American attorney and former public defender, and Poore is being talked about as the likely replacement for Webster. To solidify her candidacy, she has already filed her candidacy papers with the secretary of state's office.

Poore seems to be a good choice for the seat, and if it had not been for Webster's incumbancy and the help of her affluent lawyer friends and donors, she might have already owned it. It would be a shame if the governor did not appoint Poore to this unexpired seat 18 years after an intentional act of the government set the stage for much needed change in representation in this, the most concentrated minority district in the state.

Do the right thing, Joe. Show us that you are abve the good ol' boy system.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Coal Country Movie Premiere

The world premiere of the long awaited (or long dreaded for some) documentary "Coal Country" was held this evening at the Cultural Center theater. The premiere was originally scheduled for the LaBelle Theater in South Charleston, but that theater's board of directors canceled the show due to "security concerns" and the Cultural Center came to the rescue. As it turns out there were no security issues, and except for some shouting back and forth during the movie, the crowd was well behaved.

Unfortunately the Cultural Center holds less than 500 people and there were probably 600 or more that showed up. The cultural center staff was extraordinarily accommodating and allowed a few people to stand near the theater doors and even rigged an extra loudspeaker in the lobby so people could at least hear the audio. Kudos to them and to the movie's executive producer who walked through the lobby thanking people for coming and apologizin for the lack of seating.

There were people from both sides of the coal mining debate present, but as you might imagine the environmentalists certainly had the larger contingent. The pro-mining folks were a little louder though, and first made their presence known when one of the producers made a special mention of Ken Hechler. "No one loves this state as much as Ken Hechler," she said and the crowd applauded, except for some very loud voices saying "we love this state, too!" Most of those were wearing the tell tale camouflaged ball caps or mining company t-shirts. After the movie began, theses folks were not shy to roar with approval every time someone on screen shared an opinion or sentiment that they liked.

The people on the other side were quick to shout "grow up!" whenever the pro-mining would get vociferous, but whenever one of their people would say something onscreen they would be just as obnoxious.

The movie was remarkably well-balanced and the cat calls were pretty much even for the balance of the movie.

I enjoyed the movie. Certainly I was expecting an anti-mining propaganda piece, and that's pretty much what it is, but it was done with grace and sincere appreciation for the miner's point of view. The movie was edited without narration, one of those "in their own words" kind of documentaries. I didn't put a clock on it, but the screen time given to those with pro-coal views were pretty much equal to the anti-coal voices, although it's difficult to say that the strength of their rhetoric was comparable; Certainly the anti-coal people were the stronger. The producers explained before the screening that they couldn't get enough people from the coal industry to speak to them on camera to have a true representation. But there were a few authoritative and persuasive pro-coal voices in the film.

Overall, I think if you drive a Volvo covered with bumper stickers you won't be quite satisfied with the strength of the anti-coal rhetoric. If you drive a truck with a "Coal Keeps The Lights On" license plate, you will be pleasantly surprised that your views are represented, but still will feel that the movie was unfairly slanted. That everyone will be a little dissatisfied is the sign of a good compromise. And while you might say that a film like this shouldn't compromise, I far prefer this approach to an in your face propaganda piece that goes to any length to win converts. This film probably didn't change anyone's mind, but it did fairly frame the discussion.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Smoke Screen in Cross Lanes

It seems that the Gazette and other media are quite content to accept Tri State Casino's 15o room hotel as payment in full for the promise that Tri Sate made to get us to approve table games in Kanawha County.

Let's review what was said before the election:

From The State Journal Monday, March 26, 2007
"We're thinking about a 200- to 250-room hotel, a spa, a huge convention space and entertainment space for shows and boxing events, other sporting events along with we're looking at a state of the art billiard center so this issue goes beyond gaming. We're going to become a true tourist desitination and resort really quickly," Adkins said.

From Lawrence Messina, August 12, 2007:
Owned by Michigan-based Hartman & Tyner Inc., Tri-State linked passage to 1,000 new jobs and a $250 million upgrade that would include a 250-room hotel and 6,500 seat arena.

And now what are they saying?

From The Charleston Gazette, June 24, 2009

Backhoes and power shovels clawed the first scoops full of dirt Wednesday as construction began on a 150-room hotel at Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center.

Adkins said Wednesday Hartman & Tyner will pay for the hotel out of company revenues.
"There is no budget for this project," he said. "What it takes [to build it] is what it takes."

Doesn't seem to add up to me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why I hate the Purple Onion, part 2

The Purple Onion is the primary produce dealer at the Capitol Market, the only one inside and therefore the only one in the off-season when the farmers are selling flowers, pumpkins and Christmas trees.

The last time I wrote, I said that I despised their practice of bulk packaging their vegetables because it made me buy way more than I needed. That practice has seemingly changed a little and once again I can go in and buy one turnip if I only need one turnip. So that's an improvement, but I still have two major bones to pick:

1. The Purple Onion's motto is "Buy Local, Buy Fresh." In reality the produce they sell is of no different origin than what is sold at Kroger. Occasionally they will have a basket of "W.Va. Apples" or locally grown corn, but most of the time they have the same California/Mexico/South American produce that Corey Brothers delivers to them and every other grocery store in the area. The only thing local about it is the ownership of the store, which is a good thing I guess, but the slogan is misleading.

2. The merchandised retail space in the Purple Onion is approximately divided thusly:

Fruit - 100 square feet

Vegetables - 180 sq. ft.

Beans, peas etc. - 60 sq. ft.

Assorted pre-packaged crap - more than 300 square feet.

The Onion has taken a real shine to packaging everything from nuts to cookies (even individually cellophane wrapped chocolate chip cookies) in little plastic boxes and labeled them to sell by the pound. Stacks and stacks of these things.