Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
News and Sentinel, Parkersburg, W.Va., on officials not exempt from the rules:
When Walt Helmick became West Virginia commissioner of agriculture last year, one of the first things he did was to request a thorough audit of his department. That is not unusual, especially when an office holder's predecessor has been in office for many years.
What auditors found was unusual, however. Former Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass served in that position for 44 years. He headed the department for half its history. During that time, "very troubling activities" occurred, House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said Thursday.
Miley added he and state Senate President Jeff Kessler have turned findings from the audit over to U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office.
While not making accusations of wrongdoing, Miley was more specific than often is the case in such situations. He told a reporter auditors had found "questionable accounting methods, expense reimbursements and loans administered by the agency."
In a news release, Miley added that neither Kessler, Helmick nor he "tolerate any activities that lack integrity or violate the public trust."
For decades, longevity in office fed longevity in office for Douglass. His name may well have been the best-known among state-level officials in West Virginia. Re-election became virtually automatic for him because of that name recognition.
That sort of tenure can breed complacency and yes, arrogance among both the chief of an agency and those who work under him.
Whether wrongdoing or merely sloppy bookkeeping is involved is not known. Again, however, Miley's harsh comments do not sound as if he is talking about technicalities.
Clearly, both state auditors and the U.S. attorney's office should leave no stone unturned in their probe of the agriculture department's practices under Douglass. If changes are needed, they should be made immediately.
And if the investigation shows culpability by Douglass and/or any of those who served under him, justice should be meted out swiftly. West Virginians need to know the rules will be enforced, even when they are broken by those with long records of service.
The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.Va., on Democrats' focus on integrity, accountability being well-place:
Considering the make-up of the platform announced Sunday by Democrats in the West Virginia House of Delegates, it's not surprising that charges of partisanship were soon forthcoming.
But the overall thrust of the Democrats' self-described "first plank" -- increased accountability aimed at boosting the integrity of state government -- is a worthy objective that would affect Democrats and Republicans alike. In light of events that have transpired in the past few years, adding more integrity and ethical behavior would be a welcome step.
Among the transgressions or questionable actions have been abuse of power by Democratic politicians in Mingo County, questions about improper purchasing practices and overspending connected to a $126 million broadband expansion project overseen by the Democratic administration, concerns about conflicts of interest in the Attorney General's Office, and how money that is won in court by the Attorney General's Office is used. Just last week, legislative leaders suggested that a preliminary audit of the state's Department of Agriculture under the administration of former commission Gus Douglas, a Democrat, showed possible violations of the law.
There seems to be no shortage of questionable behavior to address, and the general outline of what the House Democrats aim to pursue in the coming legislative session is appropriate.
Among the five initiatives announced by House Speaker Tim Miley were making it easier and possibly rewarding for "whisteblowers" to come forward with information about improper government activity; examining the use of loan programs within state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture; and ensuring purchasing procedures both at the state and local level are done on a competitive basis and are more transparent.
Many issues besides the House Democrats' "first plank" will come up during this year's legislative session, but there are sufficient examples of questionable activities to make more accountability and transparency important topics for consideration.
Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette on the acceptance of gays and same-sex marriage:
We often observe that America's morality keeps evolving -- but we've never seen a transformation as swift as the snowballing U.S. acceptance of gays and same-sex marriage.
Just a half-century ago, it was still a felony to be gay in West Virginia. Anyone caught in same-sex behavior could be sent to the ancient stone prison at Moundsville. But gay sex was legalized in the 1970s when state morals laws were revised.
Ever since, public tolerance of homosexuals has risen. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down old-time laws against "sodomy" nationwide in 2003. The U.S. military first accepted gays on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis -- but this hush-hush requirement was removed under President Obama in 2010. Numerous states and cities passed human rights and hate crimes changes to protect gays from discrimination and beatings.
Now, with amazing speed, fundamentalist and Republican opposition is being defeated nationally and locally. In June, the Supreme Court weakened the GOP-passed Defense of Marriage Act, which had outlawed federal recognition of same-sex wedlock. Across America, gay marriage has become legal in 18 states, with attempts pending in many other states.
Three couples sued to wipe out West Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage. Naturally, Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey leaped into court to defend the ban. But we think he and other conservatives will lose eventually, because the tide of history is running strongly toward tolerance.
Shaggy-bearded members of the "Duck Dynasty" reality show, which has 14 million viewers, belong to a hidebound Louisiana church that declares gays wicked. Duck Dynasty leader Phil Robertson gave a GQ magazine interview in which he denounced homosexuals in vulgar terms.
The A&E network suspended him from the popular program -- but Republicans such as Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared that Robertson should have "free speech" to assail gays as much as he wants. As soon as A&E realized how much money it was losing, it restored the show.
Hassles like these undoubtedly will continue -- but most mainstream Americans are moving steadily toward granting full democratic equality to gays. Old-time hatred and contempt are disappearing quickly, except among far-right evangelicals and political conservatives. It's the fastest shift in the U.S. culture we've ever seen.