A Better West Virginia Challenge: Identifying Obstacles and Solutions

Date Written by Jason Keeling on June 16, 2009

Last year a group of people celebrated West Virginia Day by logging-on to their computers. Instead of attending ceremonial events in recognition of statehood, they started typing. Their writings offer a glimpse at the best aspects of West Virginia and counter stereotypical notions of the state.

Saturday (June 20) marks the 146th anniversary of West Virginia’s statehood. This year West Virginia residents, expatriates, and general observers are invited to participate in another online discussion, but with a different focus.

‘A Better West Virginia Challenge’

The basic premise:

Identify an obstacle that hinders West Virginia and discuss its solution.

Address the above request as it relates to one (or more) of the following:

  • Business / Economy
  • Culture
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Government
  • Health / Wellness
  • Technology
  • Infrastructure

This challenge’s purpose is to get people thinking and talking rationally about obstacles/solutions within the state. Therefore, keep in mind that submissions and comments should be offered in a constructive fashion.

Can social media lead to social change? Some may doubt the likelihood. However, consider that the citizens of Iran are bombarding social media to demand fair elections, according to The New York Times. There is no reason West Virginians can’t use such technologies to effectuate progress in our state.

Bloggers: If you’d like to be participate in the “A Better West Virginia Challenge,” before June 20 at noon, email your completed post’s hyperlink to jason(at)keelingstrategic(dot)com. On West Virginia Day, the various submissions will be listed at aBetterWestVirginia.com and 304blogs.com.

Twitter Users: Provide your thoughts at Twitter.com and use the #aBetterWV tag at the end of your updates. As #aBetterWV tagged comments increase on Twitter, they will become visible at WVTweets.com.

General Readers: Your thoughts are equally important and can be submitted as blog comments to further perspective. You might notify former residents regarding the challenge. If you’re on a social network such as Facebook or MySpace, you might offer thoughts there.

Those with further questions: Please use above email. If necessary, contact me at (304) 989-3262.

38 Responses to “A Better West Virginia Challenge: Identifying Obstacles and Solutions”

  1. Pam said:

    Health and Wellness:

    If WV is ever to get out of the top three states in obesity, it has to get some priorities straight. I’m really ticked off that Franklin, WV has decided to save money by closing the swimming pool during the month of August. So all the kids, their parents, and seniors can go back to watch their TVs and play their video games and eat the lovely twinkies and Little Debbies so generously available in the local GreatValu. We are one of the most unhealthy states in the US. What can we do about it? This ain’t no stereotype. It is real.

  2. Elizabeth Gaucher said:

    Great point, Pam. Health and Wellness is a critical foundation for improvement in so many areas. I look forward to reading solutions from bloggers about nutrition and fitness in our state. I hope we will see several. This is now literally a life and death issue.

  3. Buzzardbilly said:

    I have been looking forward to this and I’m in again this year.

    Obstacle: We ask others not to stereotype us, but we stereotype each other.

    Solutions: Change comes first from within. We cannot inspire others to see us differently until we choose to see our state differently ourselves. No longer should it be acceptable for any West Virginian to believe “the real hillbillies” live in some part of the state. That type of thinking only supports the belief that West Virginians are stereotypical hillbillies in a bafoonish cartoonish way that leaves all of us looking as less than a regular person in an outsider’s eyes. Rejecting the stereotype for yourself while blaming it on people who live in certain counties supports the stereotype. We must learn to see all West Virginians as West Virginians, nothing more/nothing less, regardless of whether that person came to be a West Virginian by birth, by choice, or by chance.

    I love this discussion. Keep up the good work. Really. I mean it.

  4. Generic said:

    A good way to help remove stereotypes is to portray West Virginia in a positive light where anyone anywhere can see some of the good, healthy, productive, interesting—and fun—ways of living in the state. An excellent (according to thousands of readers) place that does this every day is Suzanne McMinn’s blog, http://www.chickensintheroad.com. She loves West Virginia, and it really shows in her writing. I hope that you would consider adding her site to your list of WV blogs.

    Thanks for your site, it’s another one that is doing what’s needed—–

  5. West Virginia: Using Social Media for the Mountain State’s Betterment | a Better West Virginia Blog - Culture | Arts | Economy said:

    [...] the “A Better West Virginia Challenge,” this invitation is extended to bring forth constructive dialogue regarding the Mountain [...]

  6. smalltown said:

    I like the challenge idea. I could only hope that it does bring us togather to share ideas and create heathy debate. I have always known that if we would come together as one, united for a common purpose, we can solve many of our state’s problems. I’m neither liberal nor conservative, democrat or republican, I’m a marine corps vet, husband, father and grandfather. I know we can do this. Thank You.

  7. Brenda Hudson said:

    I think the idea of everyone coming together is wonderful. However, we will never fit all the diverse WV people into one mold. Do we really appreciate the uniqueness of those who are different than us? Do we understand why people in certain counties didn’t have the opportunities as people in the more educated counties? I think there must be a lot of understanding on both sides of the fence.

    A Better West Virginia is a good start on something that has been needed for a long time. I just hope everyone is open minded and not planning on making everyone like them.

  8. smalltown said:

    Being a diverse people is what makes us who we are. But we are as one when it comes to the common good of all. Of course we will not agree on everything. When this nation was founded, it took a long time for our Founding Fathers to hammer out a CONSTITUTION that could be agreed upon by all. I think we as West Virginians face that same problem, but we have never sat down and debated those issues that hinder us.

  9. smalltown said:

    For generations we have let party politics dictate what was best for us. I feel that, through this forum, we can discuss and debate the problems that have been created by a less then honorable government, a government that we helped create.

  10. A Place To Heal said:

    We’ve got to stop making good health sound boring. Living an healthy life should be about fun activities, family and good, healthy food. We can help those on fixed incomes by making fresh produce more affordable then junk food. When someone has only so much money to shop with, one will buy the most food for the least amount. Can’t blame them. We need to encourage people to look out for family and friends to increase physical activity. It takes more then just education to change our future. A Place To Heal, Sophia, WV

  11. LurchHoward said:

    Obstacle—-One of the worst impediments in holding WV back is that the legal profession has engrained itself in all levels of our lives. Its members in the State legislature write the laws, they are over represented on boards and Commissions, they pay heavily into political campaign systems to get friendly judges and others elected, they self-regulate so if a citizen files a complaint to the State Bar there is virtually no chance that anything will be done, they are law suit happy to generate money for themselves, and the legal climate they have created has driven business away.

    Solutions—For starters several could be debated. For one example we have only one law school in WV and most lawyers are WVU grads so we could close down WVU’s School of Law and establish one at Marshall designed to be top rate with a strong curriculum on ethical and professional conduct–or at least overhaul WVU’s curriculum to begin to teach ethics and other behavior necessary for professionls who serve the public, increase the entrance requirements for acceptance into Law Sshool, establish a State disciplinary system to be a replecement of the State Bar’s with transparency, rules of conduct which are lucid and strictly enforced, and report for the public record numbers of complaints filed per year, punative actions taken, and ensure that the body which would be establilshed has better citizen involvement instead of a membership disproportionate with lawyers, take money out of practicing law by enabling paralegals and other qualified professionals to provide services at reduced costs lawyers could do plus use the information age to inform citizens how to get web-based legal help at a fraction of the cost charged by most lawyers , establish a blog to enable citizens to tell their stories to expose how the State Bar failed to protect the people, and require lawyers to have to pass special tests to qualify them to provide services in fields in which they practice. In WV after passing the Bar a lawyer can practice in practically any field they wish without having to take specialized training and to get Board Certified similar to MD’s.

  12. RudolphKing said:

    Individuals experieced professionally in analyzing causes and effects of problems to use for problem-solving undertand that most problems involve a complex web of components. We could spend weeks debating the plethoria of challenges and opportunites for improving WV, but many citizens would eventually agree that the root cause of our plight is our inadequate education system. Problems related to obeisity, poor high school and college graduation rates, low paying jobs, inadequate health conditions of our people, our sullied legal system, a legislature which idoes not function effectively, water and air pollution, debris which blankets the State, drug addiction on and on—–all relate to severe deficiencies in education. We must make education the State’s top priority. In other areas of the USA with challenges, turn arounds have occurred so we can do it too by studying what has worked, mistakes to avoid, and what it will take to make our education system one of the best in the USA. Yes, the best & what would be a more nobel cause for our children? It is no secret that a high percentage of individuala who enter our small colleges and universities are challenged in reading, use of English and math and sciences. Too many (MAYBE nTof them cannot be trained enough to make them succeed in college and they fall by the way side. The question one must ask is, if those youth represent the best of what our school systems are doing, what is the status of the other high school grads who do not go on to higher education? Don’t get me wrong. College for all is inappropriate. We need plumbers, electricians, carpenters, auto repair mechanics and all the other specialists who are necessary to keep the economy functionial. I know that the format for this blog is supposed to be on addressing challenges and opportunites, but I am unqualified in education to be an expert on how we could overcome our education challenges. One thing I do know is that if someone would run who would be the “education governor” he/she would have a good chance of being elected. The problem is that our best people are not inclined to run for office.

  13. RudolphKing said:

    After “too many” there is an error. It should read (Maybe in excess of 50% depending on the institution) of them————–.

  14. Elastomer said:

    Interesting comments. If readers want to glean causes of some reasons of why we got to where we are today, the book entitled Night Comes to the Cumberlands, by Harry M. Caudill contains thought provoking concepts. Basically, the theme is that the power structure wanted strong backs and weak minds. As an aside, why not require our candidates for office to score high on WESTTESTS?

  15. A Better West Virginia: Create Huntington « Sprezzatura! said:

    [...] West Virginia: Create Huntington By Dennis Taylor In conjunction with West Virginia Day, Jason Keeling has challenged bloggers to identify an obstacle that hinders West Virginia and discuss its [...]


    Here is an example of behind the scenes decisions of questionable value being made in WV by people in high positions to affect our education system. There is a plan to move the State’s Division of Corrections officer training academy from WV Tech in Montgomery to Glenville State College. Sketchy details were reported in the Register-Herald but nothing was reported in central West Virginia papers, and specifics about the deal were probably kept from officials at the State’s Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) which is a toothless organization maintained by WV taxpayers. This development is a perfect example of how politics influences decisions without citizen input and open debate. Is Glenville the best geographical location for the facility, does the College have the best trained faculty in WV to operate the facility, who will profit personally from the deal, why all the secrecy etc. What we need is a better system to administer our State’s higher ed. system. The way it operaters now, small colleges and universities have separate Boards of Governors and there is little or no central oversight of the Boards. Also, the vast majority of the members are political appointees. The result is that the institutions operate autonomously with expected overlap, waste, and vested interest political maneuvering. What we need is a central body with authority to ensure that what is done with higher ed. is efficient, meets the best needs of WV people, and maximizes benefits of the use of taxpaper dollars. All our daunting problems track to a poorly administered education system and this example is merely a tip of the ice berg.

  17. smalltown said:

    So far everyone seems to agree that a very weak education system is our biggest problem. But an even bigger problem is the teachers unions, and a very liberal government. Tax dollars are being spent on everything but education. Childern in this state are taught political indoctrination and opinion. To me that is not education. So we need to control the tax dollars, control the money, then you can control what is being taught to our children. Hold this state government’s feet to the fire, make them answer to us about how our money gets spent.

  18. RafaelHaught said:

    We must take care in blaming it all on teachers and unions. The problem is exceedingly complex to include parents who do not take proper interest in their children, the State’s fixation on sports at the expense of academics, legislators who have made fortunes without educations who do not champion a strong education system, and an ingrained psychological complex among our people that they can’t be successful. Similar to most enormous challenges, change cannot occur overnight. We could begin with electing an “education governor” who would focus on eliminating education problems with the zeal of a war fighter. Also, what about designating the county in the State with the worst K-12 education system and to scope out and apply a demonstration project to prove what can be achieved with good planning, tracking of outcomes, and fine tuning when needed. We could get assistance from Harvard or some other outstanding institution to help. There is nothing inherently wrong with our youth related to abilities to learn. We adults including politicians, teachers, corporate leaders, and yes parents are the ones who have failed them.

  19. smalltown said:

    We must change government before we can change education, or change anything in this state. Government has always been the problem here, they tell us what is best and we follow. This state has always been pro-union, but the unions are just as bad as government, union votes have been the determening factor in elections here. Yes, education starts at home, but how do you change the mindset of people who live at or below the poverty level and depend on government for everything they need? The children grow up with this and they inturn follow their parents. Yes we need a pro-education governer who will take the bull by the horns and make the parents and teachers be accountable for our children and our tax dollars.

  20. CenterFire said:

    The challenge is how do we achieve government change? Most individuals in WV are inflexible party line followers who are unreceptive to ignoring anything other than party labels. Although I am apolitical it amuses me at election time when the drum beat goes out that if WV elects Republicans conditions will become much worse. That is hillarious because being in last place or close to it for most metrics is as bad as it gets. I don’t pretend to be an expert on achieving political change, but it seems that what is happening on this blog here could be an important first step. BTW, the word accountability is one of my favorites in the English language.

  21. smalltown said:

    We must first change the liberal mindset in this state. Dems have been throwing dollars at us for generations just to get our vote, and we have been givin nothing in return. What amazes me is that with all the “religious” people of this state we still support a party that stands for abortions, gay marriges, and taxation without representation. What about accountability, morality, fiscal responsibility. Let me ask this if dems are for the working man how come the working man is paying so much in taxes?

  22. LeatherBark said:

    The most unproductive activity we can engage in is blaming party labels or philosophical groups for our State’s problems. If we all can agree on priority problems to solve with clearly defined and measurable outcomes, who cares if good solutions are advanced by a specific party or group? What counts is getting us out of our rut and not wasting valuable energy on blame deflection. The power structure takes great delight when citizens fight among themselves because that takes heat off them. Pure Machliavellian strategy!

  23. Philip DeLaney said:

    When I first saw a news report of this website on TV, I had high hopes for rational discussion of the problems and challenges facing the Mountain State, but as has been typical in this type of forum, the responses have devolved into the same tired accusations of ” is ruining our state - get rid of them and all will be fixed”. Although not a native of West Virginia, I had the privilege of attending WVU for my master’s degree and meeting my wife at the same time and I “went native” almost immediately.

    Education, while critical for creating a population ready to meet the challenges of the times, is really not any worse in West Virginia than in a lot of other places. What happens after graduation, however, is directly responsible for the decline of West Virginia. The state’s best and brightest LEAVE the state because there is little (if any) opportunity for them in state. Certainly, if your interests are in the mining industry, the FBI, or telemarketing, there is no reason to leave. But aside from these narrow industries, there’s not much left. And when our best and brightest leave, so go the contributions they could make to West Virginia, in community involvement, in government, and in education. I have tried 3 times to stay in state. I have been willing to reduce my salary and expectations in exchange for job security and future potential growth. In each time, I have been given a resounding shove toward the state line. And now my family and I are not coming back.

    Holiday weekends, WVU and Marshal football home games, county fair week - for all of these, the few interstates that lead into WV are jammed with people returning home. But they always leave because there isn’t anything to stay for. And until this changes, WV will always be in the back pocket (see “Buying a Supreme Court Judge in West Virginia”) of out-of-state or corporate interests who will bleed the state dry of its resources.

    As for how to change this - perhaps the following suggestions will help:
    1) Stop electing judges - appointing judges with a confirmation process will help eliminate the appearance (and in some cases, fact) of buying a judge.
    2) Incentivize companies to create and retain employees in high-paying positions. Perhaps a tiered system which provides bonuses for creating jobs between $40K and $60K and additional bonuses for jobs at or above $60K per year.
    3) Provide a tax credit to companies who keep and spend their profits in-state. Provide no exemptions for profits which leave the state.

    Just something to think about…

  24. Elizabeth Gaucher said:

    Mr. Delaney is getting there. I urge anyone on this blog to read and reread his words and really give it some thought. I know I will be doing that…….

  25. GASPRODUCER said:

    Here is food for thought. In Ohio there supposedly is a program to enable consumers to purchase natural gas directly from producers at reduced costs. The gas there flows in the same pipe line system same as here, and I understand that consumers can get bids from producers who use the system. Would this practice work to cut costs for WV seniors, attract retirees with money from other states to live and spend here, and increase the purchasing power of WV citizens in general who are struggling financially? With all the natural gas produced in WV, our citizens should get some financial breaks. Where am I wrong with my thinking?

  26. Sam mullins said:

    If the laws of west virginia were changed to make people clean their properity up. clean out their yards , and try to leave a better image to the out of state visitors. my friend built a 350.000 house on a one acre lot and now theres a trailor park that went in on both sides of him, and trash all over their yards that blows over on his and junk cars jacked up on cinderblocks now, should there be a law against this? if metro government gets passed in kanawha county this will be stopped.

  27. smalltown said:

    We really need to look at all levels of government in this state. What ever happend to “We the People?” This is our government not the people we elect to represent us. They work for us, not us for them. We have to look at all the laws in this state to insure that we are getting the best bang for our buck. And as far as I can tell we are not. We, as a state, have been at the bottom of just about everything in this country. Why? The answer is simple, government.

  28. Elizabeth Gaucher said:

    I really admire this blog, and the way it creates an opportunity for people to share different perspectives in pursuit of solutions.

    I do agree there is no downside to really taking a critical look at all levels of government, what is working well and what is not. One of my favorite elements of genius in T. Jefferson et. al. is the way they designed a shared accountability when this nation was organized.

    Our government IS, in fact, made up of “the people we elect to represent us.” We are a republic. I think we need to be very careful about too much of an “us and them” approach to analyzing our challenges.

    Where we do fall down, I think, is when we are too quick to isolate “government” as something separate and apart from “the people.” The United States of America simply is not set up in a way that allows that to be a genuine argument.

    Carefully study other forms of government, both modern and in the past. There certainly are other ways of doing things, but as we approach Independence Day, I urge all of us to really consider what a gift we have in our form of government. Nothing human beings aspire to do will ever be perfect. But what the founders aspired to do in 1776 changed the world forever. People all around the world bleed and die to live under the freedoms we take for granted every day.

    We are the government. The government is us. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Now, would I have us taking a whole lot of things more seriously? Well, that’s another conversation. :) Happy 4th to all.

  29. Betty Damewood said:

    You go girl. Following in a great family tradition. My choice for 4th of July Greeting is yours!!! and a Happy Fourth to each of you.

  30. smalltown said:

    I agree that we are the government. But read these words from Thomas Jefferson ” When people fear government, that is tyranny. When the government fears the people, that is liberty.” I belive in my heart that in order to bring about change to our state is to have the government fear the people.

  31. Dave said:

    “What happens after graduation, however, is directly responsible for the decline of West Virginia. The state’s best and brightest LEAVE the state because there is little (if any) opportunity for them in state. Certainly, if your interests are in the mining industry, the FBI, or telemarketing, there is no reason to leave. But aside from these narrow industries, there’s not much left. And when our best and brightest leave, so go the contributions they could make to West Virginia, in community involvement, in government, and in education.”

    Yup, there are lots of us out there who did succeed in college and who went on for additional education, training, or professional experience and who cannot afford to move back (and not because we have extravagant lifestyles!). Education is imperative, even if the result of success means a higher rate of graduates leaving the state. After all, their welfare should come before keeping people in the state. But the question still remains - what can/should be done to allow these people to stay/come back? What can they do? What can residents do? What can anyone else do? We have so much to gain and so much to share by returning. I mean, hey, if I hit the lottery or if something I say or do or write becomes popular and wildly profitable, I will be happy to consider “going home”. It seems like for some of us there are two primary options for doing so (returning to WV) - becoming financially wealthy/secure in way that isn’t geographically dependent or becoming impoverished and destitute with nothing left to lose.

  32. smalltown said:

    Education seems to be the key, but as with any public school system the teachers don’t teach, they give political opinions and socalist indoctination. Why do you think this state is at the bottom of the pole? It’s so used to government handout’s that it really can’t function as a state should without them.

  33. TRACKER said:

    One advantage we have is irrefutable evidence of an after life. A woman in central WV who has been dead for more than a decade donated to the Democratic party, she is listed as retired and her place of residence is in a local town. Wonder how many times she voted? Of course in WV this is over looked as a possible violation of federal election laws. Would anyone like to guess for which profession the P.O. Box of residence was listed?

  34. BARWATCHER said:

    Challenge for State’s legal system. The July/August WV Lawyer already mentioned contains reference to five lawyers being disciplined. That may sound inpressive but considering that thre may be 6,000 practicing lawyers in WV a total of five lawyers represents about .08% of the lawyer population. What about all the lawyers the Bar cleared throug its liberal intepretation of what constituted misconduct? With the hundreds of cases filed and an insignificant number of them being ruled in favor of citizens something in WV does not pass the smell test. In private, some WV lawyers will advise citizens that the Bar will not take action agains lawyers who break Bar rules. One reason is that the rules are written to purposely be interpreted in any way the Bar chooses. The other reason cited is that lawyers who get involved in making decisions about Bar complaints are highly reluctant to rule against fellow lawyers. It is suspected that most complaints are not thoroughly investigaged and the Chief Council can summarily dismiss complaints for various reasons including lack of evidence, a complaint did not rise to a level to merit discipline etc. That is too much power for any individual. Seemingly lawyers with powerful political connections are ones the Bar is especially highly unlikely to take on too. The only way the Bar will be able to gain support from the WV public will be to involve more citizens in making judgements about Bar compaints. It is a form of arrogance to contend that only lawyers have the ability to read and comprehend the Bar’s rules. If the rules are that complicaed and convoluted they need to be revised to enhance clarity. The Ten Commandmants are ones anyone can understand so with creativity the legal profession could craft rules which all the public would understand too, but perhaps confusion is a highly prised commodity for members of the legal profession so they can ply their trade which is to argue and to be unitigated advocates for themselves when their profession comes under attack.

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