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George Hohmann: What to do about West Virginia?

As the political class begins preparing for the next presidential election, their briefing books will contain a position paper on a recurring topic: What to do about West Virginia?

It seems that every decade or so since the 1960s the national media have visited West Virginia and asked, “What to do?” It won’t be a surprise when the out-of-state plates roll through Mingo and McDowell counties again.

We residents are well aware that West Virginia can be an embarrassment. We know we are 49th or 50th on many good lists. We know that people camp along our rivers in the winter, 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty.

We still read stories about West Virginia that feature the word “hardscrabble.” Now there are new sub-topics: meth labs, copper thieves, and bad art in the form of old satellite TV dishes re-purposed into birdbaths. Not to mention guns, guns, guns.

Obviously, something must be done. The fact that many presidents and a few governors have tried to do something — and failed — proves there are no easy answers. But there are answers. Let us ponder a few.

We could give the Northern Panhandle to Pennsylvania. The roads problem would be instantly solved. No one in Pennsylvania expects good highways.

Ohio could have the Ohio River Valley. They’re so busy trying to out-brag North Carolina as the “Birthplace of Aviation,” they probably won’t notice.

We could give the southern coalfields to Kentucky and throw in a residence for Don Blankenship — and Don Blankenship, too.

Maryland could have the Eastern Panhandle. It would end the confusion caused by calling the airport in Wiley Ford, W.Va., the “Greater Cumberland Regional Airport.” They’d probably never rename it the “Greater Wiley Ford Regional Airport” anyway.

The Allegheny Highlands could go to Virginia. Let’s face it: Franklin has hosted the Treasure Mountain Festival for 46 years and, as far as we know, the treasure has not yet been found. Let’s share the frustration with others.

Of course there will be costs to losing our identity. Some first-time visitors from the Old Dominion may assume that our buildings were named after Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. or “Almost Heaven” might disappear. “Wild and Wonderful” will surely disappear. But look on the bright side: We’ll get to keep our state bird.

Perhaps you are thinking that dividing all of this real estate is too messy. After all, it’s not as simple as passing an above-ground storage tank inspection bill.

Yes, there is an easier solution: Give the entire state back to Virginia. Being so much smarter than us, they no doubt banked the money and interest we paid them after the Civil War. They’ll surely have the ready cash needed to finish the James River & Kanawha Canal and maintain the West Virginia Turnpike. Other advantages:

n Instead of 3 representatives in the U.S. House, we’ll have 14; instead of 5 electoral votes, we’ll have 18.

n Mapmakers who could never get our panhandles right will be pleased at the elimination of one jagged edge.

n There aren’t any Fortune 500 companies headquartered in West Virginia. There are 24 in Virginia. After re-unification, “outsiders” won’t own everything anymore!

n We can boast that we have beachfront property. Imagine the economic development potential.

n We can openly, proudly, put the state Capitol up for sale to the highest bidder instead of doing it periodically on the sly.

n We can tell our friends that — yes — we live near Richmond.

Of course we could buckle down, work on our problems and make West Virginia all that she can be. But that would require time and commitment, which seem to be in short supply.

George Hohmann retired last year as the Daily Mail’s business editor.


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