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This is Why You Should Pay Attention to West Virginia’s Impeachment Trials

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Tuesday morning, 30 men and four women will walk into the chamber of the West Virginia Senate to participate in historic proceedings– proceedings that haven’t been conducted in the state since 1875, not long after its founding.

Those 34 Senators will take an oath to become 34 jurors and hear evidence in cases for the impeachment of three current and one former member of the West Virginia Supreme Court.

“I think it’s one of the most grave things that a Senate can undertake,” Senate Judiciary Chair Sen. Charles Trump said just hours after the body had adopted the rules of the upcoming proceedings last month.

“Think about what’s at stake? The result of an impeachment proceeding or trial could be the removal of someone from office who has been elected by the citizens of the state,” he said. “It’s a huge deal.”

The three sitting and one recently retired member of the state’s highest court are accused of a variety of missteps— from spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars to renovate their offices to align with personal taste to overpaying retired judges who continued to hear cases to using state property for personal gain.

The sitting justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals before the impeachment proceedings began including, from left to right, Robin Jean Davis, who has retired, Menis Ketchum, who has retired, Allen Loughry, who has been suspended without pay, Beth Walker and Margaret Workman. Davis, Loughry, Walker and Workman face impeachment in the state Senate. Photo: West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

But the details of their malfeasance, while important to the trials and the future of three of the four’s standings with the court, are likely of only passing interest to those outside of West Virginia’s boundaries. Judicial experts, however, note the importance of the proceedings, particularly in the nation’s current political climate, and this is why they say you should be paying attention to what happens in West Virginia in the coming hours, days and potentially, weeks.

Precedent

It’s a term not unfamiliar to many Americans, especially those who are avid watchers of politics or the legal system. Precedent. It’s a principle or rule laid out to guide decision making in future, similar circumstances, and according to Dr. G. Terry Madonna, Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, that is exactly what West Virginia lawmakers are doing.

“The experiments that go on at the state level and the activities that go on at the state level are very, very important nationally,” Madonna said. “They often don’t get covered in that vein, but they set the precedent; they set the practices for the future.”

In fact, West Virginia Senators had very little precedent to follow as they conceived their own rules for impeachment proceedings.

In 1875, the Senate conducted impeachment trials for a West Virginia auditor and treasurer, according to Trump, and he and his staff looked to the rules laid out before the body in those proceedings to guide them today.

More than 100 years later, in 1989, the upper chamber drafted a set of rules for the impeachment trial of then-Treasurer A. James Manchin– uncle to current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin– and Trump said they looked at those rules as well, but with only two examples in the state’s 155-year history, Senate staff had to search outside of the state’s boundaries for help.

West Virginia Senator Charles Trump takes questions before Senators voted to approve rules guiding the impeachment trials. Photo: Perry Bennett/West Virginia Legislative Photography

“We looked at the rules of the U.S. Senate, of course,” Trump said, “but we also looked to other states.”

Trump said rules adopted in Illinois for the trial of Gov. Rob Blagojevich provided some guidance (Blagojevich was impeached for corruption, taking bribes for political appointments), but ultimately the chamber approved rules based on what they thought “would make sense and what was fair.”

According to Madonna’s research, 19 people have been impeached in the federal system, including two presidents. Although there have likely been more at the state level, Madonna said with examples of how to conduct impeachment proceedings few and far between, the actions of West Virginia Senators will be important for years to come.

“How that all gets conducted will be followed in the national press and the press in many other states,” Madonna said, “[therefore], the way in which the trial gets conducted is important, not just in West Virginia, but all over the country.”

That pressure is not lost on Trump.

“Generations from now, what will people say about how we handled this?” he questioned. “Were we thorough? Were we fair? Did we do it correctly?”

Time will tell.

Public Trust in the Judiciary and Its Independence

As the public’s eye turns toward West Virginia, Douglas Keith, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said asurring that the process protects the integrity and independence of the state’s judicial branch should be of utmost importance to those involved.

At the risk of sounding like a high school civics lesson, both the nation’s founders and those of the states that followed in their footsteps, have created a system of government with three co-equal branches. The branches have their own separate authorities, but have been designed with systems of checks and balances to keep the others from overreaching their authority.

The impeachment proceedings are an example of how the legislative branch can keep both the executive and judicial branches in line, but Keith said, in West Virginia, Senators risk the erosion of the public’s confidence in that system and in the state’s judicial branch if they do not proceed with extreme caution.

“The Senate just needs to be thinking at every step of the process,’what impact will this decision that we make have on the public’s confidence in the courts?’” he said, “because it cannot be that at the end of this process the public thinks that their state Supreme Court has been handpicked or cleared for the benefit of the state Legislature.”

President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, on the second day of his confirmation hearing to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Or the executive. And that struggle has been reflected in national headlines over the past week as U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh began his nomination hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kavanaugh has written that a sitting U.S. President should not face the distractions of civil or criminal proceedings or the interrogations of a prosecutor while in office, seemingly a conflict as Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections– elections that put Kavanaugh’s nominator, Pres. Donald Trump, into office.

Similarly, West Virginia Republicans have been accused by Democrats of expanding the impeachment proceedings beyond that of former Chief Justice Allen Loughry– who faces a criminal trial in federal court next month for lying to the FBI, wire fraud and other charges– for political gain. The judiciary was the only branch of government in the state still controlled by Democrats, although the Republican-led Legislature passed a law to make judicial elections nonpartisan not long after taking hold of the lawmaking branch in 2015.

That perception could leave the state’s citizens with a lack of trust in both its legislative and judicial branches, Keith said, but could also lead to a breakdown of the power that is inherent to the court, a power that is solely drawn from “the public’s confidence that [judges] are playing their proper role.”

“Particularly in highly polarized times, there needs to be a body, a government institution that is dependable as an independent arbiter, that can decide the inevitable political disputes that are going to come before them,” Keith said, “and the public needs to have confidence that they’re doing so without worrying about political pressure.”

The Politicization of Impeachments

It is difficult to see, however, how that political pressure can be avoided when the impeachment proceedings themselves take place in a political body and are decided by jurors whose political affiliations are not just known, but are being touted in advertisements for re-election campaigns.

Even the word “impeachment” is becoming a polarizing term as it continues to appear in national news coverage of the president on an almost daily basis.

“We have a 200-year history of impeachment not being something you undertake lightly and particularly not being something that you undertake for political reasons,” Keith said. “The understanding is that impeachment is for serious ethical or criminal misconduct.”

While Keith does trust that West Virginia lawmakers have considered and will continue to consider real ethical violations in the cases of West Virginia’s Supreme Court justices, the state isn’t the first to experience calls for the impeachment of judges this year.

Suspended West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry, left, stands with his attorney John Carr, right, to address the judge during a pre-trial hearing Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Photo: Perry Bennett/West Virginia Legislative Photography

In February, a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers crafted a memo calling for the impeachment of four of the state’s seven justices. The majority of the court– elected as Democrats– had thrown out the Republican-drawn congressional map, deeming it full of partisan gerrymandering.

The calls for impeachment came to an end as prominent Republicans in Pennsylvania argued to protect the independence of the court and against the punishment of judges for decisions in the courtroom, but the word “impeachment” dominated the headlines for months.

“A lot of folks probably do not have a real sense about what it means,” Madonna said. He followed the situation closely. “For most voters, [the idea of impeachment] is very remote and very removed from their daily lives. It’s complex and it’s not something folks think about.”

That, paired with continual coverage of calls for impeachment at the national level, can lead the public to overlook the severity of the process, according to Keith.

“I do think there is a real risk with the impeachment calls coming out the states at the clip that they are this year that impeachment will be increasingly seen as just another political device,” he said, “and not some very serious endeavor for legislatures to undertake in only the most serious scenarios of criminal and ethical misconduct.

Appalachia

Groups Say Smart Reclamation Of Mine Lands Could Be “Appalachia’s New Deal”

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Stream restoration work in progress on an old mining site in West Virginia. Photo: Courtesy CVI

From solar farms in Virginia to a green energy subdivision in Kentucky, a new report by a group of regional advocacy organizations highlights 20 ready-made projects across the Ohio Valley that could give abandoned mining operations that were never cleaned up a second life, and create new economic opportunity across the region.

In the report, released Tuesday, the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, which advocates for high-impact mine reclamation projects throughout Central Appalachia, says innovative mine reclamation “could be Appalachia’s New Deal.”

“This report marks an important step as Appalachia citizens continue to re-imagine and work toward a future of sustainable and healthy local economies, where young people can find meaningful work and stay to raise their own families,” Adam Wells, regional director of community and economic development with Appalachian Voices, said in a statement.

Courtesy Ohio Valley Mushroom Farm
Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) at an Ohio wetland.

Virginia-based Appalachian Voices is one of the members of the coalition. Other organizations include Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky, Coalfield Development Corporation in West Virginia, Rural Action in Ohio, and Downstream Strategies in West Virginia.

Projects highlighted in the report run the gamut and include proposals to use acid mine drainage in Perry County, Ohio, to create paint and a proposal by a West Virginia wholesaler to build a livestock processing facility in Kanawha County.

The region has struggled to clean up thousands of abandoned coal sites since the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund was created in 1976. State and local governments have sometimes struggled with how to find new uses for old mine sites, and some high-profile projects have fizzled.

In the report, the authors argue, well-planned reclamation projects can spur economic development and offer best practices for how they should be proposed. Those include selecting appropriate locations near infrastructure and ensuring redevelopment projects are environmentally sustainable and financially viable over the long term.

Stream restoration work in progress on an old mining site in West Virginia. Photo: Courtesy CVI

In recent years, Congress has boosted resources available for that effort. Beginning in 2017, more than $100 million was appropriated for the Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Program. Many of the projects highlighted in the report have applied for funding through the AML Pilot Program.

But another federal effort has not been passed by Congress despite bipartisan support. The “Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More,” or RECLAIM Act would accelerate reclamation of abandoned mine lands by dispersing $1 billion of Abandoned Mine Land funds over a 5-year period with an eye toward economic development.

Combined, the report’s authors say, the 20 projects would require about $38 million of investment but would generate more than $83 million in economic output as well about 540 jobs to the region.

This article was originally published by Ohio Valley ReSource

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Appalachia

Sports and Storytelling: ‘More a Unifier than a Divider’

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A rusted field goal post and practice equipment sits on the practice field outside Municipal Stadium in Portsmouth, Ohio. Photo: Jack Shuler

When we launched our religion vertical, we said, “because religion is community” in Appalachia.  When we talked about a sports vertical, we said, “because sports is religion” here. It is a topic that transcends the playing field —  and brings many of Appalachia’s stories into focus – from the political to the economic to the cultural. Former ESPN sports editor Keith Reed and Pittsburgh native promises a complicated look at the region through this prism.

— 100 Days in Appalachia

 

Many people are going to see that 100 Days is launching a sports vertical and question it, thinking we’re now bringing them scores and draft updates, but that’s not exactly the goal. What is your vision for our work in this field?

I’m fascinated by sports as a cultural connective tissue. The games themselves are competitive entertainment, but how we consume sports gives us a great opportunity to examine where and how we live. There are so many examples, but the sports economy is a great one. You can tell a community’s priorities based on how it spends its money. Well, in the U.S., we spend billions of dollars every year on sporting events and related items and infrastructure. Professional team owners are mostly plutocrat billionaires. Big time college athletes are indentured labor to millionair coaches while generating billions of dollars for institutions under the guise of amateurism. This says a lot about where American priorities are, even though I’d guess “sports” isn’t the first thing that comes to people’s minds when you say, “Appalachia.”

We’re designing this vertical with that kind of context in mind. Everyone has instantaneous access to scores, stats, trade rumors and fantasy updates in their pockets. What they don’t have  that we can provide, is a way to pull back the curtain to see where sports is a barometer on where communities stand with regard to race, wealth, public policy and cultural understandings and divides. That’s where we come in.

 

Much like religion or food, sports is such an integral part of communities not just in Appalachia, but around the world. What is it about your life experience that makes it such an important topic to you?

Almost every kid has a sport they grew up playing, or watching or at least a team their parents loved. I grew up in Pittsburgh loving the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins. I played basketball. I still start or end most days with a boxing workout or exercising with a group organized by a friend who’s a former NFL player. I even coach a team in a women’s kickball league. My sons both grew up playing sports: football, track, wrestling, rugby.

So sports have been a major part of my personal life and I know how influential that can be. In your formative years, you might meet someone you never would have encountered but for the basketball court or football field. Whatever differences you have, you put away because you need your teammate to help make you better and help you win. Coaches can be enormous positive or negative influences. For elite athletes, sports can be life-changing or life-saving. I’ve seen sports across all those transformative aspects, and I believe most people, regardless of background, will be able to relate to those stories.

 

100 Days in Appalachia’s goal is to take back the narrative people on the outside looking in have created for our region and show the true diversity of this place. How will this vertical expand upon or support that mission?

Sports stories are almost perfect for creating a geographic and cultural sense-of-place. In two well-written paragraphs, I could contrast the atmospheres at a UVa basketball game and a Tennessee Titans game and you’d gain an appreciation for how different a college town in the hills of Virginia is from urbanized Nashville. The populations, infrastructure and community priorities and needs in those two places are very distinct, and that will show up in their sports fans.

One of my favorite stories I’ve ever edited was for ESPN the Magazine, for the very first “One Day-One Game” issue. We sent a bunch of writers and photographers to Houston to cover a Steelers-Texans game, and there was a piece about tailgating and how Steelers fans were exporting this white, working-class ethos and culture common to formerly immigrant communities with them. All those people moved in the 70s and 80s after the steel mills in Pittsburgh closed, and now there’s a diaspora of Pittsburghers living in other cities and following the team from stadium to stadium. A lot of what you see in some of the characters in that story, which I believe we did in 2011 or 2012, showed up at the polls and in the rhetoric around the presidential election in 2016. That tailgating story, about an old-school, blue-collar Pittsburgh guy who talked funny and drank a lot of beer, was a canary in the coal mine.

 

Rivalries in sports and the divides they create can be almost even more intense than the divisions created by our current political climate. How can storytelling and journalism in this area bring people together?

I think sports fandom, especially rivalries, are more a unifier than divider. Think about that kid who meets somebody from across town on the basketball court. As adults, they may move to different parts of the country, have different levels of education and income, but they keep up with each other over social media and they find common ground in their rooting allegiances. There’s no easier way to get people who’ve grown apart or who have very little else in common than sports trash talk.

I’m a Red Sox fan who lived in Boston and wrote about the team, who dated a Yankees fan.  I’m a Pittsburgh native who’s lived in every other AFC North city, plus Boston. I have friends from Baltimore, Boston, Cincy and Cleveland — all these cities that are supposed to be “rivals” because of sports. Yet, sports is the thing that brings us together. So I think our storytelling can be an entry point for lowering some of the polarized rhetoric from other parts of our lives and engaging one another as fans, and then as people.

 

What is the potential impact you hope to see?

I don’t have any agenda besides finding and telling good stories. I’ve never done a geocentric, hyper-regional sort of journalism project like this before, so I’m happy to explore what that looks like. I’d like to give opportunity to some talented, young and hungry writers with a passion for telling interesting stories and seeing where those stories lead. That could mean something investigative centered around college athletics or it could be something more fun and interesting. At this point, I just want the storytelling to be good and well-received.

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‘If We Can’t Mine Coal, What Are We Going To Do?’

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In this excerpt from the book After Coal, documentary filmmaker Tom Hansell describes how his media work in the coalfields of Central Appalachia led to a different understanding about what might come next for coal communities.

“EPA = Expanding Poverty in America.”  

See also: BEYOND COAL: Appalachia and Wales. Jim Branscome reviews Tom Hansell’s book “After Coal”

This statement is written in three-foot-high letters on a banner stretched over a bandstand in a public park in Pikeville, Kentucky. It is June 2012 and I am just starting production of the After Coal documentary. The crowd around me is dressed in the reflective stripes of mining uniforms or in T-shirts reading Friends of Coal and Walker Heavy Machinery. I am documenting a coal industry-sponsored pep rally before a public hearing on new water-quality regulations proposed for mountaintop-removal coal mines.  

The speaker onstage is speaking proudly of his family’s heritage in the coal industry. He concludes his passionate statement with a question: “If we can’t mine coal, what are we going to do in eastern Kentucky?” 

Good question. As a filmmaker who has spent my career living and working in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky and documenting coal-mining issues, this is an important and difficult question to answer. My earlier documentaries Coal Bucket Outlaw (2002) and The Electricity Fairy (2010) were intended to start a civil conversation between workers in the coal industry and other community members about a shared vision for good jobs, clean air, clean water, and a safe working environment. However, the conversations almost always broke down as soon as someone pointed out the obvious: the coal industry had long been the only model of economic development in the central Appalachian region. More examples of what life after coal might look like were desperately needed to move the conversation forward.  

As I struggled with the haunting question “If we can’t mine coal, what are we going to do?” the image of Welsh mining villages rising from the ashes left by the coal industry captured my imagination. I thought that if I could just learn a few details about how Welsh communities made the transition, then I could identify specific solutions to help coal communities in Appalachia. However, I quickly learned that the secret to life after coal was not that simple. …  

The author (holding the boom mic). (Photo provided.)

On my own quest for solutions, in 1990, I began my career at Appalshop, a rural, multidisciplinary arts center located in Whitesburg, Kentucky—the heart of the central Appalachian coalfields. From my young and naively privileged perspective, moving to eastern Kentucky was an act of opposition to the materialistic consumer-driven world. I had a goal of living self-sufficiently, fulfilling my needs with what I could make or grow, and buying as little as possible. And, as an aspiring environmental activist, the clear moral lines around the issues in the Kentucky coalfields, especially strip mining, were appealing. The battle call of union songs such as “Which Side Are You On” charged up my little post-punk heart.  

However, my experience at Appalshop quickly taught me that the struggles of coal communities were not as simple or straightforward as I had imagined. Working as part of this artistic collective, I produced radio and video documentaries and taught community media workshops. As a young artist and activist, I quickly absorbed Appalshop’s mantra of providing a platform for mountain people to speak in their own words about issues that affect their lives. I attended hundreds of community meetings: school board, the fiscal court, mine permit hearings, and union meetings. I also documented dozens of direct actions where citizens blocked roads to stop mining, took over government offices to protest the lack of enforcement, and set up picket lines to enforce union contracts.  

Retired Welsh miner and labor leader Terry Thomas (left) meets retired Kentucky miner Carl Shoupe (right). (Screenshot from the documentary, After Coal)

My experiences working on the front lines of the environmental justice movement in Appalachia gradually developed my understanding of the complexities of how culture, place, and politics had shaped the situations I was documenting. I witnessed firsthand the incredible power of community to support people as they faced threats against their homes and families. As a result, I expanded my ideas about self-sufficiency from an individualistic vision of each person taking care of their own needs to a larger vision of individuals living in symbiosis with their neighbors and the natural environment—community self-sufficiency. 

Participating in cultural exchanges at Appalshop also provided me with valuable lessons. Meeting artists from the mountains of western China and rural Indonesia opened my eyes to some of the universal challenges faced by regional cultures in an increasingly globalized economy. I hoped that an international exchange with another coal-mining region such as south Wales could identify resources and strategies that would help Appalachian coalfield communities create a future beyond coal.  

The process of creating the After Coal documentary took more than five years. During that time, I learned to stop looking for concrete solutions and start supporting an ongoing conversation about how to create healthy communities in former coal-mining regions. International efforts to address climate change make this challenge especially intense for coal-producing regions. As our economy shifts from fossil fuels, how can we ensure that places where fossil fuels were extracted do not continue to bear an unfair share of the costs of extraction?  

I believe there are as many solutions for life after coal as there are residents of mining communities. I hope these stories from south Wales and central Appalachia will inspire people to discover solutions that work in their home communities. 

This article was originally published by Daily Yonder.

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