…..Contempt for “politicians” is at an all-time high. It wasn’t always that way. Once elected, those running for office were known as officials even public servants. Journalists also were for the most part seen as honorable people seeking to bring the truth to their readers.. But, those very people who painted every official with the broad brush of political avarice are now also the target of contempt…..the media. Accusations of fake news have tainted even the most reputable news sources making every journalist suspect.
….Does that mean that having served as a member of the West Virginia Delegates for eleven years and now publishing a weekly paper in which I write a column, I am subject to double contempt? Is “politician” a lifelong moniker or is it replaced by your latest endeavor? Wait “newspaper person” doesn’t really engender good vibes either.
…..Making the current climate of assigning labels to everyone even worse is that I come from a long line of elected officials. Yep, my political lineage dates back to 1942 and includes offices ranging from Justice of the Peace to Sheriff to County Commissioner. To make it worse, we were Republican for 36 years of the elective office and then yours truly was named Democrat the year?
….Before you make a judgement, I contend that in those years we managed to make a difference in our area and we might also meet the definition of public servants.
….West Virginia has a long and colorful history of political corruption so it’s understandable that people are skeptical. How ironic is it that Allan Loughry, the very author who wrote “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Can’t Afford a Landslide” exposing our long history of corruption, himself succumbed to temptation when he became Supreme Court Justice?
….Perhaps the time is right to write a book. Not a tell all about those who succumbed to the temptations, but about what is was like grow up in a family where we were running for office before I was born and how I learned to legislate among the landmines. I could call it….
CONFESSIONS OF A WEST VIRGINIA POLITICIAN …..Now that I have your attention I must tell you the confessions of my time in elective office may not be as lavicious as you thought. It’s time to choose those who will serve you in government and I urge you to take a good hard look not only at how their platform alignss with what you believe needs to be done but if their character and past experience will enable them to withstand the pressure that’s coming their way.
……”You’ve got your word…and that’s all you’ve got. If you go back on your word, no one will trust you and you’ll never get anything passed.” Wise words from my Dad, John D. Herron, who was my mentor in all things political. Unfortunately he would die just months before I was appointed. to the House. But, his voice was always in my head advising me throughout my time in the Legislature. It was about being a person of honor and keeping your word unlike a Senator during my tenure who spoke to teachers as he headed into the Senate Chamber for a vote, assuring them “I’m with you” only to walk to his seat and vote against them.
…. I might have titled this “Confessions of a Women in Politics” because that’s how others thought of me. There were few of us women in office in West Virginia and admittedly I spent a lot of time and energy railing against the “good ol boy” system. But, the inclination to enter the political world; the wherewithal to withstand campaign every two years; and the need to make a difference, no matter how small it might be, well that’s not about being a woman. Coming from a West Virginia family my political lineage dates back to 1942 and crosses party lines.
…..Did I tell you when I was 18 I registered as a Republican and remained one til I was 38? I had to vote for my Dad and as my cousin Sonny Weltner reminds me, we were from a long line of Republicans. My Dad ran for Justice of the Peace as a Republican when he was 24 years old. The timing was all wrong. He filed for the office and promptly went off to serve in the Navy during World War II. The decision to register as Republican in a county which was solidly Democratic during the FDR presidency seemed like a bad choice if he was going to get votes. But, there were two votes he knew he wouldn’t get if he registered otherwise. As he stated in LIFE MAGAZINE in a 1973 article called The Good Old Boy, “My father and grandfather were protective tariff Republicans. Hell, they wouldn’t have voted for me if I had registered Democrat.” A young boy, Doug, stands beside his grandfather as he pounds his election sign into a yard. It reads “John D. Herron Republican Justice of the Peace.” in the magazine photo.
……I have have Dad’s early campaign material. It tugs at your heart. It shows a young man in a sailor’s uniform with a smile that could light up the room. But he wasn’t home to go door to door. My mother took my sister, Marsha, then two-years-old with her as she went door-to-door, asking for votes for her husband who was serving his country. It worked. Dad called home to learn he had won before he shipped out…not to return for two years.
… It was the beginning of a 36-year-run. .When you are born into a political family very early you learn some hard, cold facts. Our ability to make a living was contingent upon people liking us and caring enough to get out and vote for us. Did I say us because we all weren’t running for office. But, I was taught early on that what we did as a family could affect Dad’s vote. Like many West Virginia politicians, the political office was a foundation upon which the ability to keep your family was built. In all other 55 counties Justice of the Peace was a part time job and at first Dad was no exception He worked at Weirton Steel and held court in an office in the downstairs of our house on Pearl Street. We lived in the apartment above the office.
……The 36-year-run as a Republican was marred by only one defeat. He ran for House of Delegates. Dad formed the West Virginia Minor Judiciary, all the JPs and constables in all 55 counties as an association and then became their first and only President during their twelve year existance. Their purpose was two-fold: to educate their members whose only qualifications were to “post bond and promise you won’t steel the State’s money.” The second? To lobby the legislature where reformers wanted to do away with the what they considered to be an archaic judicial system. So John D. went to Charleston and found it intrigued him. I got to go with him on occassion when I was a teenager. I met then Governor Wally Barron who would later go to jail. I had the world’s greatest crush on Attorney General Donald Robertson, who also went to jail. I was told one morning that the gentleman we had had a lovely dinner with the night before at the Daniel Boone Hotel had been gunned down on the steps on the Capital. Is it any wonder that after that everything else seemed boring?
…..So when the time was right I entered politics. The political reality of party allegiance may have had its genesis is policies, but on a local level it was about electability. Dad told me that in a county that was 2/3 Democrat at the time, I couldn’t take two negatives….being a woman and being a Republican and turn them into a positive. Since I couldn’t do anything about the woman thing, I changed my party registration and went to Charleston.
……The Capital is a confusing place. I had spent a few years lobbying for higher education, but I was unprepared for the onslought of bills that popped up on my desk. How could I read them all? They were written in legalize and I wasn’t an attorney. More, importantly, how could I locate the women’s restrooms which were all located in elusive, out of the way locations when the men’s restrooms were all conveniently placed outside committee rooms. The Senate and House chambers are mirror images located on opposite sides of the rotunda and I kept getting myself turned around only to walk into the Chamber to find 34 seats rather than 100. The Senate doorkeeper thought I was merely a ditsy blonde and was aghast when I explained I was a new delegate just trying to find my way.
….Perhaps what needs to happen is to take a hard look at what politics really is. To say you;re not a politician and you stay above the fray means you don’t get anything done. Nope, better to get in the fray and fight the fight, dodge the landmines and say you made a difference at the end of the day. Perhaps, I’ll write more later.
….In the meantime, next week we’re going to introduce our online link to HOMETOWN NEWS. Look for the link on our Facebook page: Hometown News. We’re excited. We think you will be too!