The flags flew half-mast on Friday for Former Del. Sam Love. He served the 1st District from 1983 to 1996 and left his mark on this county in many ways. I first met Sam when I was Vice President of the State Council of college employees and was a frequent visitor during the legislative session in 1987. (I would say lobbying, but we weren’t allowed to say that.) Two years later, when Del. Patty Bradley was indicted on a gambling bill and resigned as part of her plea agreement, I went to Charleston as the Governor’s appointee for the 1989 session and there I remained until 2000.
…. Though I was familiar with the process, nothing prepares you for the reality of the West Virginia legislature. Confident on the outside, I was terrified on the inside. I was scared that I didn’t have the knowledge I needed to do the job I had just taken an oath to do. As an appointee, I had to hit the ground running and I really doubted that I had the capacity to learn what I needed to know in such a short time frame. Most important, I didn’t know if had the strength to carry this farce off because like many women of my generation I suffered from the imposter syndrome which meant you thought that now that when you finally acquired the job of your dreams, someone would discover you were out of your league.
….To make matters worse, my cohort appeared to be the epitome of the “good ol boy” who every woman despises because he has the secret password to that club where power is dispensed and try as she might…. she’ll never gain entrance. It didn’t look like teamwork was going to be probable or even possible. We were polar opposites. I took everything sooo seriously while he saw the humor in every situation. He loved to hunt and fish. I abhorred those activities. He was a seasoned veteran of the legislative process. I was a scared novice worried I would make a misstep. How were we ever going to work together?
….Sam knew we were like oil and water as well. Early on, I exposed his penny jar. While I sat glued to my seat afraid to miss a vote, he roamed the back of the Chamber smoking his pipe. What he knew, that I did not, was that very few votes are NO. So, he had a jar of pennies on his green button. Sam may have been talking to a Delegate from Logan County when the buzzer sounded and everyone else pushed the button, but his penny jar made sure he had cast his vote. I was appalled and mentioned it to folks back home.
…..The penny jar was soon gone and Sam offered me advice that set the tone for the years we served together, “We can compete against each other and neither of us wins and the people back home lose; or we can work together and everyone wins.” We opted to work together. We didn’t always vote the same way, but when it mattered we supported each other’s bills and funding requests. And, when hard times and big issues confronted us, we pulled together as a team. He was right, the people of the district benefited.
…..When it came to funding our special projects, he supported my efforts to get $3.5 million to fund the academic center at West Virginia Northern Community College and I supported his efforts to get the water slide at Tomlinson Run State Park. Heck, I even went out to the swimming pool to cheer him that chilly Memorial Day as Sam was the first one to come down that slide.
….Oh, the stories I could tell! Sam was a larger-than-life character, always cheerful, always with a joke. He would often broke the ice by pulling a picture out of his wallet which he referred to as his baby picture. He never changed who he was in the years when many legislators caught “Kanawha River Fever” and become self-impressed with their importance forgetting about the people back. He was a steelworker and a union member. He went home every other weekend to work in the mill as an electrician. He was partial to double-knit suits and always wore cowboy boots. He was known for devouring popcorn at his desk beside mine during those late-night sessions. As he stuffed that popcorn into his mouth the floor would quickly become covered and the housewife and mother in me would want to get out the vacuum cleaner or snatch the bag from his hands and say “What is WRONG with you.”
…. But few knew that his knowledge of the rules of the House of Delegates was second to none and he was quick to question those who deviated from those rules. He devised a radio that allowed him to listen to House or Committee hearings while in his office or walking around the rotunda. He was chair of the Committee on National Resources and the local parks and streams benefited greatly from his leadership position.
…..When word came back that Mountaineer Park was going to shut down because the Supreme Court had ruled video lottery unconstitutional and the track couldn’t survive without the machines, no-one wanted to touch the bill that would put authorization of the machines on the ballot. Gambling bills had resulted in numerous indictments in recent years and more than a few prison terms. The two senators from our area declined. The two delegates? I had an aversion to gambling that was a personal issue and I had an even greater aversion to serving time in prison if things went awry. Sam gave me the second most important piece of advice in my legislative career. I was on the phone explaining to him in detail why I wanted nothing to do with the bill and he cut me short, “Grow up. Those are our constituents who are going to be out of a job.” And, in a nano second I did. I got off the phone, wiped my tears, and faxed a letter to Gov. Gaston Caperton saying Del. Love and I were sponsoring the Racetrack Video Lottery Act.
…..Sam was irreverent at the most inopportune time. With his lottery commissioner, Butch Bryan on trial, Gov. Caperton wanted to stay as far away from gambling legislation as possible in 1993. So, when Caperton wouldn’t return our calls or respond to our letters, Sam and I drove to Charleston to see him. It was not the best day to be talking to the Governor about gambling. Rumor in the legislative halls was that the Feds were looking to serve the Governor with a subpoena and put him on the stand as a witness. (For those of you who may not know, in addition to being a steelworker, Sam was also a bail bondsman.) We were ushed into Caperton’s office and as we sat down Sam said, “Governor, before we begin, I have a little business to conduct,” he reached into his coat pocket and said “I have a subpoena for you,” The Governor turned ashen. Sam, delighted with the response guffawed loudly. I was appalled and quickly said, “Sam, the Governor is not amused.”
….The Governor would not support our efforts and as we walked out of his office and began the long walk to the door of the Capital, my high heels clicked against the marble floors and Sam gave me the biggest compliment of my legislative career, “I just learned something about you,” he said, “You got bigger * than the Governor.”
…..And in that moment, I learned I did.
…..What followed that session was the greatest learning experience of my life and without the two of us working together, not thinking about credit, but the greater good it all wouldn’t have come together. Video lottery required a constitutional amendment which required a 2/3 majority. When the vote was taken, we barely cleared a simple majority. I looked at Sam stricken and said “what now?” He knew that nothing is ever truly dead in the legislature and that if we could get someone who voted on the prevailing side to ask to reconsider the bill we had a chance. It was a longshot, but a chance. So, we went to work on flipping the no votes. I still remember the frenzy as I agreed to support someone’s bill or project..whatever it took. Within an hour we had enough by one vote to get 2/3 vote. I joined him in leaning against the back wall to reflect upon what we had just accomplished, “Wow,” I said. “I traded everything I could think of.” “Me, too,” said Sam. “I’ve got you scheduled with dates for the rest of the session!” He was such a jokester.
…..They say “some people come into your life and stay a lifetime. Others are only there for a short time, but by knowing them you are forever changed.” For 7 of the eleven years, I served in the legislature, Sam was that person. While we didn’t change the world, I like to think our team made a difference in a very small part of it.