Culture of corruption often fueled by weak economy - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Culture of corruption often fueled by weak economy

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West Virginia is burdened by a sad tradition of political corruption and graft. Con artists who put themselves and their selfish interests above the common good serve as much more than a simple footnote in our state's history. 

Over the years, as we were reminded by our cover story in the March 28-April 3 edition, "former governors, state senators, delegates, judges, circuit clerks, lottery commissioners, magistrates, county commissioners, sheriffs, police chiefs, an attorney general, a senior center director, even a fire chief and his wife" have been the target of federal investigators. 

Why does this happen? What creates this culture of theft and contempt not only for the voters, but also for the very essence of the electoral system? Is power so corrupting that these scofflaws will do anything to maintain their positions? As with everything in this arena, there is a strong case to be made that it comes down to money. 

It is by no means limited to one area of the state. Take a look at the most high-profile instances of public corruption: Often it happens in rural, poverty-stricken regions where jobs are hard to find. Those in power likely understand their offices are their best chance at good paychecks, so they'll do anything to maintain that power. If that means buying votes, stocking the voter rolls with names found on tombstones, intimidating anyone who threatens the status quo and trampling all over democracy, then so be it. 

For everyone else, raising a voice often means cutting themselves off from those who, directly or indirectly, control the purse strings. 

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin can go in and clean house (and in our article, he identified with the following, very telling line from a popular children's movie: "I just cleaned up this mess — can we just keep it clean for 10 minutes?"), but nothing will change until we begin to create an economic climate that allows for prosperity and we develop a viable two-party political system. 

Politicians will always philander and find ways to work the system, but when financial opportunity extends beyond the courthouse steps, those in power will have less control and will be forced to understand it's the voters who are in charge. Jobs won't change everything, but a thriving, dynamic private sector is a strong weapon in this battle. 

Corruption certainly poisons both sides of the aisle, but nothing drags down the system like total power concentrated in the hands of a select few. A better West Virginia means a state filled with diverging voices — but one where the voice of the people is heard over all else.