CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – On this week’s episode of Inside West Virginia Politics, reporters from around the state join our host and Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis for an annual “free for all” to discuss the top stories of 2020.
Reporters weighing in include Brad McElhinny of WV Metro News, Joe Stevens of WMOV Radio, WOWK 13 News Morning Anchor Lily Bradley and Steven Allen Adams of Ogden Newspapers.
In Segment 1, we discuss the biggest story of the year – the COVID-19 pandemic. Our guests discuss how West Virginia has handled the crisis in comparison to other states, highlighting how West Virginia took precautions early before the virus reached the state and how health officials made it easier for West Virginians to get tested for COVID-19.
We also take a moment to remember two tragedies in the Mountain State. First, the murders of seven veterans at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg. An unlicensed “nursing aid,” Reta Mays pleaded guilty to those murders and will be sentenced in February. We also remember 28-year-old Charleston Police Department Patrolman Cassie Johnson, who was shot in the line of duty Dec. 1. She died two days later on Dec. 3 and as a final heroic act, donated her organs to continue saving the lives of others.
In Segment 2, we switch from pandemic to politics. One of the biggest election headlines in the Mountain State came in the June Primary Election when incumbent and Senate President Mitch Carmichael was defeated by Amy Grady, who went on to win the Nov. 3 race.
We also talk about policy in the state, especially surrounding elections and early voting, which became a hot topic as states worked to make voting as safe and accessible as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic also highlighted the Mountain State’s crucial need for better broadband. With schools moving to virtual learning as well as telehealth and telework, the pandemic showed how many of the state’s rural areas do not have reliable access to broadband to connect.
In Segment 3, we discuss politics and what the upcoming legislative session will look like between the pandemic and the Republican supermajority.
One question on the session is what will it look like? With the pandemic still ongoing and cases on the rise, the public has only been able to enter the building for specific businesses, questions arise as to how the public’s right to observe the sessions and have a voice in the building will work out, especially if legislators are moved to the gallery for social distancing. Plans for keeping the sessions safe have not yet been finalized.
In Segment 4, the topic turns to the state’s continued economic struggles, made more difficult by closures and unemployment caused by the pandemic. Some major economic stories from the Mountain State include the closure of the Mylan plant in the Morgantown area. The loss of the Minor League Team West Virginia Power in downtown Charleston.
In good economic news of 2020, West Virginia was chosen as the new site for the Virgin Hyperloop Certification Center. Construction on the site is expected to begin this year.
Lily also reflects on Medal of Honor Recipient Woody Williams, who turned 97 in 2020, and getting to travel with him to Norfolk, Virginia before shutdowns began as the USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams was converted to the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams.
Mark also remembers another pre-pandemic moment – the fifth day of the 2020 legislative session and the standing ovation Delegate Sean Hornbuckle received when he announced he had missed the first four days because he had been in the hospital donating a life-saving kidney to his sister.