The definitive book on political corruption in West Virginia was written by Allen Loughry. In Don’t Buy Another Vote. I Won’t Pay for a Landslide, Loughry needs 539 pages to chronicle the long and sordid history of shenanigans in the Mountain State.
Loughry, who now serves on the West Virginia Supreme Court, laments the paradox created by the corruption:
“The vast majority of (West Virginia’s) citizens are not corrupt; they are honest people seeking to make better lives for their families,” Loughry writes. “Nonetheless, these same straightforward and sincere people seem to have become so desensitized to corruption that many of them laugh at the thought of the countless elected officials who have become felons.”
That callousness is the great lament. Humans being what they are, we know that a few in public life will abuse their positions for their own enrichment. However, it’s the collective shrug of the shoulders and the apathetic, “Well, that’s just the way things are,” that emboldens the miscreants.
For months, rumors have swirled about allegations of political corruption in Mingo County. It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction, but we do know this: a federal grand jury has been meeting in Charleston since last year to investigate Mingo County. In fact, the grand jury was back at it Tuesday and Wednesday.
Federal investigators have been regulars at the Mingo County courthouse. Multiple subpoenas have been issued and the locals keep a running tab of those who have been called to testify before the grand jury.
The feds won’t comment on any of this. However, because so many people from Mingo have been called to testify, word gets around. There’s nothing preventing an individual who has testified before a grand jury from publicly talking about what he or she was asked or said.
And so Mingo County, and the state’s politically connected, are all atwitter about what’s to come. The chatter has reached the stage where it feels like finally, after months of investigation and deliberation, something is about to pop.
The late Senator Robert Byrd wrote in an introduction to Loughry’s book that our democratic system of government is based on public trust. Once we lose confidence in those chosen to uphold the rule of law, there is little impetus on the rest of us to play by the rules.
Instead, we are reduced to, as Loughry suggested, chortling at the corruption as if it were a damaged, yet inevitable part of our culture.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We get the kind of government we demand. It appears the U.S. Attorney’s Office is on the verge of striking a blow against the Mingo County courthouse corruption that can make for a fresh start in Williamson.
That will require another chapter in Loughry’s book, and it won’t be anything to laugh about.