A natural disaster reveals the often paradoxical view that many have about government—the contradictory positions of wanting government to stay out of our lives, but then wanting, or even demanding, government action when there is an emergency.
Generally speaking, West Virginians have a strong independent streak, but the flow of government services has been welcome since the historic flooding of a week ago. President Obama, who is less popular here than just about any other state, quickly approved the disaster declaration for three counties, and now seven more have been added.
Governor Tomblin’s administration rapidly ramped up disaster relief efforts. Senators Manchin and Capito toured flood-damaged areas and pressed for the federal declaration. West Virginia 3rd District Congressman Evan Jenkins has been ubiquitous in the hardest hit areas with hands-on help.
Politically speaking, elected officials face a balancing act in these situations. They need to be on the scene, demonstrating their concern, but they have to avoid getting in the way of recovery efforts or appearing to be simply in search of a photo op.
On the whole, it’s evident that the state’s political leaders have responded aggressively and appropriately to this disaster.
One glaring absence from the flood zone has been West Virginia 2nd District Congressman Republican Alex Mooney, who has been out of the country.
“The Congressman is on a previously scheduled official Congressional trip to the Middle East,” said Mooney’s communications director Meredith Jones in a statement Tuesday. “The trip has included meetings with American military leadership and troops fighting terrorists in the Sinai Desert region of Egypt.”
Jones’ statement said that Mooney had been working with the Department of Defense “to return as quickly as possible without putting a strain on our service members.” Congressional trips like this are secure missions; they do not turn on a dime, so it may indeed have been difficult for Mooney to interrupt the trip and get back to West Virginia.
However, it would be helpful to know exactly when Mooney left for the Middle East—his office won’t say. The flooding started last Thursday afternoon/evening and within a few hours we knew it was going to be bad, although the scope was not known fully until the following day.
At the time of his departure would a reasonable person have known it would be better to head back to the district than overseas? If Mooney got on the plane even though it was evident at that moment that his district was getting historic flooding, then he has some explaining to do to his constituents.
Mooney is on the budget committee and getting first-hand information on the role of the military in dangerous parts of the world is valuable, but the timing of this trip turned out to be terrible. As much as we complain about the government, when disaster hits we expect to look up and see that our elected representatives are in the maelstrom with us.