CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gayle Manchin, West Virginia’s secretary for the arts and the wife of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, offered her resignation today if it would remove political pressure and help save her department.
Shortly before 8 p.m., Gov. Jim Justice took her up on it.
Here’s what the governor, a longtime Manchin family friend, said about what happened:
“Earlier today, Secretary Manchin asked the Chief of Staff, Mike Hall, about how she should approach this,” Justice stated in a news release.
“She was told by the Chief of Staff to do nothing based upon my public comments this morning, and that my decision to veto or sign this bill has not been made. Later in the day, she decided to defy the Chief of Staff’s instructions and issued a press release. In her press release she offered to resign and remove any political cloud. If there weren’t any earlier political cloud, now there surely is one. She was very critical, made it political, and put me in a very, very bad position.
“She was told that we accepted her resignation, she refused, and we terminated her.”
Gayle Manchin came out swinging with her news release about 4:30 p.m.
She issued a statement through her department: “Secretary Manchin calls on Governor Justice to veto politically-motivated legislation that hurts WV; offers to resign to protect programs.”
The conclusion of her statement was this: “I want to sit down with the Governor, and if it helps, I’ll resign to remove any political pressure to save all of these important programs for West Virginians.”
The topic is hot right now because the Legislature on Saturday passed a bill that would do away with the Department of Education and the Arts, moving its offices and programs to other state agencies.
The bill would eliminate the secretary’s position, which pays $95,000 a year.
Justice, in his 8 p.m. news release, said he still hasn’t decided what to do about the bill itself.
This has been a long-held goal of lawmakers who consider the department redundant to the separate West Virginia Department of Education.
But the cabinet secretary hasn’t always had the last name “Manchin.”
And it isn’t always an election year.
“I sincerely appreciate the years of service Secretary Manchin has given to the State of West Virginia,” he said in his news release today.
He’s been putting thought to whether the current debate over whether to dismantle Education and the Arts is a practical matter that might save money, whether it might actually complicate valuable programs or how much of it is based on politics and the Manchin name.
On MetroNews’ “Talkline” today, Justice said he is taking seriously the possibility that state government could save money by folding the programs of Education and the Arts in with other existing departments.
But he also said he wanted to examine the whole issue before deciding to sign or veto the bill.
“If at the end of the day if all we’re doing is just slapping at somebody and all we save is just $19 or those 19 chickens and three hamburgers then it’s absolutely silly to be doing it,” Justice said.
Justice made reference to questions about the politics of the decision during a Saturday night appearance on “The Legislature Today” on West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
“I’m really torn in a lot of different ways,” Justice said. “If this is a bill that’s targeting Gayle Manchin, that’s not right.”
House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa said the effort to dismantle the department pre-dates Manchin’s leadership.
“While Secretary Manchin and others have attempted to portray this legislation as a personal attack, the Secretary in office when the bill was first developed, Secretary Goodwin, has since retired,” said Espinosa, a Republican from Jefferson County.
Espinosa said the bill is, in large part, a response to a recent status report on the implementation of West Virginia’s 2012 Education Efficiency Audit.
The audit, which was produced when Gayle Manchin served on the state Board of Education, called for eliminating excess bureaucracy, cutting unneeded spending and reducing inefficiencies in service delivery to put more money into classroom instruction.
The Department of Education and the Arts dates back to the Caperton administration. Then-Gov. Gaston Caperton, in 1989, proposed a constitutional amendment that would have placed responsibility for public education with the department, rather than with the state Board of Education.
The amendment was defeated, but the department lived.
“Sadly, I believe we’re witnessing a desperate attempt by a bureaucracy that was first recommended for elimination by Governor Caperton in 1991, just a few years after its creation, to preserve itself,” Espinosa said.
“While I’m hopeful that West Viginia’s economy is beginning to turn the corner, the goal of making our public education system more efficient — from top to bottom — so that tax dollars can be better spent education our children remains.”
Manchin’s news release provided her point of view in no uncertain terms.
“I call on the Governor to veto this reckless and politically motivated legislation that the state Legislature passed, or work with me to dissolve this agency, if that’s what he wants to do, in a responsible and compassionate way,” Manchin stated.
“It’s obvious that there aren’t any significant financial savings here; we need to get the politics out of this.”
A fiscal note from the Department of Education — which is a separate agency from Education and the Arts — estimates savings of $750,000 through the elimination of some staff positions.
A separate fiscal note from the Department of Education and the Arts estimates no savings and suggests the move could actually be inefficient.
“I do not believe that a partisan fight is in the best interest of West Virginia,” Manchin stated. “In fact, I know that signing this legislation will hurt our children, seniors, veterans, the disabled, and disaster response training. In addition, it eliminates a statewide advocacy for the arts.