West Virginia’s culture of corruption

West Virginia has a long and sordid history of political corruption.  Just when it seems we’ve put the bad old days behind us, a new scandal erupts, reminding us that the state still has long row to hoe to restore and maintain people’s confidence in their public officials.

Just consider some of the stories of recent months:

–A legislative audit reveals allegations of wrongdoing in the administration of former state Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass. According to the report, the agency operated a “friends and family” loan program that benefited the connected.  A number of those loans are now delinquent.   The audit also alleges there was an “unethical tone” at the Ag Department that led to potentially fictitious expense reimbursements for Douglass.

–A federal grand jury has indicted state Division of Highways supervisor Barry Thompson of Mount Clare on charges of lying to investigators.   U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfield says the charges may be just one piece of the puzzle in their investigation of the equipment division of the DOH in Buckhannon.

–Ihlenfeld also busted former Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins on charges of faking a traffic accident to collect $8,000 from the insurance company.   Ihlenfeld had been investigating other allegations against Hawkins, including theft from the Sheriff’s tax office, mishandling of an estate and civil rights violations.

–The investigation continues in Mingo County where federal authorities have brought down a circuit judge, prosecutor, magistrate and county commissioner.

–Last year, a legislative audit found state government officials circumvented state purchasing rules when spending $38 million for an emergency radio tower project.

–The auditor also found in a separate report that the state wasted between $8 million and $15 million in federal stimulus money buying oversized Internet routers to place in schools, libraries and police stations.

Those are just a few of the scandals in recent months that come to mind, and they’re the ones we know about.    State Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry, who wrote the definitive book on political corruption in the state (“Don’t Buy Another Vote.  I Won’t Pay for a Landslide.”) is among those bothered by the miscreants in government.

“It’s really discouraging,” Loughry told me on Metronews Talkline earlier this week.  “People are frustrated.”

Part of the problem, Loughry says, is that corruption and incompetence is not bigger news.

“We’ve grown accustomed to the scandal,” Loughry said.  “People say, ‘here we go again.’  People expect this kind of behavior.”

As long as we expect it, then it’s going to continue to happen.


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