Carmichael greets the crowd at the Capitol

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate President Mitch Carmichael came out to greet the crowd.

After this morning’s Senate floor session, with a crowd of thousands of chanting teachers in the Rotunda, Carmichael strode out the front door of the chamber to greet them.

The crowd booed.

Carmichael stood for a few moments on the stairs overlooking the crowd.

He looked at the teachers.

The teachers looked at him and kept on chanting: “We will. Vote you out. We will. Vote you out.”

Then Carmichael turned and walked away.

In an interview moments later in the Senate chamber, the Senate president said he’d wanted to talk to those in the crowd. But he said the crowd hadn’t allowed it.

Mitch Carmichael

“I went out to meet with our friends and colleagues in the education community to see if they wanted to discuss the benefits structure, enhancements and so forth that we provided,” Carmichael said.

“And, as you saw and will be widely reported, I didn’t get a chance. They just shouted down, shouted demeaning remarks and so forth. And, even so, we’re going to do the right thing. Because we respect our teachers and we want to provide them a great benefit structure. Now, their behavior is disappointing but again we want to do the right thing and take the high ground.”

Carmichael went on to describe the experience again.

“I’ve met with teachers in my office and will continue to do so,” he said. “And as I’ve just tried to meet with a very vicious group, they didn’t want to talk. They wanted to shout and yell and scream, which is their prerogative.

“I didn’t react negatively. I stood there, tried to let the crowd calm down before I could tell them that we provided an enhanced payment schedule for them. Each teacher will receive roughly $1,300 of new money this year and then freeze their benefit structure in such a way that they will have no premium increases. That’s an amazing achievement when you think last year this state was $400 million underwater.”

Carmichael said he would continue to welcome discussions with small groups of teachers.

“I have an open door. I will meet with them. I will continue to try to explain and hear their concerns. But when you just act like that, it’s pretty disgusting and sad,” he said. “But again, we’re elected to do the right thing. We’ll continue to take the high road and be ladies and gentlemen as we do so.

“They can choose how they want to react.”

Thousands of teachers rallied at the state Capitol today for a better wage increase and for more stable health benefits.

Carmichael, over the past few weeks, has been an object of their wrath, along with Gov. Jim Justice.

As teachers rallied last week at the Capitol, Carmichael called a sudden recess to the Senate’s floor session when tempers started to run short. A grin that came across his face after he gaveled out was caught on livestream, and public employees spread the clip on social media.

Earlier this month, as Carmichael was coming out of a Saturday coffee shop in Ripley, a crowd of teachers approached. Carmichael spent about an hour talking with them.

The Senate, earlier this week, voted for a pay increase that would provide teachers, service personnel and State Police an average 2 percent raise next fiscal year. The structure provides two additional years of average 1 percent raises for teachers and one more year for the other two employee classes.

Teachers, though, have said that amount is not enough to encourage beginning educators or to keep veteran classroom leaders in the profession.

Public employees have also complained about skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for their health plans. The Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board, at the governor’s urging, froze the plan for the coming fiscal year — costing the state an estimated $29 million.

Public employees, though, have said that’s a short-term fix. They would like guarantees of stability in the coming years.

So today and Friday, teachers and public service personnel walked out of schools. Thousands have been gathering at the state Capitol, where emotions have run high.

As the Senate floor session ended today, the first one out the door was Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, who has been critical of the work stoppage as illegal. Nevertheless, Trump went down to the crowd and shook hands.

Moments after that, Democrats came out the door, drawing cheers from the crowd. Democrats have been pushing for greater pay raises, proposing amendments of about 3 percent for next year and the following years.

Drawing the biggest reaction was Senator Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, who is also a candidate for Congress in southern West Virginia. Ojeda has been meeting with teachers for week and has been pushing for a higher severance tax on natural gas to provide more revenue for public employee health benefits.

Democrats also received a strong reaction as the House floor session ended and they came pouring out the front door. This is not the door where the Democrats normally exit. Then again, this crowd isn’t usually at the Capitol.

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