West Virginia politics wears out veteran lawmakers

Four veteran members of the West Virginia Legislature have announced, just in the last few weeks, that they are not running for re-election next year.

(Read more here, here and here.)

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, Senate Minority Whip Corey Palumbo, House Minority Leader Tim Miley and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott have all decided to get out of politics.

Prezioso, Palumbo and Miley are Democrats. Shott is a Republican. Collectively, they have almost three-quarters of a century in the state Legislature. Prezioso is the senior man, with 30 years.

Each has his own personal reasons for stepping away from politics—spending more time with family is a common theme—but they all mention the increasing tribalism of politics today.

Shott said on Talkline yesterday that, after a decade in Charleston, he’s over it. “I’ve certainly enjoyed the challenge, but I’m sick and tired of the game and the posturing and the political ambushes that go on. It just wears down on you,” he said.

Miley added in his concern about the increasing role of money in elections and the growing political divide. “We cannot continue playing politics in a state this small and one that has so many inherent obstacles to overcome,” he said. “All we risk is further alienating people from coming here.”

Prezioso told me earlier this month that, after three decades in the Legislature and at age 70, he’s ready to hang it up. But like his cohorts, he has seen a change in the atmosphere. “People now think the art of compromise is showing weakness. It was a pleasure to work with both sides and try to come up with a reasonable piece of legislation, but that’s not the way it is, and I’m not sure it’s going to change for a while,” he said.

Palumbo said the deterioration of politics in Washington has now filtered down to West Virginia. “It used to be, the Senate in particular was a place where we would come and solve problems and have respectful disagreements, but that has all really changed. It’s just what’s come of politics in general.”

For long-time Democrats like Palumbo, Prezioso and Miley, it has also been difficult adjusting to being in the minority. The considerable clout of the majority has rested with Republicans since the 2014 election and it is not likely to change anytime soon.

The frustration of the four is understandable. The politics of making and implementing public policy in West Virginia have become more contentious, and that grates on people. With all four of the political retirees, I sense a weariness that they cannot get out from under.

In politics, the story is always “next person up,” and some will see the retirement of these Capitol veterans as an opportunity for younger, enthusiastic politicians who want their turn in the Legislature.

However, newcomers to the House and the Senate, especially those who will assume leadership positions, should carefully consider what the departing members are saying; politics is becoming more partisan all the time.

The stoic marble of the Capitol rotunda belies the rough and tumble reality under the dome.


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