It’s the end of the year, so it is time for my top five West Virginia stories of 2021.
5) Census figures released: The counting of individuals in the country that takes place every ten years showed that West Virginia’s population continues to decline. The number of residents dropped by 60,000 over the last decade to 1,793,716 in 2020.
The steady decline contributed to a scarcity of trained, drug-free and dependable workers in the state. Business owners spent the year trying to fill vacancies by raising starting wages and offering sign-up bonuses.
The population drop also meant the loss of one of the state’s three congressional districts. The combining of the 1st and 2nd districts put incumbent Republican Congressmen David McKinley and Alex Mooney in the same district, and they will face off in the 2022 Primary Election.
4) Federal Opioid Trial: The federal courthouse in Charleston was the site of a landmark opioid trial. Huntington and Cabell County sued drug wholesalers AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson Corporation, accusing them of fueling the opioid crisis by shipping over 100 million opioid pills to Cabell County over a decade.
The companies argued they were simply filling orders from pharmacies that received valid prescriptions from doctors. They also contended the communities’ request for $2.5 billion amounted to a “blank check.”
The year ended with federal Judge David Faber still deciding the outcome.
3) January 6th: The country was shocked at the scene on January 6 as supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to disrupt Congress’s formal count of Electoral College votes.
Several West Virginians were among those arrested for invading the Capitol including Derrick Evans, who had been elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates two months earlier. The Republican from Wayne County quickly resigned his seat.
The events of that day were a frequent topic of debate on MetroNews Talkline, often with supporters of the former President asserting that Trump was not responsible for inspiring the attack.
The House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection against the federal government. All three Republican members from West Virginia voted against impeachment.
In the Senate trial, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin voted to convict, while Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito voted to acquit.
2) All things Manchin: It is hard to imagine another time in the state’s history when a member of Congress from West Virginia figured so prominently in the success or failure of policy than this past year with Joe Manchin. As the so-called “50th vote” in the evenly-split Senate, the moderate Democrat wielded immense power, to the point where some of his colleagues referred to him as “President Manchin.”
Manchin will be remembered for his extended negotiations with the Biden administration over the controversial and expensive Build Back Better Act before he finally announced that he could not support it, a move that infuriated many of his fellow Democrats in Washington.
Manchin famously said during an interview on Talkline that the administration expected him to cave under pressure. “Guess what?” Manchin said, “I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from, where you can beat the living crap out of people and they’ll be submissive.”
1) All things Covid: The pandemic could have itself accounted for all top five stories in West Virginia in 2021. The delta variant spread, and hospitals filled. As the year ends, the new omicron variant has begun to push daily cases and hospitalizations up again.
The extensive vaccination effort, advocated tirelessly by Governor Jim Justice and his health team, began with West Virginia ahead of the rest of the nation, but then stalled out later in the year as many resisted getting the shot.
All year, West Virginians had to account for the virus whether at work, school, church, going out to a restaurant or joining in family gatherings. The federal government’s response to the virus included allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars to the state.
Those are my top five West Virginia stories for the year. If yours was not on the list, feel free to include it in the comment section.
Happy New Year!