Thursday, November 10, 2016

An Open Letter to My Fellow Democrats

Our First Lady Michelle Obama inspired us all when she encouraged members of the Democratic Party with the words, “When they go low, we go high.” What gave this statement such impact though was not the words themselves, but the fact that the Obama First Family has lived them out over the last eight years in the face of unrelenting and downright hateful scrutiny. We have been privileged to have what I would consider the most honorable and noble First Family that I have seen in my lifetime. They have demonstrated through their public lives the way we should all behave and interact with one another.

This incoming administration, however, has many of us wanting to forget the high road. The vitriol we have seen from Donald Trump and many of his followers is downright outrageous. We are rightfully disappointed, angry, and more than a little concerned about the future of our country. But we should not wallow around in the mud for even a second. Regardless of how much we may dislike Donald Trump, this is still our country and one that can continue to be a beacon of light for the world if we let it. A country where love never fails and equality is possible.

The best way we can honor the Obama legacy is to continue to live by their example of grace and confidence in the face of animosity. But that is not always easy. The list below is just a few of the ways we can demonstrate to our fellow man that we, like the Obamas, are better than the hate that has been fueled by the Donald Trump campaign.

WHAT WE SHOULD NOT DO:

  • We should not make up rude or insulting nick names to refer to the President or his family.
  • We should not body shame or slut shame anyone, especially those in the First Family.
  • We should not use logical fallacies such as name calling, circular reasoning, or hasty generalizations to further an argument or to try to prove a point.
  • We should not stop learning or working on advancing the causes that we believe in.
  • We should not blame others for our own failures, but through sincere reflection make things better.
  • We should not hate.


WHAT WE SHOULD DO:

  • We should respect the Office of the President of the United States even if we don’t respect the person holding the position.
  • We should diligently advocate for the interests of a greater society and speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.
  • We should stand up against intolerance, bigotry, hatred, and misogyny.
  • We should support policy positions of the President and Congress that are in the best interests of the people of the United States and of the world.
  • We should vigorously work against policies that are detrimental to our people, our nation, or our planet.
  • We should volunteer, organize, and participate in meaningful activities in our communities.
  • We should listen, offer shoulders to cry on, and love our fellow human beings.
  • We should distance ourselves from those who make no attempts to abide by similar principles rather than engage them.


This is not an exhaustive list, but if we can make a conscientious effort to live by these principles and others, we can continue the Obama legacy in a very real way. Only by living out what we expect in others can we bring them into the fold. Only by expanding our base will our voice and our vote be strong enough to overcome the evil that we see now. Making the world a better place many times starts at the grassroots level. It’s going to be a hard road. We are going to face many more challenges along the way. But we can do this and in time, our nation and our world will be a better place for it.

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NOTE: I have received feedback from some that perhaps the above post is suggesting that we be silent or concede to a fate that we are not able or willing to endure. That is not my intent. So I will add the following quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Inaugural Address, which gets to my point a bit more eloquently:

"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. [We need not] shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory."  


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Don't Hit the Snooze Button - Drilling Waste and Rule Changes

The people are awake!  They have come to realize that many of their government officials are not always working for the people's well-being and that regulators often allow undisclosed corporate interests to steer policy in favor of Wall Street and its stockholders even to the detriment of people's health. People are raising their voices throughout the region and our state legislature is starting to pay attention. 

During the 2014 legislative session, it came to light that the landfill in Berkeley County, just feet away from the Potomac River, a major tributary into the Chesapeake Bay, was readily available and permitted due to lacking regulation to receive radioactive and toxic fracking waste into its facilities. These facilities sit on a karst topography. Karst consists of underground cavernous formations that can unpredictably distribute water and other solutions through its channels into our water supplies and major waterways.

Slowly, policy is beginning to move in the direction of protecting people over maximizing corporate profit for out-of-state interests. Senators Unger and Cookman have largely led the way by introducing and advocating viable solutions for our state that would both protect our drinking water and allow for industry to continue operations in more responsible ways. During a recent interim meeting of our Legislature, a provision was introduced and passed that would protect the citizens of the Panhandle from fracking waste being dumped into the local landfill. 

While this is positive movement, it is important to understand that the provision in the rules is just an interim measure designed to protect karst regions from fracking waste until such time as more formal and permanent legislation can be introduced during the regular Legislative Session in 2015. Yet, there are those who would want you to believe that the threat of having radioactive and toxic waste dumped into the Panhandle is no longer an issue and that all is well. "Go back to sleep," they may tell you, as they continue to accept donations from major energy interests and gear up for a regular session where they seek to put the steering wheel right back into the hands of out-of-state corporate greed.

I got into this race because I was outraged by the fact that our wide open policy and lacking oversight of existing policy led to a crisis of unprecedented proportion when 300,000 people were poisoned in January of this year during the Elk River chemical spill. To this day, there are people in the nine affected counties who are unwilling (and rightfully so) to drink the water that comes from their taps. The more I get into this race, the more I learn just how far "big energy" is willing to take their agenda at the expense of your health, your children's health, and the economic health of our state long-term.

Don't hit the snooze button! Keep raising your voice. Keep writing your representatives. Keep paying attention. Together, we can continue this struggle until we have long-term permanent solutions where industry and people can co-exist in a future that is both prosperous and where your well-being means more than a New York stockholder's portfolio.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pros and Cons of Voter Identification Laws

On its face, it seems like a common sense issue.

Produce identification when you show up to vote to ensure that you are indeed the person purporting to vote on that ballot. Easy enough, right? Sound organizational systems incorporate reasonable internal controls for purposes of avoiding fraud.

Our government should, of all institutions, ensure that appropriate internal controls are in place within its operational systems. Correct? And if the voter process is one of those systems, why shouldn't it require identification to those who want to vote?

As always, the devil is in the details.

Here is a more complicated side to the discussion. Opponents of voter identification have a good point when they discuss the extent to which certain pockets of the population may be unable to produce photo identification.

Seniors, for instance, once abandoning the prospect of driving, often don’t renew their driver’s licenses. Homeless and transient poor are often unable to secure a driver’s license due to their inability to provide a permanent physical address. Those who are disenfranchised in our society should not be denied the right to vote, one of our Democracy’s most fundamental and important rights. Don’t you agree?

And what about the slippery slope at the polls?

Imagine a poll worker turning away voters due to that poll worker’s erroneous determination about whether the person’s identification looks like them. Not a good scenario, as we've all had cruddy driver’s license pictures from time to time, right? Further, lengthy processes could deter potential voters from participating, and as we all know, trying to get a driver’s license at the DMV these days can be nothing short of a prolonged and mind-numbing process.

Lastly, incurring costs or paying fees associated with securing identification for purposes of voting is analogous to a poll tax, which is unconstitutional. We need to encourage voter participation as opposed to deter it. Our democracy depends on it! So any process for voter identification would need to address these issues adequately in order to properly ensure that our citizens can exercise their right to vote.

Two basic questions about this debate might be helpful. 

First, do we really have a problem with voter fraud that would merit the time and cost of debate, deliberation, court review, implementation of processes, etc. that would be associated with enacting and enforcing such legislation? I don’t think so.

Second question, if voter fraud isn't really a problem, then what is motivating this discussion? Some would argue that the wealthy elite are pushing voter identification laws in an effort to deter voting by the very people who would likely oppose their agenda. Certainly a question deserving of an answer, don’t you think, particularly in light of our long history of the privileged class depriving entire populations from voting. Case in point, women have only for less than a century been afforded that right. 

Let's get serious!

This debate seems to me to be largely a distraction from some very serious and important issues affecting our state. We need to be talking about repairing our education system, addressing our heroin problem, creating an infrastructure for job creation and economic development, identifying a transition plan for a dwindling coal economy, and restoring and protecting our natural resources, which includes drinking water. These are the important issues facing us today. Let’s get serious about them, rather than getting distracted by a red herring issue.

I support voter identification, generally.

I indicated so in my response to the survey for the candidate forum last night. However, as I also mentioned last night, any process that seeks, even slightly, to infringe upon the constitutional rights of our citizens should be narrowly construed so as only to address a significant societal interest. In the instance of voter identification, the significant societal interest is securing against the possibility of fraud. 

Therefore, a narrowly construed statute might only require that voter registration offices include a photo on the voter registration card. For those who register online, securing the photo the first time they report to the polls might be possible. Lastly, poll workers should not be given broad discretion to turn away voters due to perceptions about the photo on the id, so another process would have to be developed to address any questions that arise and that would still give the participant the opportunity to vote upon reporting to the poll.  

But investing too much on this issue is a disservice to West Virginians.

While a properly drafted voter identification law would be something I support, proper drafting would require the narrow construction necessary to avoid fraud and could not place unreasonable burdens on citizens or seek to disenfranchise legitimate voters. All in all, this is not an issue of priority in which I intend to spend a great deal of time as a legislator, but I do hope this discussion is helpful to you in forming your own opinions.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On WV Energy and the Environment

The Obama administration’s increasingly expansive environmental policy is bringing about serious challenges to West Virginia. With new proposed EPA regulations redefining navigable waters, Chesapeake Bay mandates, and recently imposed greenhouse gas rules threatening the state’s largest economic driver, people throughout the State are scratching their heads wondering what on earth the President has against them. Many are not just wondering, but are visibly and rightfully angry at what they claim to be a highhanded and undemocratic exercise of power.  Furthermore, policymakers throughout the Mountain State are beginning to ask exactly how the US Executive Branch intends to offset the economic blow that will most certainly hit West Virginia hard in response to such policy changes. 

On the flip side of that coin, many citizens in the state are still reeling over a chemical spill that poisoned over 300,000 West Virginians earlier this year, an accident that was clearly lost on the EPA and the DEP in their responsibility to protect PEOPLE like you from haphazard devastation to our environment. There is no doubt about it. We need clean water. We need breathable air. We need food. We need energy. And we need jobs. Balancing these interests require thought and strategy. Clearly, leadership is needed. Effective policy is imperative. Yet, whether the EPA can intelligently and appropriately address the real environmental issues or is more inclined to steer off into collateral issues and pointblank power grabs is precisely what many are debating right now.

It has been said that West Virginians do the heavy lifting. As a matter of fact, West Virginians for decades have carried the burden of supplying the nation with its greatest source of power. Our people have taken on incredibly taxing physical labor, endured adverse health conditions both in its laborers and in their families and children, and have allowed its mountains and water supply to be exploited in an effort to fuel the nation.  Is it too much to ask in return that that same nation pay proper tribute to the effects that these new policies will have on those who have endured for so long in loyalty to this great country? Is it too burdensome to request that our national and state policymakers consider that West Virginia has been there for them and their constituents, quietly serving in some of the toughest jobs in the land in an effort to keep the lights on for its neighbors in the US and even in the world?

I want to encourage the people of West Virginia to raise their voice with respect to this debate. The Putting People First campaign has recently published a survey imploring people like you to make your opinions known. It is a grassroots effort, but one that seeks input right at the level where the impact of these changes will be felt most, in YOUR home and with YOUR family and friends. These efforts have not been in vain. In just the first 48 hours of publishing the survey online, we have received over 70 anonymous responses weighing in on issues including the EPA’s proposed rule to the Clean Water Act, the Chesapeake Bay mandates, mountaintop removal mining, hydraulic fracturing, and drill waste deposits, to name a few.


Often, it is the loudest voice on the fringe of the debate that gets most heard and that is not always best for the everyday family trying to put food on the table. Fortunately, we live in a time where people like you can raise your voice effectively through Internet and social media. That is what this survey seeks to do. To raise the voice of the PEOPLE so that those in Washington and throughout the State will be forced to pay attention to the outcry that comes when PEOPLE assemble, whether virtually or otherwise, and petition their government for a redress of grievances. That is what our Constitution is meant to protect. That is why our First Amendment is central to our democracy. And that is why we should use every means necessary to ensure that PEOPLE like you are heard.  Please consider providing your input! The survey is available on my website and can be accessed by clicking the “Raise Your Voice” link below. Thank you for your consideration.





Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Layne Diehl's Position on Abortion

The following post was written by Layne Diehl in response to constituent requests that she publicly take a position on the issue of abortion as part of her candidacy for the West Virginia House of Delegates 59th District in the 2014 general election:

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues facing American culture today and is one that, if not resolved in a way that allows us all to live together in peace and harmony, could significantly undermine the progress of American ideals throughout our land. We are a nation built and strengthened by our ability to come together with collective solutions that consider all of its people's voices equally and fairly. It is a significant and important challenge that we, as Americans, take up this issue with open hearts and minds and with the desire to understand and to love our neighbors and friends despite where they may stand on this issue.

Like most West Virginians, I believe in the fundamental principles espoused in our US Declaration of Independence and US and WV Constitutions relative to life, liberty, and justice. I believe in the right to life and married the love of my life, Nicolas Diehl, a man who was adopted by his family when his natural mother found herself in an unplanned pregnancy scenario.  I cannot even begin to imagine what my life would be missing and the joys I would not have experienced if Nic’s natural mother had opted to terminate her pregnancy with him. Nic and I also have two children of our own and I understand the pressures and responsibilities that go along with having and raising a child. Having a child is a responsibility that begins long before a child is conceived. Ensuring that you have adequate resources, considering the dynamics of your family unit, and taking care of your health and the health of your child are just a few of the important factors that a mature, prudent and caring parent should consider. Engaging in risky sexual activity knowing that such activity may result in pregnancy before you are emotionally and financially ready to have a child is irresponsible. For our society to adopt the use of abortion as a routine birth control method is unconscionable to me, but criminalizing all abortion procedures is not the solution either, as abortions were commonly known to exist even before they were performed in a health care setting. The brutality of illegal abortions performed prior to Roe v. Wade was atrocious and, however we as a society determine to address this issue, we cannot take a step back by returning to a system where these horrendous practices are conducted in back alleys and unsafe, unclean environments.

We must remember that not all abortions are conducted as birth control measures. Many times an abortion is a sad but understandable option when the health and safety of a mother and/or unborn child are at issue. Many times, loving and mature parents very much want an unborn child, but are faced with medical diagnoses that are precarious, and those parents deserve the right to make the difficult decisions that follow privately, in consultation with their health care providers, and without undue government or third party intrusion. Often, young women are objectified and subjected to sex without their consent, and find themselves in desperate situations where abortion may be an alternative. It is not up to me or our government to cast judgment on the women or families who face such legitimately heartbreaking situations.

I have typically steered away from labels of pro-choice and pro-life because I believe that those labels can undermine the need for positive and meaningful discussion of this issue. I have deliberately not sought funding from either pro-life or pro-choice advocacy groups for this purpose. Abortion is a delicate issue affecting families and children, born and unborn, as well as affecting the rights of privacy and to adequate and safe healthcare, particularly in times of distress and deep sadness. I do not believe in undue government intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship and do not believe that legislation on this issue could ever foresee all the various circumstances that may have to be considered by healthcare staff and its patients when making these decisions. Viability of an unborn child and its ability to experience pain are certainly factors that should be considered, but I believe the medical community, as opposed to the legislature, is more qualified to make those determinations. Health care providers are uniquely and appropriately suited to advise their patients accordingly on a case by case basis, to consider with patients all of the circumstances of a particular health situation, and to address with patients the long term health and emotional consequences of a decision given the available alternatives to patients and their families.  Therefore, any legislation relative to abortion should give proper deference to our highly trained and qualified health care community.

My God gave me the ability to reason. He gave me a heart to empathize and to understand. He demanded that I get the stick out of my own eye before trying to remove the splinter from another’s. Therefore, rather than relying on hype or commonly used sound bites for convenience or publicity’s sake, I intend to talk through these issues, to listen and to try to understand all sides. If elected, I will seriously consider all voices to this debate, whether loud, soft, or silenced, and will cautiously and prayerfully respond as your representative in Charleston. I will endure whatever consequences come from the decisions I make as a legislator. And I will hope that those decisions work toward solutions that are fair, just, and right.