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The Retrograde Politics of West Virginia

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

Democrats in the West Virginia legislature this week moved to the right of former Mississippi Governor and Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour. They moved to the right of conservative talk show host Hoppy Kercheval. And they moved to the right of the state police.

The Democrats moved this week, at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, to deep six SB6, legislation that would have required a prescription for pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient for shake and bake meth labs.

Under a barrage of statewide radio ads from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the pharmaceutical industry lobbying group, the Democratic controlled House Judiciary Committee earlier this week decided to reject SB6, which passed the Republican controlled Senate earlier this year by an overwhelming 25 to 9 vote.

During the more than three hour debate, not one Democrat spoke to condemn the pharmaceutical industry’s attack on SB6.

Instead, the committee passed substitute legislation proposed by the Republican Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, that would lower the amount of pseudoephedrine any individual could purchase in a year, from 48 grams to 24 grams. Similar legislation was passed in Kentucky but has done little to curb the meth lab problem in that neighboring state.

Mississippi and Oregon, on the other hand, have passed laws similar to SB6 and those states have successfully crippled the meth lab problems there.

So impressed was he with the success of the Mississippi law that Barbour weighed in with a letter to the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee this week.

“It is my understanding you are trying to help pass a bill to require a prescription for the purchase of pseudoephedrine to reduce methamphetamine production in West Virginia,” Barbour wrote. “I wish you success as such a program worked extremely well in Mississippi.”

Kercheval has been saying for the past month that if he had a vote, he would vote for SB6, because the police support it.

But despite the conservative cover given by Barbour, Kercheval and the state police, the corporate Democrats didn’t have the guts to stand up to the power of the pharmaceutical industry.

They couldn’t even stand up to the most rabid corporate Republicans on their committee, who shamelessly repeated pharmaceutical industry talking points.

At one point during the hearing, Delegate Kelli Sobonya (R-Barboursville) started criticizing SB6. Sobonya’s daughter is a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry in Charleston.

Sobonya pointed to a letter from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation America. Sobonya said that the Foundation “represents the patients.”

In fact, the Foundation is a front group for the pharmaceutical industry, with support from pseudoephedrine makers Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, Sanofli, among others. The Foundation’s letter and a Charleston Daily Mail op-ed by foundation president William McLin took the industry’s line and urged defeat of SB6.

Not one Democrat countered Sobonya.

Instead, they passed the Republican alternative without demanding a vote on SB6.

That means more troopers will lose their lung capacity after raiding meth labs.

It means more kids will be in foster care as a result of losing their parents to meth addiction.

It means more homes and apartment buildings will go up in flames as a result of meth lab explosions and fires.

It means meth labs will continue to spread to all corners of West Virginia, including to Morgan County, just this week.

Russell Mokhiber edits Morgan County, USA

Russell Mokhiber will be reporting from the GOP Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic Party convention in Philly at DumpsterFireElection2016.

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