DAVE PEYTON: Ah, The Height Of The Shiny Object Season

(03/12/2009)

By Dave Peyton, Columnist
dailymail.com

Ah, the height of the shiny object season.

Redirecting legislative focus isn't that difficult.

Thanks to Tom Miller, I know them as "shiny objects."

Tom is the retired political editor of The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington and covered the Legislature for a couple hundred years - well, maybe not that long, but a long time.

I was fortunate to be at the Legislature when Tom was there, and he taught me much about the peculiar ways of the lawmakers. I haven't returned to the Legislature for years, but I suspect things haven't changed all that much.

Two proposals are being kicked around in Charleston. One would ban the sale of Barbie dolls in the state, and another would force those who receive welfare, food stamps of unemployment benefits to get tested for drugs.

Both have the look and feel of shiny objects.

Miller likened the Legislature to the inhabitants of Monkey Island at the zoo. He noted that when someone throws a shiny object across the moat and onto the island, the monkeys will gather round it and - well - stare at it for hours.

They might hold it, pass it around and even conclude it is extremely important before someone throws another shiny object on the island. Then, and only then, will they turn their attention from the original shiny object to the new one.

Most sessions of the legislature have at least one shiny object - a proposal that is so outrageous, there's no chance of it becoming law. But that doesn't stop the monkeys - er, legislators - from talking about it ad infinitum.

Former Gov. Arch Moore knew the value of shiny objects. I remember one session when he dropped a shiny object in the middle of a State of the State address.

Thanks to Tom Miller, I know them as "shiny objects." Tom is the retired political editor of The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington and covered the Legislature for a couple hundred years - well, maybe not that long, but a long time.

I was fortunate to be at the Legislature when Tom was there, and he taught me much about the peculiar ways of the lawmakers. I haven't returned to the Legislature for years, but I suspect things haven't changed all that much.

Two proposals are being kicked around in Charleston. One would ban the sale of Barbie dolls in the state, and another would force those who receive welfare, food stamps of unemployment benefits to get tested for drugs.

Both have the look and feel of shiny objects.

Miller likened the Legislature to the inhabitants of Monkey Island at the zoo. He noted that when someone throws a shiny object across the moat and onto the island, the monkeys will gather round it and - well - stare at it for hours.

They might hold it, pass it around and even conclude it is extremely important before someone throws another shiny object on the island. Then, and only then, will they turn their attention from the original shiny object to the new one.

Most sessions of the legislature have at least one shiny object - a proposal that is so outrageous, there's no chance of it becoming law. But that doesn't stop the monkeys - er, legislators - from talking about it ad infinitum.

Former Gov. Arch Moore knew the value of shiny objects. I remember one session when he dropped a shiny object in the middle of a State of the State address.

He announced that he would consider signing a bill that came across his desk that would legalize casino gambling in the state. This was years before there was even a thought of a lottery, much less casino gambling.

His announcement brought real work at the Legislature to a halt while all the lawmakers talked about the shiny object he tossed onto Monkey Island.

Meanwhile, Moore was manipulating the bills he really wanted the Legislature to pass. And when he got what he really wanted, he announced that he never said what everyone heard him say.

The anti-Barbie proposal by Delegate Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln, has garnered national attention. Thus, it may be an ultimate shiny object.

But while it's an axiom at the Legislature that everything is constitutional until proven otherwise, I suspect that enacting legislation to ban Barbie from West Virginia is a simple matter of restraint of trade, which is patently unconstitutional.

And what about giving drug tests to certain classes of citizens who receive tax money, as proposed by Delegate Craig Blair, R-Berkeley?

Unconstitutional.

Thousands receive tax money as public employees. Should we give them all drug tests as well? Where does it end?

These two shiny objects have served their purposes already. They have given legislators something to talk about and inspect while the leadership creates and pushes the real legislative agenda, which is beyond the ken of your run-of-the-mill delegates and senators.

Peyton may be reached by e-mail at david.pey...@gmail.com

dailymail.com


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