By W.Va. State Senator Mike Caputo, D-Marion, 13th District
In a recent radio interview about some of the socially divisive laws just passed by the Legislature’s Republican-led supermajority, West Virginia GOP Chairwoman Elgine McArdle was asked whether our state might now be viewed as less inclusive. She responded, “Inclusiveness is a funny term.”
That made me pause a little bit. So I consulted the Merriam-Webster definition of inclusive: “Including everyone.” Seems pretty straightforward.
I wondered, how is the idea of including everyone funny?
Thankfully, Chairwoman McArdle went on to clarify. Embracing laws that penalize people who are born different, or who choose a path not in lockstep with the West Virginia Republican Party’s “old fashioned” values, as she called them, is the West Virginia way.
“I don’t think it necessarily excludes people. They can go to California, they can go to New York, they can go to Chicago. If they want that kind of atmosphere to live in, go nuts. Go live where you want to live, practice what you want to practice, but you’re not going to fit in well [here],” she said.
She also commented, “I think West Virginians are more than welcoming to everyone, but when it comes to pushing the woke agenda and the liberal aspects… That is not included within the inclusivity.”
Not included within the inclusivity. Wow, chew on that for a minute.
What an embarrassment. Forget ever hoping to attract young people to our state, even though we are now presented with a golden opportunity to bring them here. In addition to the countless economic development projects that are coming our way creating thousands of new jobs, there’s also the growing trend of people working remotely from rural states that offer the most natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and tranquility, a perfect fit for West Virginia– especially given how close we are to major big-city hubs.
Adopting new laws that restrict freedom for those whose views and lifestyles the West Virginia Republican Party deems unacceptable only sends the message to young people that their generation, which is all about inclusion, is most certainly not welcome here.
And at this point, it’s difficult to determine who the WV GOP actually wants to include, or help.
Instead of trying to lure young people to West Virginia with initiatives that embrace local communities, expand broadband access, and expand opportunities, this Republican leadership has shepherded countless bills through the legislative process that are intended to prevent local governments from enacting ordinances that embrace local workers and businesses, and instead exclude young people who only want to be allowed to live their lives as they see fit without obstruction.
You might as well post “Stay Out” signs all along our state border.
One of the most enduring qualities West Virginians have been known for is our willingness to work hard, and live and let live. Our state motto is “Montani Semper Liberi”; Mountaineers are always free! We welcome and assist our neighbors without judgment or pause. It’s an attribute that caused John F. Kennedy to declare, “The sun doesn’t always shine in West Virginia, but the people do.”
But apparently the WV GOP would rather embrace the tired old stereotype of the angry isolationist hiding out in the hills, threatening anyone who’s “not from around here” with a rifle. Or as Chairwoman McArdle stated, anyone who doesn’t “fit in.”
Not wanting to be around people different from us and our “values” is an expression of intolerance that we have repeatedly seen in history in many forms. Different religions, different beliefs about equality, different skin color, it’s all the same thing: a camouflaged bigotry against anyone who is different. That is about as un-American an ideal as I can imagine.