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Lawmaker bugged by columnist's W.Va. jokes

December 29, 2000

Lawmaker bugged by columnist's W.Va. jokes



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Did you hear the one about the West Virginian who mowed his grass only to find a car up on blocks?

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House Minority Leader Charles Trump IV, R-Morgan, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., has heard that joke and others like it, and says "enough's enough."

Trump has enlisted the help of many of his friends to try to convince Washington Post columnist Bob Levey to stop including West Virginia jokes in his column. He's also asked people on his e-mail address list to send messages to Levey.

Last year, Levey wrote a column based on readers' jokes about West Virginia which, Levey said in a follow-up column on Dec. 22, "poked fun at West Virginia's education levels, bathlessness and toothlessness."

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Levey's Dec. 22 column contained a letter from a Prince Georges County, Md., resident who couldn't get the county government to move against a neighbor with two cars up on blocks in his yard.

"I'm living in Prince Georges County, West Virginia." Levey quoted the reader as writing. The reader's New Year's resolution: "I'm going to pack both cars and the entire county government into a box. I'm going to write 'Anywhere, West Virginia' on the address label. Then I'm going to call FedEx and say, 'Hey, guys, there's one more package you forgot to deliver for Christmas.'"

Levey quoted a man identified as a former Berkeley Springs resident who said he never saw cars up on blocks, but noted "I did see cars abandoned on front lawns and in driveways because it costs money to fix them, and folks in Berkeley Springs aren't rich. You know, they don't have a spare Saab for when their rambling wreck is in the shop."

All this was too much for Trump, who e-mailed Levey, inviting him to Berkeley Springs. If Levey heads for the hills in Morgan County he would find "stereotypes notwithstanding ... ordinary West Virginians who indeed value education, cleanliness, and even dental care; we communicate with each other on the Web."

Trump urged his friends in their e-mails "do not, please - no matter how tempted you may be - make any suggestions about where Mr. Levey might place all of the sections of the Washington Post."

Levey has proof that West Virginians know how to communicate on the Web.

"I think my terminal is burning up with messages," Levey said Thursday in the telephone interview. Trump "must have gotten all his friends, acquaintances, political cronies and cohorts to e-mail me."

Levey stressed he has nothing against West Virginians and noted he used to own property in Mineral County and has visited the state often.

Levey said he's aware many West Virginia residents have backgrounds that include big cities such as Washington. And he said he sees no reason to visit Trump any time soon.

"He should know I have visited Berkeley Springs many times," he said. "I love it there myself. Any jokes I tell are not intended to diminish the great people of the state of West Virginia."

He used the jokes in the first column to ponder whether they were fair to the state. The second column was balanced with the comments of the former Berkeley Springs resident, he said.

Trump credited Levey with not being intentionally malicious.

"I think I have a pretty good sense of humor," Trump said, but jokes at the expense of others often are "hurtful" and based on "misunderstandings and misconceptions."

The state House minority leader said West Virginia has "rugged mountain terrain. Over the centuries, people who have lived here have been a little or a lot isolated and inaccessible. So there may be been a time when some of (the stereotype) was true."

Trump added: "As a writer, he has a choice about what he writes. If you have a choice, let's not yuk it up about the West Virginians who don't have good dental care."

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