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Wise's successor should be a partner to legislators

February 10, 2004

Is it better to have a governor well-versed in policy, or one who works in collabatoration with the state legislature?

When looking at the 10 candidates bidding to replace West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, we have to ask: Why not both?

Wise, who decided against seeking a second term after revelations about an extramarital affair, accomplished a great deal during his first term.

Recognizing that education is the state's future, Wise persuaded lawmakers to legalize video-poker machines and send much of the cash into the PROMISE scholarship program.

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Wise also has taken steps to deal with the state's malpractice crisis and problems with workers' comp insurance. And he's made those strides at the same time that government has been trimmed back.

But state lawmakers have consistently complained that the governor has failed to work with the Legislature's leadership to craft an agenda prior to the session.

In some cases this is understandable, because there are some lawmakers who see their role as reacting to every proposal, as opposed to engaging in the legislative process. Such lawmakers seek quick fixes - borrowing from reserves, for example - that postpone the pain until some undetermined point in the future.

Wise has kept such critics at bay by delaying the introduction of his proposals, leaving opponents guessing as to the shape those plans will take.

But a future governor will need some help from lawmakers as he or she looks at issues like auto and homeowners' insurance and the long-term future of the PROMISE program.

Insurance companies claim they are being pushed out of the state by laws that restrict the reasons for which they can revoke policies and assess the value of claims. It's tempting to cast the big bad insurance companies as villains, but without some compromise, there may be fewer companies to write such policies if insurers don't have the freedom to weed out the bad risks from the good.

As for PROMISE, the program has been so successful that there's talk of tightening the requirements to get scholarship cash. The worst thing, in our view, would be to encourage young people to go to college, then dash their hopes. Finding more money for PROMISE won't be easy, but it must be done.

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