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Why can't we be friends? WV Chamber summit panels call for unity, civility (The State Journal)


WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — There was no shortage of topics to discuss at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 83rd Annual Business Meeting & Summit, but one such talk veered away from strictly businesses and into the realm of civility in politics.

Donna Brazile, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Fox News Digital Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt gave their insights on how they get along and work together, despite different political persuasions, and how other segments of society might follow suit.

Stirewalt said the country is now bearing the political fruit of adopting primary elections, which began decades ago. He joked that while political extremes are good for ratings as a broadcaster, the current system as it’s set up incentivizes that divide.

“Right now, we have a system that rewards extremes and punishes cooperation,” he said, pointing to a few examples. “Look at Obamacare, which passed without any Republican votes in the Senate, or Trump’s tax cuts, which passed without any Democratic votes.”

Stirewalt said that while lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have vastly different views on the issue of immigration, the same can’t be said about ordinary Americans. For example, he said polls have shown that more than 70 percent of the population favor a rigorous enforcement of security along the borders while also providing a pathway to citizenship for those who are already in the U.S. illegally, but willing to do so.

Brazile said moderation within her own party is something that is necessary, but in short supply. She said she was heavily criticized for a time by the African-American community for offering to help the administration of George W. Bush in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. However, she said progress nonetheless comes no matter who is in the White House if people work together in good faith.

She said an example of this was her desire to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday national holiday, which did come to pass early in her career while Ronald Reagan was president. Being able to share her opinions and experiences was why she decided to become a contributor on Fox News.

West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts moderated the discussion and asked Brazile and Stirewalt their thoughts on reconciling the issue of climate change with the Mountain State’s fossil fuel industries.

Stirewalt said “climate change is to Republicans what deficits are to Democrats,” i.e. an issue no one wants to seriously discuss because the major ramifications aren’t within sight that is unless it’s an issue that can be exploited for political gain. With that being the case, he said no long-term consensus on how to address climate change can exist until there can be a way for both parties to benefit from doing so.

However, Brazile noted it’s a matter that her home state of Louisiana, which is also an energy producer, can no longer ignore in the facing of increasing hurricane intensity. However, she, too, encouraged a cooperative solution.

“We can’t handle these storms anymore in Louisiana,” she said. “We can’t do it tomorrow, but we have to be looking at things long-term.”

Brazile and Stirewalt weren’t alone in this during the business summit. U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also shared their spirit.

He called on summit attendees to put their differences aside and come together as West Virginians and Americans to sell the state’s qualities to the rest of the world in a meaningful way.

“One party doesn’t have all the answers and the other isn’t always wrong,” he said. “Forget about politics and the rest will take care of itself.”

Manchin also displayed his willingness to defy party lines when it came to issues that would adversely affect West Virginia’s economy as an energy-producing state. For example, he voted against the Green New Deal, which calls for the elimination of fossil fuels.

“I’m for innovation, not elimination,” he said, “because West Virginia could be the leader in the technology that can be developed not just for carbon dioxide sequestration but utilization for other purposes.”

Manchin has also reached across the aisle to work with Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., on a regular basis.

Depsite the culture of political gridlock that pervades at the surface level, Stirewalt said bipartisanship still exists in the Senate, noting that several pieces of legislation failed to pass through because they lacked the support of both Capito and Manchin.

Business Editor Conor Griffith can be reached by at 304-395-3168 or by email at

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