Learn more about John Doyle and his stand on Rockwool, Red Flag Laws, COVID-19 restrictions and much more.
John Doyle Interview Excerpts
John Doyle: To me, the most pressing issue is the need for clean government. And I define clean government as government that is accessible and accountable to the people, that is responsible and responsive to the people, that he is open and transparent. And I’ve been working on that for a long time. I became particularly attuned to that with the fight over Rockwool. Because a whole lot of that was done in secret. Whether you want Rockwell or not, I would argue that we should not have these decisions made in secret. And I also will confess, when I served for 20 years or 22 years actually; I’m in my 24th year in the House of Delegates, but in three separate stints. I was elected in ’82, got defeated in ’84, got back in in ’92, stayed for 20 years. Retired voluntarily in 2012 and became Deputy Secretary of Revenue in Governor Tomlin’s second term. And he was term limited. So when his term ended, my job ended. And I got back elected, that was in 2016, and I was elected again to the legislature in 2018. When I was in before, I thought we weren’t transparent enough, and I argued for greater transparency.
But Richard, I will tell you, we were a whole lot more transparent than has been the case in the last half dozen years with the current leadership of the legislature. And particularly the last four years, with Jim Justice as governor.
Richard: Is it a legislative thing you think where there needs to be changes or, because of what you’re saying now is a little subjective in the fact that you’re saying it’s less transparent, but presumably the laws are basically the same, and also what needs to be done, in your opinion, to make it more transparent?
John Doyle: It is both. It is a problem with both the legislature and the executive branch. Yes, the laws, in many cases are the same. But how they are applied, it is different. Legislatively, let me give you an example. I served for 12 years on the House finance committee, actually 14 years. And for 12 years, I was on the budget conference committee. Every year I would be appointed to the budget conference committee to negotiate the final version of the budget with the Senate. There would be a half a dozen delegates and a half a dozen senators. These meetings would be open to the public to anyone who wanted to come. We would argue back and forth on different points of difference in the budget and come to compromise. This last year, the final version of the budget was a private negotiation between the chair of the Senate Finance Committee and the chair of the House Finance committee. That’s not right. And in terms of the Executive Branch, since Governor Justice has taken over, there has been much less ability for the public to find out exactly what is going on in the various agencies of state government.
Now, what needs to be done, now there are some changes in law that I think need to be made. One is if a project is going to be announced, like Rockwool, for example. Presently, the rules are, you have to advertise it in a newspaper of local circulation. You have to advertise it twice. I think you also ought to have to advertise it electronically, in addition to that print advertising. A couple of years ago, the coal industry came up with a bill that would have done a complete switcharoo. Yes, let’s advertise it electronically, but in return for that, eliminate the requirement for advertising in print. Well, this wouldn’t work in coal country, because people in the southern coal fields, we think we’ve got bad internet here and bad cell phone service, it’s much, much worse down there. And for many people, the only way they get information is the local weekly newspaper in the county. I think the requirement needs to be for both, that’s an example of a change in statute I have to make the executive branch more transparent….
Richard: Where do you see it going? And what’s your current interpretation? What could or should be done regarding the Rockwool plant. I saw some of your comments, but just go ahead and explain for the viewers.
John Doyle: The fight against Rockwool is not necessarily against Rockwool per se. It’s a fight against air pollution and water pollution. In terms of water pollution, the EPA, the Federal EPA, strongly recommends to states, now West Virginia is one of the states that has what’s called primacy, where our Environmental Agency, the DEP, the Department of Environmental Protection, has the ability to regulate. But the regulations are not supposed to be any weaker than the federal floor. Now, the EPA says to the DEP, you should not allow settling ponds for storm water management in karst topography. Karst being the kind of porous limestone we have around here. Not up on the Blue Ridge, but the rest of the county, the part of the county that’s in the Shenandoah Valley. The DEP let them do it anyway.
Now, for heaven’s sake, sink holes can open up any time and they can get wider and wider and wider. You just don’t know. And it’s possible for a sinkhole to open up underneath one of these ponds that has a pretty thick liner. I’ll give him that. That the liners thick enough. But if the sink hole gets so wide that it’s wider than the liner, all that dirty water gets dumped into our groundwater. And well over half the people of Jefferson County get their drinking water from ground water. This is the kind of thing that we have to fight. And I’m hoping that this investigation of Rockwool will show that our DEP should have required them to use whatever type of storm water management EPA requires in karst. That’s just an example…
Richard: Another topic, with the current COVID 19 mandates of the governor, do you think he’s overstepped his bounds and would you support changing the West Virginia code, to require the legislature to automatically review those kind of mandates which now don’t have any expiration? Maybe they would have a 30-day limit. The legislature must reconvene. What do you think about that?
John Doyle: My biggest problem with the governor is, he has overstepped his bounds in terms of giving out money. The state constitution does not permit the governor to appropriate money. Yet he is taking it upon himself to do that. The Governor does have broad emergency powers, but he cannot appropriate money. I think most of the things that he’s done, I probably would have voted for, but he needed to call the legislature into session and say, Here’s my plan, present the plan; let members offer Amendments if they want it. We vote on the amendments and then we vote on the final plan. That’s the proper way to have done this…
Richard: He didn’t get the legislature’s input on the financing.
John Doyle: It’s not just input. The Constitution requires legislative approval for appropriating money.
Richard: On the constitutional side, what about the issue of saying which businesses could be open, they’re “essential”, others were not “essential”. As you know, many businesses struggled. More than a few have shut down permanently. Do you feel this is an infringement of, constitutional rights? Then on the individual side, saying to say people have to wear masks in certain conditions, based on spacing or square footage of the business. Is this appropriate? Or is this not appropriate?
John Doyle: I believe in the mask requirement, I think we all should have been required to wear masks from the beginning. If we had done that, if the President of the United States and all 50 governors had said that, I think we would have fewer than half of the people who have died from COVID would have died from COVID. Now, in terms of businesses, if we require people to wear masks, we could have let the businesses be open much more than they were. I think we went about it the wrong way.
Richard: Is it okay to shut a business down? Does the governor have authority to say that these small businesses are “non-essential” or does he not have authority?
John Doyle: I think the governor does have the authority to do it. I’m arguing that if he had required masks instead, we would not have had to shut them down.
Richard: One issue I’ve worked on in the legislature, talking to legislators such as yourself, is the issue of vaccine choice or health freedom. And specifically, in order to attend school in West Virginia, all vaccinations are required, no exceptions, except extremely hard to get medical exceptions, which are very few, like 100 statewide. So short question, do you support providing religious or conscientious exemptions for a parent or even can be an adult in some cases, like employers sometimes required vaccines, who has a conscientious or religious objection?
John Doyle: Richard, you know my answer to that question. So for the benefit of your listeners, I will say no, I do not. What might be the reasoning for that, why do you think it’s not appropriate? Public health. I mean, the first requirement of government is protection of the public health and safety, and that’s why we have stop signs and rules that you have got to drive on a certain side of the road. Yeah.
Richard: To me, that’s not a good enough answer, but we could probably have a long discussion on that. We’ll leave it at that for now. That’s clear enough for our viewers.
You had introduced legislation to have a type of red flag law where in certain circumstances that would mean firearms could be confiscated, I guess, in certain circumstances. And honestly, I haven’t read your proposal. Is that correct? You introduce that, and also, if so, why do you feel it’s necessary?
John Doyle: Because some people, a very few, very small number of people, a tiny minority, are in fact very, very dangerous to themselves and to people around them, particularly their loved ones. And, you’re right, I did sponsored that bill, it went nowhere. I did not expect it to go anywhere. I was very careful. I researched, I think about at least a dozen states had these laws. I researched them all. I regarded the one in Arizona as the one that was friendliest to civil liberties. I took the Arizona law and made it even more friendly to civil liberties. For example, under the bill I introduced, you cannot seize the firearm right away. Or at least you can, but only for a very short period of time, and the government is required, within 10 days to give the person a hearing so the person can come up and say, Here’s why I am not a danger, and the burden of proof is on the state to prove the person a danger in that situation. Not the reverse. So at any rate, I will say this, Richard, even the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia opposed my bill. But in private conversation, they told me, John, you’re right, you got the most civil liberties friendly version of this bill that there is anywhere in the country…
Related to this, my opponent likes to, at least leaves open the inference of the inference, that I’m in favor of de-funding the police. I am not. I want to give the police more money. Specifically, I want to raise their salaries. And I’ve always been an advocate for raising the salaries in the state police when I’ve been in the legislature, so there…..
Richard: Children themselves have very little risk. Of course, they’re teachers there. But generally the COVID itself has proven to be much less deadly than we thought, with something like 0.25% infection fatality rate. All that being said, it somewhat seems a lot of these things are political in the sense that there’s a lot of unnecessary restrictions, in my view. Do you have any comment on that?
John Doyle: I think you and I would disagree on some of those restrictions. I think some of them are necessary. But the bottom line is this. I trust the science. And the reason it’s gotten political, is that we have too many elected political leaders and appointed political leaders that have attempted to ignore the science for their own political benefit.
Richard: On the issue of taxation or increasing taxes, that’s a local issue, personally I know that was something we’re deciding here, I’m not for the excess levy. I think people are more capable of deciding how to spend their own money, so especially with things like the excess levy, and you could apply this out to the state level, the schools get funding mostly from the state level, or the state decides the funding. Would you say that we should, in some cases, increase taxes on gasoline or other things, or various kinds of taxes, personal property tax or different things, because there’s a need for various programs, or more to the side that, if people have more of their own money to spend, like the local school taxes, 40% for that excess levy increase in the property tax. I know it’s been in effect for decades, but it costs tax payers 40% more than if it wasn’t in effect. Should we reduce taxes? That’s the easy way to put it. Or do we need to increase them sometimes?
John Doyle: Some taxes should be reduced and some should not be. I have argued for doing away with the car tax. I think that is a real pain in the butt when it comes to the functioning of the economy. Now, if you do away with the tax, you either have to reduce the budget or you have to find another tax or fee or something, to replace the money. I advocate doubling the severance tax on energy-producing natural resources. That would give us an additional $250 million to $300 million a year in the state budget to do things with, and that would enable us to do away with the car tax. Now, it gets complicated because the car tax is part of the property tax. Property taxes go to local governments. So in order to do this, I think you have to mandate that the legislature come up with a replacement for local governments to get rid of that money. All of the property taxes go locally, and so I would insist that even though I’m for getting rid of the car tax, you’ve got to have an absolute, it would have to be done by a constitutional amendment, and there would have to be an absolute hard and fast mandate in that constitutional amendment forcing the legislature to replace the money for counties and cities and school districts dollar for dollar…
Richard: It’s kind of really weird that the Rockwool are is part of Ranson when it’s not. So I think that has been corrected, right? It’s not adjacent to Ransom. Am I not correct, that’s not adjacent?
John Doyle: No, they used a highway, that’s why it’s called pipe stem; sometimes called shoe string. You take two or three miles of a highway; it connects you to a farm. You annex the highway and the farm. And the irony is, it happened when Dave Hamill was mayor of Ranson, God rest his soul. Dave Hamill wanted to shed Ransom of its reputation as being a factory town. And he envisioned moving the train station, the commuter train station, from Duffields to that location, to Kearneysville. And turning that into a multi-use complex; offices, retail, apartments, single-family homes. And that was Dave Hamill’s vision, and that’s why he persuaded Ranson to do that, pipe stem annexation; to shed their manufacturing image. And look what we have now.
Richard: I’ll agree with you on the lack of transparency in that. That’s certainly a problem. I’m not enough up to answer properly about all the different legislation of 2001, and you said previous, but I do believe that has been corrected now, right, that is correct. The problem of the pipe stem and the minor boundary adjustment.
John Doyle: That is exactly right. When the second one happened, Herb Snyder and I went to work again, and we passed a bill, I think it was in 08, and that’s what created what’s called the urban growth boundary.
Richard: But Mr. Simon was saying there was a more recent bill in the last session or so about the so-called minor boundary adjustment.
John Doyle: There was… There was… And again, and he is right about this. The Municipal League and the County Commissioners Association are constantly fighting each other over stuff like this, and the legislature has to come in and referee, and what we usually say is, if you two come together on something, we’ll pass it. We’ll presume its okay with both of you and pass it. And that sort of approach usually works, but every now and then it doesn’t.
Richard: In conclusion, I guess you indirectly or directly talked about a lot, but did you want to say anything else about how you will differentiate yourself and why voters should choose you versus Mr. Simon?
John Doyle: I think I have, and I hope I’ve answered all your questions. I would just say this. He calls himself a common sense candidate, and I personally don’t think he’s making sense.