Government

Region losing political clout as census shows population still decreasing

Posted on Aug 29, 2021

By CHARLES BOOTHE Bluefield Daily Telegraph Aug 29, 2021

BLUEFIELD — The 2020 census shows that all area counties in both states lost population since 2010 and that does not bode well for funding or political power.

Virginia as a state gained population in that 10-year period, from 8 million to 8.5 million, a 6.7 percent increase.

However, Southwest Virginia counties saw an overall loss of 8.4 percent.

According to preliminary estimates, Tazewell County’s population fell from 45,078 in 2010 to 40,429 in 2020, a 10.3 percent drop.

Buchanan County saw a decline from 24,098 to 20,355, a 15.5 percent decrease while Bland County’s population fell from 6,824 to 6,270, an 8 percent drop.

Giles County had the lowest population loss during that 10-year span, from 17,286 in 2010 to 16,787 in 2020, a 3.3 percent drop.

Job loss is the primary reason for the population decrease, said Tazewell County Southern District Supervisor Mike Hymes.

“The census numbers are very concerning but not unexpected given the anti-coal Obama Administration was in control from 2009 to 2017 so our coal related jobs have declined and we have been unable to reverse the job decline,” he said. “Reduced population in Southwest Virginia will negatively impact our influence in Richmond and further reduce our ability to promote our county and our more conservative Tazewell County values.”

Del. James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell County, said that efforts are being made to reverse the trend.

“It is saddening to see Southwest Virginia continue to lose population,” he said.” It is very similar to what occurred in the coalfields of Southern West Virginia many years ago. Some of our best talent is being forced to leave.”

Morefield said strong efforts are being made to further diversify the economy, though.

“Some of these include ATV tourism, investing in renewable energy projects like the Hurley solar project, large coal and coke producers such as SunCoke investing $50 Million dollars in a foundry plant conversion in Buchanan County, to Project Jonah, a $228 Million dollar indoor salmon farm and processing facility that is currently under construction in Tazewell and Russell Counties,” he said. “I think it is apparent to leaders from our region that if localities are going to stop the loss of population they must partner with one another and stop competing. “

Progress is already being seen on that front, he said, with the coalfield counties of Tazewell, Buchanan, and Russell forming a regional industrial development authority.

“Project Jonah will be one of the first projects from which those counties will share the tax revenue on,” he said. “It is uncertain how the redistricting process will play out, but it is important to make every effort to keep as many of our communities together. It is my hope the census data will further prove to legislators from more affluent parts of the commonwealth that if significant investments like completing the Coalfields Expressway are not made the population loss of Southwest Virginia will become an even larger burden on the entire commonwealth.”

Tazewell County has joined other counties in the area in a lawsuit to count a part of the population that, if lost in the census, would adversely impact political clout and resources.

The lawsuit is trying to reverse a provision under the Virginia Redistricting Committee’s “Statutory Criteria” that requires “[p]ersons incarcerated in a federal, state, or local correctional facility” to be counted for redistricting purposes “in the locality of their address at the time of incarceration.”

“In other words, the Statutory Criteria demand that incarcerated persons be counted for redistricting persons somewhere other than the place where they are actually incarcerated,” the lawsuit says. “Virginia prisons are typically located in rural districts with greater Republican voting strength…”

Five state and federal correctional facilities are located in Tazewell, Buchanan and Russell counties.

A similar population loss story is on the West Virginia side, except for statewide numbers.

West Virginia’s population dropped from 1.85 million to 1.79 million, or 3.2 percent, the largest decline of any state.

That loss will mean losing a Congressional district.

Currently, there are three Congressional districts with Rep. Carol Miller representing the 3rd District, covering the southern counties.

In 2022, only two districts will cover the entire state.

Mercer County’s population was 62,264 in 2010, but fell to 59,664 in 2020, a drop of 5.6 percent.

McDowell County’s population dropped 20.3 percent, from 22,113 to 19,111.

Monroe County only saw a slight fall, from 13,502 to 12,376, a 1.7 percent drop.

The City of Bluefield saw a 7.7 percent population decline, from 10,447 in 2010 to 9,658 in 2020.

Princeton dropped from 6,432 to 5,872, a 7.3 percent decline.

All of these figures are preliminary estimates and Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett said the population loss may be greater.

“A loss of 8 percent or more is possible,” he said. “That is significant.”

It is important, he said, because the loss of a more regional Congressional representation may mean less attention to the southern counties.

“It doesn’t allow us the connectivity for our voice on a political spectrum,” he said.

The loss of population also impacts state resources, local revenue and jobs, and how the county invests in health care in all communities, he added, and it also affects how others view Mercer County and the state.

To Puckett, though, it is more a matter of looking to the future, not what happened in the past.

“One of the main goals is, we have to showcase what we have,” he said, and let people know this is a great place to live and work. “We have to focus on the positive.”

Puckett said one of those big positives is the location close to major highways.

“This is a great location, a hub, with easy access to interstates (and railroad),” he said, adding that many positive things are already happening, including new companies like Intuit and a new sanitation manufacturer in the former Blue Prince Plaza.

The Mercer County Economic Development Authority is doing a good job, he said, as well as the EDAs in Bluefield and the newest one in Princeton.

“We need to give people the confidence that we really are in a great place,” he said.

Del. Marty Gearheart, R-27th District-Mercer County, agrees with Puckett that the biggest regional concern is losing the Congressional seat and the influence that brings in Washington.

“It does make a difference,” he said.

As far as the redistricting issue is concerned, Gearheart is on the state Joint Committee on Redistricting and said the process will be a fair one.

“We will make certain that Mercer County is represented in the best possible way in the whole redistricting process,” he said.

Gearheart said redistricting is like working a jigsaw puzzle, trying to make sure each district’s population is as equal as possible.

That population number is calculated by dividing the state’s total population by 100 (the number of delegates).

Based on the new state population figure of 1.79 million, that would mean each House district should have a population of 17,900, plus or minus 5 percent, he said.

The districts often involve more than one county, he said, as continuous parts of another county’s population may be needed to reach that population.

Mercer County currently has three delegates, but a small part of the county in the Bramwell area is part of the 26th District which includes McDowell County.

That could change with the population drop in Mercer County.

But Gearheart said counties, cities and towns are held together in representation as much as possible.

Redistricting public meetings are now being held in both states, but the process was delayed by census results being received later than usual.

Virginia has seats up in the General Assembly this year and usually the redistricting process would have been complete before then.

However, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, current district lines will be used because the process cannot be completed in time for approval by the General Assembly.

West Virginia has until the deadline to file for the 2022 election to complete the process of approval by legislators.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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Mike Supports Second Amendment Rights

Posted on Aug 21, 2021

Mike Supports Second Amendment Rights

Mike Hymes supports our Second Amendment Rights!

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Tazewell County becomes Second Amendment Sanctuary, adds militia ordinance during widely attended meeting

Posted on Aug 20, 2021

Jim Talbert | The News & Press Originally published on Dec 3, 2019 Updated Dec 11, 2019

TAZEWELL, Va. — Tazewell County joined the ranks of “Second Amendment Sanctuary” counties on Tuesday — and took it one step further.

Before a crowd of more than 200, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed two resolutions during their meeting on Tuesday night. The Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution and a resolution promoting the order of militia within Tazewell County both passed to loud cheers from a crowd that overflowed the 189-seat board room.

Board Chairman Travis Hackworth announced at the beginning of the meeting that both resolutions would be unanimously passed. The militia resolution was approved on a poll earlier this month, but county residents via Facebook and other means kept asking for the sanctuary resolution as well.

Hackworth said board members started getting messages from state legislators following the Nov. 5 election, which saw Democrats take control of both the House of Delegates and the state Senate for the first time in 25 years.

He said elected officials expressed concern that legislation might pass that would chip away at Second Amendment rights. Southern District Supervisor Mike Hymes contacted Interim County Attorney Chase Collins and had him get a copy of the sanctuary county legislation passed in Carroll County, one of the first counties in the state to pass a resolution protecting gun rights, and similar resolutions from other localities.

“We went through them with three attorneys. It was not our intent to water anything down. We wanted something with teeth in it. Something we could use to file injunctions and defend in court,” Hackworth said.

County Administrator Eric Young, one of the attorneys, along with Collins and Eric Whitesell, who helped draft the ordinances, said the resolutions allow the county to take action in the event that state or federal laws are passed violating the Second Amendment.

Board member Charlie Stacy, also an attorney, praised the citizens for their knowledge of upcoming bills in the state Legislature. “This board is blessed with three lawyers, and they designed a strategy to win in a court of law,” Stacy said.

He said the ordinances approved by the board allow the county to challenge any resolution in state or federal court. “The resolution is truly designed to allow us to hire lawyers to see that laws infringing on the Second Amendment never last any longer than it takes a court to remove them,” he said.

Both resolutions call for the elimination of funding to any enforcement of laws that infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. Stacy and other board members said a concern that state leaders might cut off funding to the county or remove elected officials who refuse to enforce state law prompted them to pass the militia ordinance.

“Our position is that Article I, Section 13, of the Constitution of Virginia reserves the right to ‘order’ militia to the localities,” Young said. “Therefore, counties, not the state, determine what types of arms may be carried in their territory and by whom. So, we are ‘ordering’ the militia by making sure everyone can own a weapon.”

The sanctuary resolution cites the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which states “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Hymes said he knew what his constituents wanted and asked for the amendment last month.

“We live in an area where the nearest deputy might be 45 minutes away. People feel the need to have a gun to protect themselves and their property,” he said. In addition to allowing the county to order a militia, the ordinance calls for concealed weapons training for all residents of the county who are eligible to own a gun and the teaching of firearms safety in public schools.

Sheriff Brian Hieatt and newly elected Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Plaster both expressed their support for the resolutions and belief that the Constitution of the United States supersedes state laws.

 

Jim Talbert is a freelance writer.

Source article posted @ https://heraldcourier.com/news/tazewell-county-becomes-second-amendment-sanctuary-adds-militia-ordinance-during-widely-attended-meeting/article_6a3d4e37-64f2-5365-9b71-7e4a694602e3.html

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Hazard pay bonus for deputies lowered in final Va. budget bill

Posted on Aug 12, 2021

By CHARLES BOOTHE Bluefield Daily Telegraph Aug 12, 2021

 

RICHMOND, Va. — An amendment to Virginia’s biennial budget bill that would have given sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers a $5,000 hazard pay bonus was reduced to $3,000 in the final version.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, submitted the amendment for the $5,000 last week and it was passed by a voice vote in the Senate. Gov. Ralph Northam had proposed a $1,000 bonus.

But a conference committee later reduced the $5,000 to $3,000, funding that will come from Virginia’s share of the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP).

Hackworth said he was disappointed in the change and joined other Republicans in opposing the state budget in the 2021 special session.

“I promised voters that I will always balance fighting for our region while also standing for our values,” he said. “The compromise necessary to support this bill would have forced me to support a slush fund for our Governor and Democrat majority to advance their progressive agenda with taxpayer dollars while exploring ways to take away our gun rights. While I am glad we made this bill slightly more palatable, I simply could not betray our values and region by supporting such a bill.”

Hackworth said in the end the overall budget was not acceptable.

“Even though we did get some wins out of the budget especially the Sheriffs bonus increase, ultimately there was too much bad for my taste,” he said.

Hackworth listed several particular spending items in the budget he opposes, including:

• $800 million discretionary fund for the Governor to spend without oversight.

• $2.5 million to fund a “Gun Violence Fund.”

• $4.5 million for “voter education” and expanding early voting on Sunday.

• Funding for special interest groups on monuments.

• Extending the eviction moratorium through June 30, 2022, “further placing hardship on landlords that depend on rental income to make their mortgage payments.

Under the passed budget, a committee must be formed and report back to the Virginia General Assembly by October 2021 on the Commonwealth’s law enforcement salary disparities.

But Tazewell County Southern District Supervisor Mike Hymes said the $3,000 bonus does not extend to locally funded deputies. The state pays the salaries for a majority of the positions, but not all.

“The bonus only goes to positions approved by the state compensation board which does not cover all our county deputies,” he said. “I plan to make the motion that we pay the 15 non-compensation board officers the same bonus out of our county ARP funds. This will be placed on the agenda for our September meeting.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

Original article @ https://www.bdtonline.com/news/local_news/hazard-pay-bonus-for-deputies-lowered-in-final-va-budget-bill/article_b6fa1c99-7257-58ab-9816-a558537927ef.html

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‘Listen to us’

Posted on Jun 15, 2021

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