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Carmichael: WVDO head must rise to challenge

Lawmakers are being asked to consider whether West Virginia needs two new cabinet positions as the state aims to diversify and jump-start its economy, and attract new visitors who might one day become residents.

House Bill 2019 would make the West Virginia Development Office and the Division of Tourism cabinet-level positions, taking them out from under the umbrella of the Department of Commerce.

Chelsea Ruby, commissioner of tourism, has been outstanding in her job since 2017. Not a peep has been made about elevating her status. On the other hand, former state Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who is brand new in his position as head of the WVDO, is prompting some objections. Carmichael has rubbed more than a few lawmakers and voters the wrong way in recent years.

Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, went so far as to call out what he said was Carmichael’s “bad behavior.”

“When a bipartisan supermajority of this body signed a petition to bring ourselves back (into special session this summer to appropriate federal C.A.R.E.S. Act dollars), basically, there’s one person that stood in the way of that,” Pushkin said. “And we’re rewarding that bad behavior with a cabinet-level position and retirement plan.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is House Government Organization Committee Chairman Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, who has also had his run-ins with Carmichael, but isn’t worried about that now.

“I am praying that he is an unmitigated success,” Steele said. ” … If I’ve got to buy his business cards, if I’ve got to buy his … lunch, I will do it to make him successful.”

While there is some danger in wanting to throw anything it takes at someone to make them appear successful, one can understand Steele’s sense of urgency. Carmichael will have to do difficult work quickly — and he will have to throw out the notion that West Virginia must cling to the way things have always been done — if he is to approach success.

He’ll have to be more than a showman, and he will have to do some things that will not be immediately popular with all Mountain State residents. If removing a layer of bureaucracy above him helps that effort, fine.

Del. Vernon Criss, R-Wood, is right. This is about elevating “the importance of these two offices, not the people.”

Ruby has turned her office into one that warrants the elevation. Carmichael will have to prove he can do the same.

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