Our fall pledge drive ends on Friday, and we're still $5,000 short of our goal.
Help make in-depth reporting sustainable with your tax-deductible donation today.
First Tunisia, then Egypt, now...West Virginia? Well, no, not exactly. But delegate Larry Kump has had it up to here with his state's government. "I take pride in being a Mountaineer," says the freshman legislator—but he'd rather break his beloved state apart than see it suffer on as an economic backwater.
"Our per capita income in West Virginia is 47th in the United States; it's one of the few things we're not 50th in," Kump says. "We've lost 10,000 manufacturing jobs over the past three years. Gross Domestic Product is 49th in the nation."
He adds, "I'd prefer West Virginians stay together and just get their act together—but if they don't, I think it's a good idea to go elsewhere."
Elsewhere, in this case, means moving back in with the ex. Last week, Kump, a self-identified "libertarian grassroots populist" with tea party ties, introduced a bill in the state legislature calling for a non-binding referendum on secession. Specifically, Kump suggests that the three counties of the state's eastern panhandle break away from the mother ship and become a part of Virginia (as they were prior to 1863). His reason is simple: Kump believes the state government has created an economic climate that's holding its citizens back. West Virginia's almost heaven, in other words, but it's an awful big "almost."
"One of my favorite sayings here in West Virginia is 'Thank God for Mississippi,'* because if it wasn't for Mississippi, we'd be fiftieth in everything," says Kump (who clearly hasn't seen this map). "All you need to do is cross the border in any of the surrounding states and they're all doing much better than we are."
Kump's hardly the first person to contemplate leaving West Virginia, but his grievances are noteworthy in part because of what inspired him: Unleashing Capitalism, a 2007 pro-business manifesto edited by West Virginia University economist Russell Sobel. The book, supported by funding from the energy conglomerate Koch Industries, has become a must-read for the state's reform-minded conservatives, who tout it as a blueprint for economic growth. The state's GOP chairman called the book "our party platform" when it was first released; it's spawned a sequel (about South Carolina), and been honored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a Washington-based think tank backed by Exxon-Mobil.