Monday, June 28, 2010

The King Of Pork Is Dead, Long Live The Process

The loss of Sen. Robert Byrd who died Monday is not any particular game changer of politics played out in Washington for it is peanuts compared to other people's pork he fed the folks in his home state of West Virginia.

Byrd was dubbed the "King of Pork" and damned proud wearing that mantel no matter how hard the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste tried to embarrass him. Byrd even flipped the bird at his detractors.

I come before you today not to bury or malign the longest serving senator in United States history but to reflect on the impact he bestowed on his fellow West Virginians, recipients of more federal money than any of the other 49 states.

Robert Byrd was old school politician. Until stepping down two years ago as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which he served as a member for 49 years, he doled out at least $5.5 billion in projects for West Virginia.

And that was only since 1991 which the watchdog group tracked. It does not include $1.2 billion from 1995 to 2008 in projects the group claims most likely attributed to Byrd.

Whether West Virginia voters endorsed their senator's political stands on other issues, it didn't matter for he was their rainmaker and why he was elected a record nine terms.

Even as age was wearing down the old warhorse, the last two budget sessions of 2008 and 2006 indicates he was still on his game.

In 2008, Byrd sent $326 million to West Virginia which was $179.80 per person. It ranked 4th nationally. The national average was $33.77 per person.

In 2006, it was $239 million in pork projects that amounted to $131.58 per person when the national average for all other states was $30.55.

Let's put aside all the statues, monuments, roads, highways, bridges and buildings named after Sen. Robert Carlyle Byrd in West Virginia. In stead, let's peek at the year 2005 for specific allocations he and his constituents deemed necessary to be paid by other people's money:

Agriculture -- $11,452,000

   -$4,418,000 for the GIS Center of Excellence at WVU
   -$3,638,000 for the Appalachian Fruit Laboratory in Kearneysville
   -$860,000 for Appalachian small farmer outreach
   -$711,000 for aquaculture product and marketing development
   -$654,000 for agriculture waste utilization research
   -$569,000 for water pollutants research
   -$300,000 for the Potomac and Ohio River Basin Soil Nutrient Project
   -$150,000 for turfgrass research in Beaver

Energy and Water -- $75,372,000

   -$25,000,000 for the Marmet Lock on the Kanawha River
   -$9,000,000 for the Nuclear Engineering Teaching Laboratory Training Facility at Camp Dawson
   -$6,600,000 for Bluestone Lake dam safety
   -$59,000 for Island Creek at Logan

Interior -- $18,066,000

   -$4,275,000 for the New River Gorge National River
   -$3,400,000 for Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
   -$1,086,000 for molecular biology and a water resource study at Leetown Science Center
   -$1,000,000 for freshwater mussel recovery and the Wild Fish Propagation Center at White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery

Labor/HHS -- $56,528,000

   -$20 million for WVU to construct a Biomedical Science Research Center
   -$4 million for Mountain State University to construct the Allied Health Technology Tower
   -$2 million for Marshall University for a mobile medical unit that will provide pediatric care to children in rural areas of Wayne, Lincoln, and Cabell counties
   -$1,050,000 for the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation
   -$135,000 for the Kanawha County Board of Education for the Herbert Hoover High School Technology Project

Military Construction -- $23,150,000

   -$13 million for a C-5 airport parking apron/hydrant system at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg
   -$6 million for a fire crash rescue station at Yeager Air National Guard Base
   -$4,150,000 for a C-5 flight simulator at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg

Transportation/Treasury -- $95,350,000

   -$15 million for the King Cole Highway in Mingo County
   -$15 million for Corridor H
   -$3 million for improvements to U.S. Route 35 in Mason County
   -$1.4 million  for WVU’s Exhaust Emissions Testing Initiative
   -$750,000 for the I-95/West Virginia Drive Interchange
   -$200,000 for street scape improvements in Berkeley Springs, which offers visitors “state-of-the-art spas, unique shops and local arts, all surrounded by West Virginia’s splendid outdoors.”

Veterans Affairs/HUD -- $61,429,250

   -$4,296,000 for the Vandalia Heritage Foundation
   -$2,037,000 for Glenville State College for the construction of a new campus community center and the planning and design of a new science center
   -$1,250,000 for the McDowell County Commission for infrastructure and site development at Indian Ridge Industrial Park
   -$750,000 for Beckley for downtown revitalization
   -$657,000 for the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation in Lewisburg for facilities construction
   -$97,000 for the Strand Theatre Preservation Society in Moundsville for theatre renovations
   -$97,000 for the Tyler County Commission for facilities construction and renovations
   -$72,750 for the Wetzel County 4-H Camp in Martinsville for facilities renovation.

Sen. Byrd was the "conscience" of the U.S. Senate who rewrote Senate rules and carried a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his coat pocket at all times.
But most of all he was the gravy train express for West Virginia and the epitome of when all is said and done the only thing that matters is looking out for the people who got him there. 



My condolences to the Byrd family and the people of West Virginia. The obituary I have written is not an indictment of the man who died at age 92. It is the portrayal of a political reality in which our system of governance works in the narrow prism of pork and earmarks. For a man who prided himself on the rule of law and the constitution, Sen. Byrd turned his back on a process by abusing power as a senior committee member and condoning the practice of earmarks allowing federal money spent without a hearing. But it is a proven process in Congress where deals are made under the umbrella that if you vote for my project, I'll vote for your lousy bridge to no where in some other state.

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