Control: Manchin power?

Published: November 28, 2010 1:00 PM
By Charleston Gazette editorial

Departed Gov. Joe Manchin has been renowned for taking personal control over state agencies, even supposedly independent ones. He made himself board chairman of the Educational Broadcasting Authority and took command of the Parkways Commission.

As Manchin prepared to leave for his new role as U.S. senator, his wife, Gayle, announced that she will not resign from the West Virginia Board of Education and perhaps other state boards, even though she will live in Washington.

As one of his final acts as governor, Manchin appointed his staff policy chief, Jim Pitrolo, chairman of the powerful state Health Care Authority, which will perform a critical role as health-care reform unrolls in the Mountain State.

Pitrolo is a former car dealer. He deposed Sonia Chambers, who has ably done that job for 10 years. She came to the job with extensive public- and private-sector health-care administration experience, including administrative jobs with the Department of Health and Human Resources, and the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

What a trade. Manchin showed disregard for the well-being of West Virginia's health-care system at a time when it is extremely important that capable, knowledgeable people hold such jobs.

Chambers will stay on at the Health Care Authority as a member, luckily for taxpayers and luckily for Pitrolo. As Senate Health Chairman Roman Presioso, D-Marion, said, "He's got his work cut out for him. This is an incredibly complex job."

Observers think the Pitrolo appointment is another way for Sen. Manchin to maintain long-distance control over a major West Virginia department, even though he's gone from state government and gone from the state.

The three-member Health Care Authority wields enormous power over the all-important medical industry in West Virginia, setting hospital and insurance rates. It's an agency of heavy significance, especially now, as health reform unfolds.

The Manchins have entered a new phase of their life, focusing on national issues in the U.S. capital. They should not be taking even more control of state-level functions back home.