EDITORIAL: Jim Lees is a Brilliant Courtroom Lawyer, But...

HNN Staff
Jim Lees
Jim Lees

Putnam County Attorney Jim Lees has popped up again, this time in the Op/Ed pages of the Charleston Gazette recently.  By the tone of Lees' remarks, one could come away wondering if he was thinking about running for U.S. Senate next year.

We will be the first to say that Lees has contributed much to West Virginia's civic life.  As a transplant from Pennsylvania, he has done well for his adopted state when it comes to leading important reform efforts through the courts here. 

Lees is smart, friendly, and an imposing physical presence.   He would make a great human representation of the state animal, the black bear. 

However, for all his ability, Lees has also lost more than once for high office in West Virginia, most recently in a State Senate contest with Republican Mike Hall.  That had to hurt.  Lees--who has a national fan base through his legal speeches--had to have risen the day after that election and wondered what happened.  How could a local yokel like Delegate Mike Hall win out over him?

Answer:  Lees' ideas are old news.  As fresh and engaging as Lees himself can be, whether in court or with callers back in his talk radio days, he is stuck in a muddled liberal/moderate view that went out with Jennings Randolph back in 1984.

Randolph was avuncular about it, while Lees can't help being an attorney who hopes that logic alone can sway the masses.  But that's never been the way politics works, especially here in West Virginia.  If the people start to smell that you are talking down to them, trying to convert them, or otherwise distinguishing yourself as not one of them, well, you need to find another sandbox.

As one example, in a previous statewide campaign, Lees decided to take on the gun control issue in a state that has two crossed rifles in its state seal. Why?  Well, Lees had a point to make, namely that there is a big difference between a traditional rifle and a more advanced gun.  Therefore, West Virginians shouldn't worry about gun control.  Whoa.

But Lees missed the larger point as to why so many West Virginians--for generation after generation--have owned guns.  This is a rural state, and the Sheriff 's deputies can't always get to your house on time when a prowler is around.  Most people here do use just a traditional shotgun or a rifle in such a tense situation.  But now higher-powered weapons are available, and some want them to protect their families.

So Lees' great disconnect was that he was missing was the emotional component on the issue of gun-control.  Most people who purchase a semi-automatic rifle aren't dreaming of shooting up their neighbors.  They're thinking of protecting their families.  And to their mind, if they can protect their families, which is their all-in-all, better with a semi-automatic than a rifle, that is a good enough argument for them.

In short, Lees came across as someone who just couldn't get it when it came to a popular position with the public. He was debating the voters whose support he sought rather than his opponent! That's a dangerous place to be in politically, let alone advertising it. 

Another attorney candidate, Abraham Lincoln, knew better than to make the same mistake in his famous 1858 U.S. Senate race against the incumbent Stephen Douglas.  Lincoln never chastised the Illinois voters for being racist, which they were for the most part. 

Rather, Lincoln appealed to another side of them, their innate sense of fairness, when attacking any further expansion of slavery.   They listened, and even if Lincoln had to wait until 1860 for his great victory, he had gained a huge following.

Jim Lees was a policeman before he was an attorney, and so he may naturally have a predisposition against any citizen misusing their firearms.  Fair enough.  However, it will always be difficult to tell most West Virginians, especially those in our many rural counties, that they will just have to wait until the very thin blue line of police protection comes to their assistance in the dead of night. 

When Lees can abandon some of his 1970s idealism and help West Virginians with better employment and educational opportunities, then maybe we'll listen with a more open mind to his liberal/moderate ideas on gun control and abortion. 

But not until then.  We've already seen his act a few times now and know it well.  










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