When [Robert] Byrd became senator in 1959, West Virginia ranked No. 39 in median family income, and No. 42 in per capita income. Today, it's No. 48 in both categories.
True, Byrd was never a governor of the state even if he was its political patron. Also true is that mining companies developed more efficient techniques for extracting coal and natural gas, which eliminated the need for many blue collar jobs. Laid-off workers lacked the skills to attract other types of businesses and college students couldn't find jobs after graduation, so they left. Such dramatic changes would be serious obstacles for any politician.
But other states learned to cope with similar economic change. Take North Carolina, a state West Virginia beat in the rankings in 1959. Back then, the Tar Heel state lacked a skilled work force. But it kept taxes low and regulations light, allowing private actors to harness the state's resources. . . .