23 March 2007

John Edwards Planning Charleston Fundraiser

2008 Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards is slated to attend a Thursday evening fundraiser in Charleston, state party officials tell The Associated Press.

I note that Edwards made several stops to the Mountain State as John Kerry's running mate during their unsuccessful 2004 bid. Bush-Cheney carried West Virginia (again), and also edged out the Democratic ticket in Kanawha County.

Edwards' scheduled visit would also come one week after he and his wife revealed the terrible news that her cancer has resurfaced.

The Thursday event would mark the second time West Virginia made the 2008 campaign trail, as the GOP's Mitt Romney was here earlier this month.

Quote of the Day

"If this is how we treat dedicated public servants of great integrity who effectively pursue true justice with great skill and honor, it is indeed disappointing."

-- Former U.S. Attorney Kasey Warner, on the recent firings of federal prosecutors.

U.S. Attorneys

Offering a unique perspective, ex-U.S. Attorney Kasey Warner has added his voice to those questioning the recent firings of eight of his former peers.

Warner told The Associated Press that he knows five of the eight at least professionally and, as a result, "I don't like what I see."

I point out in the AP story that "As President Bill Clinton had done before him, Bush replaced all but one of the country's 93 U.S. attorneys after taking office in 2001."

This point seems lost in the current debate. I noticed this editorial cartoon in the Sunday Gazette-Mail.

It reflects a recurring talking point. While trying to figure out why Warner was forced out of his post in August 2005, I actually went through the list of 93 U.S. attorneys to see who else among Bush's picks was gone.

Bush had indeed replaced all but one of Clinton's appointments by the time I covered Warner's ouster as U.S. attorney for West Virginia's southern federal court district. More than half of the new president's choices were nominated, confirmed and in place within his first year in office.

As I relate in today's AP story, the lone Clinton holdout, Paul Warner of Utah, left in February 2006 to become a federal magistrate judge in that district.

The ongoing debate has also yielded this editorial cartoon.

As I write in the AP story, about three-fourths of Bush's U.S. attorney appointments were still on the job when Warner was fired. I've been updating my list, to reflect the changes Bush has made since then. So far, my research shows that nearly half of the administration's original appointments remain at their posts.

And as I also note, Warner has declined to comment on his August 2005 ouster, but discounts the media's proposed explanations.

I began exchanging e-mails with Warner over the weekend, while he was in Tajikistan for what he called a "volunteer anti-corruption" trip. The Charleston Gazette has also spoken to Warner, as has The Charleston Daily Mail.

GOP Bigwig Coming to Cabell County

Two weeks after Mitt Romney added West Virginia to the 2008 presidential campaign trail with his appearance at the Kanawha County Lincoln Day Dinner, newly minted Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan is slated to speak at the Cabell County version.

That county's GOP executive committee expects to host Duncan this evening at Guyan Country Club.

22 March 2007

Garrison among WVU presidency finalists

The committee searching for West Virginia University's next president has narrowed the field to three candidates, as The Associated Press reports.

The short list includes Mike Garrison, the former Wise administration official who just resigned as chairman of the Higher Education Policy Commission.

M. Duane Nellis is provost of Kansas State University, but was a dean at WVU until 2004.

Portland State University President Daniel Bernstine rounds out the field. With a resume that includes several prior postings at historic Howard University, he would be WVU's first black president if selected.

Manchin Again Wields The Veto Pen

The pursuit of crankheads and other ne'er-do-wells who steal copper and other metals collided with the civil liberties of scrap dealers in legislation vetoed by Gov. Joe Manchin.

Manchin outlined several constitutional concerns about the bill, as The Associated Press reports. The measure targeted metal thefts by holding buyers more accountable.

Rising prices for copper and other metals have spurred some pretty brazen, reckless and even fatal thefts both here in West Virginia and in a number of other states. Thieves have sawed the copper plumbing off a public park fountain in Huntington, stripped homes of their downspouts and ripped down telephone and power lines _ sometimes frying themselves in the process.

Then there's the tale from last year of the two fellow who became lost in an idled coal mine while on the hunt for scrap metal.

Manchin vetoed six bills before the Legislature left town on Sunday, giving lawmakers time to pass corrected versions. With the House and Senate adjourned, this and all other bills vetoed simply die.

The governor has until April 4 to sign each remaining bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature now that the session has ended. (I pointed out earlier that bills during this time period have a 15-day deadline for action, and Sundays don't count).

The budget bill and the two supplemental spending measures passed Sunday, however, require action by Friday.

21 March 2007

Manchin signs table games bill; foes ready to sue

Gov. Joe Manchin signed the table games bill this afternoon _ though one of the racetracks that stands to benefit after pursuing this legislation for years chose not to wait.

As The Associated Press reports, the governor approved the bill one day after Ohio County set a June 9 special election on the table games question.

As AP and the Wheeling newspapers relate, the county commission unanimously approved a petition seeking the Saturday election from the Wheeling track.

The Northern Panhandle's other track, Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort, plans to follow Wheeling's lead. It says it will petition Hancock County's commission for an early June special election at its April 5 meeting.

The West Virginia Family Foundation still intends to sue over the legislation and its local option election provision. The Ohio County Commission's decision _ not the governor's signature _ provides the necessary cause of action, its lawyer and executive director tell AP.

Another gambling foe, the West Virginia Values Coalition, also plans to continue its fight in the racetrack counties, MetroNews reports (with audio).

Lawmakers timed the bill to take effect 90 days after its March 8 passage. Though Manchin signed it today, it becomes law June 6.

It can take several days after passage to prepare a bill in its final format and deliver it to the governor. The state constitution gives the governor five days, not including Sundays, to act on a bill once delivered during session.

Manchin received the bill March 15, while the Legislature was still in (extended) session, and so had until today to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

For bills delivered after a session ends, the governor has 15 days to act.

A 5-day deadline remains, however, for the budget bill and supplemental spending measures. As a result, Manchin has until Friday to act on the budget bill.

Table Games: Let the Voting Begin

Though he's indicated he will, Gov. Joe Manchin has not yet signed the racetrack table games legislation _ but that hasn't stopped the Ohio County Commission from scheduling a June 9 election under its local option provision, the Wheeling Intelligencer reports today.

Ohio County would be wasting no time, as the bill would become law June 6, or 90 days after its passage.

Hancock County is also weighing dates for a special election, according to the Weirton Daily Times.

But the West Virginia Family Foundation still intends to file a lawsuit challenging the legislation and its local option election provision.

20 March 2007

W.Va. #2 on Capitol Hill?

West Virginia has the second-most potent congressional delegation among the states, behind only North Dakota, according to the latest "power rankings" from Congress.org.

The nonpartisan group scores U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., as the third most powerful member of his chamber, a big boost to the Mountain State's average power ranking.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, bottoms out the state's delegation in the rankings, at 421st among 439 members of the U.S. House.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, ranked 22nd, the state's best showing among House members. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, ranked 64th.

Sen. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., ranked 13th in the 100-seat Senate. He moved up 59 places since last year's rankings, for one of the biggest gains among senators.

Capito's poor showing is at least partly due to her party's loss of the majority in the House. But the four-term Republican also ranks 185th among 202 GOP members.

Capito is also last among the 38 House members first elected in 2000, a group that includes 24 other Republicans. She lagged behind most of the Class of 2000 in last year's rankings.

Congress.org found that Capito has "weak committee assignments."

But Mollohan also dropped in the rankings, despite his party's ascendancy in the House. Congress.org said that while he has "good committee assignments that reflect greater influence or longer tenure" _ he is on Appropriations and chairs a subcommittee _ he earned "negative 'fizzle' points due to controversy/scandal."

Recent news reports suggest a federal grand jury may soon hear testimony about said fizzle.

A joint effort of two Beltway firms, Congress.org measured U.S. House and Senate members based on position (tenure, committee assignments and leadership posts), indirect influence (via media, congressional caucus) and legislative activity (getting bills passed or substantially amended).

The project also added a "sizzle factor," after finding that some members "exert or possess power that can't be measured by these standard measures."

"Our researchers reviewed thousands of media articles, hundreds of bills that passed out of committee and through each chamber, as well as the amendments that attempted to shape the outcome of legislation," the group explains in its methodology.

It also limited that research to the 2007 calendar year, through Feb. 16.

19 March 2007

Demise of Legislative Pay Raise, Theory #132

Though it did not emerge from the Senate until the 11th hour, some folks remain surprised that the much-discussed pay raise proposal for legislators did not survive the 60-day session.

The bill seemed to teeter between the House's active "calendar" of legislation up for consideration, and an inactive calendar that serves as a sort of parking lot (or grave, perhaps). It ended up in the latter.

The Charleston Gazette's Phil Kabler names an unexpected culprit behind the bill's demise in his column today.

Its defender to the bitter end, Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, lamented its failure to fellow senators during Sunday's brief special session.

The 2007 Session: Numbers of Note

The Legislature sent 273 bills to Gov. Joe Manchin out of 2,037 introduced during the 60-day session, passing 13.4% of the total.

That rate of passage was slightly higher than in 2006 (264 of 2301 bills passed, or 11.5%) or 2005 (258 of 2,115 bills, or 12.2%).

And besides approving more bills, the House and Senate this year passed a slightly greater amount in advance of the final night. Before Day 60, 53.1% passed, as opposed to 52% in 2006 and 50.2% in 2005.

As I noted in my session wrapup for The Associated Press, lawmakers in each chamber and from both parties have given some of the credit for the session's outcome to new House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne.

Quote of the Day

"Think of the high school kids who moon somebody on graduation night."

--Delegate Patti Eagloski Schoen, R-Putnam, citing a possible unintended consequence of legislation approved Sunday amending the state's indecent exposure law.

18 March 2007

The Legislature Passes Budget, Leaves Town

The West Virginia Legislature has finished its work, at least for the time being.

The House and Senate approved a $3.7 billion general revenue budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Associated Press has the story, and I've also put together a glance of the highlights.

Lawmakers also revived all 6 regular session bills vetoed by Gov. Joe Manchin so far. It then ended the extended session that began when the regular session concluded March 10.

Manchin then convened a brief (90-minute) special session to pass two more bills from the regular session (errors stranded each on the final night). He also had lawmakers pass two spending bills for the current budget year and extend the pay raises to state troopers.