31 March 2007

Quote of the Weekend

“Perhaps Vic forgets that (Jon) Amores didn’t leave his pregnant wife, this wasn’t his THIRD divorce in ten years and he didn’t abandon his son with intense medical and developmental needs.”

-- Amy McKinley, commenting on ex-husband-to-be Sen. Vic Sprouse to Phil Kabler in the Sunday Gazette-Mail. Sprouse, R-Kanawha, had invoked Amores this week while responding to Kabler's mention of Sprouse's pending divorce in an earlier column.

Amores Joins Team Manchin

Out as House Judiciary chairman when Speaker Rick Thompson took over this year, Jon Amores quit the Legislature on Friday to take a post in the state Commerce Department.

The Associated Press has the story, as does The Charleston Gazette. Both articles note that Amores' had switched his law license to inactive status; the 42-year-old lawyer has been involved in banking and mediation in recent years. Amores told me for the AP story that he is well on his way to returning it to active status, which would allow him to practice law.

The Gazette, meanwhile, also touches on Amores' recent divorce.

Amores is slated to start as deputy secretary and general counsel on April 10.

The Supreme Court vs. The Wire

Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office has asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider its recent 3-2 ruling that would require a judge to approve wiring informants before they are sent into the homes of suspects, The Journal of Martinsburg reports today.

“The majority’s decision will endanger lives and hamstrings efforts by prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to combat crime within their respective jurisdictions,” the newspaper quotes from the filing.

The filing also argues that "The ‘sanctity of the home’ is waived when the homeowner invites anyone to come inside to buy illicit narcotics."

The Supreme Court issued its ruling in late February. A "deeply dismayed" dissent was also filed at that time.

The Charleston Daily Mail has sought to gauge the majority ruling's potential impact. The Associated Press also had a story.

30 March 2007

Mezz & Friend: Not Guilty

A U.S. District Court criminal jury in Martinsburg has acquitted Jerry Mezzatesta, the ex-House Education chairman, and former Hampshire County Schools Superintendent David Friend.

The Associated Press has a story as does The Journal of Martinsburg, which covered the entire trial.

As AP reports, "Mezzatesta and Friend were each charged with defrauding the Hampshire County Board of Education and conspiring to misapply public funds between January 2004 and June 2005."

The AP article also notes that Mezzatesta, D-Hampshire, was previously "reprimanded and fined by the state Ethics Commission for violating a 1999 agreement that he would not use his legislative position to benefit the county." He also "pleaded no contest in 2004 to a Kanawha County misdemeanor charge of altering and destroying legislative computer records" amid an ethics investigation.

Bonus Quote Of The Day

“It felt like Pearl Harbor all over again — all these daggers and swords coming at me like I was a horrible person."

-- Jerry Mezzatesta, the former House Education Chairman, testifying during his federal criminal trial in Martinsburg, as reported by The Journal. Mezzatesta was found not guilty by his jury today.

Mezz Takes The Stand As Trial Winds Down

The Journal of Martinsburg continues its gavel-to-gavel coverage today in the federal criminal trial of ex-House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta, D-Hampshire, and David Friend, the county's former schools superintendent.

The Journal reports that the case is now in the hands of the jury after Mezzatesta testified and the defense and federal prosecutors offered closing arguments.

Mezzatesta and Friend are charged with "conspiracy and of misapplying public funds between January 2004 and June 2005. An indictment alleges Mezzatesta acted with an intent to derive an advantage in his effort to be re-elected in 2004," Edward Marshall writes.

If You Blinked, You Missed Him

2008 Democratic Presidential Candidate John Edwards made a brief Thursday afternoon appearance in downtown Charleston while in town for a private fundraiser.

The Associated Press was there (he was, after all, in the park outside the bureau's offices in the United Bank Building). Other media on hand included The Charleston Gazette, which also offers a photo, while West Virginia Media Holdings has video.

29 March 2007

The Hunt for WVU's Next President - UPDATED

UPDATE: Well, here's an unexpected twist: Judge Robert B. King, of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a WVU alumnus, has weighed in on the topic, The Associated Press reports.

Original post below...

Public Broadcasting's Scott Finn aired a piece this morning echoing questions about Mike Garrison's presence on the short list of candidates as West Virginia University's searches for its next president.

The recently resigned Higher Education Policy Commission chairman and former Wise administration official is one of three finalists for the post. The piece (transcript here) refers to Garrison as a "politically connected" candidate with ties to "many" members of the search committee.

The Charleston Daily Mail also has an article this morning scrutinizing Garrison's candidacy for the job. Under an "analysis" tag, the article parallels Garrison with the man he would succeed, David Hardesty.

The article notes that like Garrison, Hardesty was a lawyer and former state tax official lacking any real background in academia when he sought the presidency.

Interestingly, Hardesty came from Bowles, Rice, McDavid, Graff & Love. That's the same law firm of Ricklin Brown, a critic of Garrison's candidacy in the Public Broadcasting piece.

As noted earlier here, Garrison is a finalist along with M. Duane Nellis, Kansas State University provost and former WVU dean, and Portland State University President Daniel Bernstine.

Feds Hit Massey Mine With Record Fine

Federal mine regulators leveled a $1.5 million fine against Massey Energy Co. today, for violations stemming from their probe of last year's fatal fire at a subsidiary's Alma No. 1 mine in Logan County.

Associated Press Business Writer Tim Huber is on the scene in Logan and has all the details. (The article can also be found here.)

Quote of the Day

"It's a pretty small state. You can connect the dots pretty easily in West Virginia. To say someone knows somebody in this state is not saying a lot."

-- Steve Goodwin, chairman of WVU's board of governors and its presidential search committee, to The Associated Press regarding politics in the selection process.

Manchin Vetoes Turnpike Bill

The latest round pitting the Legislature against the parent agency of the West Virginia Turnpike ended late Wednesday with a veto from Gov. Joe Manchin, The Associated Press reports.

Manchin nixed a bill that would have required lawmakers' approval before any future toll rate hikes by the Parkways, Economic Development and Tourism Authority.

Legislators went back and forth during the recent session between mandating pre-approval or just a heads-up before the turnpike raised its tolls. The sparring with Parkways began last year after toll rates were hiked. Those increases were rescinded by a judge's order in a legal challenge against Parkways.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph also has the story, while The (Beckley) Register-Herald hears from some of the leading proponents of the vetoed bill.

UPDATE: The Charleston Daily Mail has a story as well.

28 March 2007

Quote of the Day

"Everybody needs an editor."

-- Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Jessica Greathouse to the Charleston Daily Mail, after a DEP press release listed absolutely the wrong 1-800 number for its REAP program (AP also has a version of the story).

Mezz Made It Happen

A federal criminal trial began Monday for Jerry Mezzatesta, the once-powerful former House Education chairman, and his county's former school superintendent David E. Friend.

The (Martinsburg) Journal is covering the U.S. District Court trial of Friend and the former Hampshire County Democrat, as is Public Broadcasting (audio link). AP has a story as well.

Capito Entering Cyberspace? - UPDATED

UPDATE: The answer, it seems, is no.

But at least one blogger was questioning the announced plans of U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to join his realm.

Buckeye State blogger Left of Ohio ("The political views and opinions of a young, liberal voter living in a battleground state") noted that Capito was slated to offer guest commentary today and Thursday at The Rail, the blog hosted by West Virginia Media Holdings.

Is it legal and/or ethical for a current member of Congress to write for a blog ran by a newspaper? Does this situation call for equal time for the opposite party? I'm not making a call one way or the other, I just find the situation interesting," this fellow writes.

I would note that newspapers routinely publish op-eds and columns from their local congresspeople. For some papers, they are a regular feature.

Members of Congress have also been blogging since at least 2005, my brief research shows. I also recall congressional candidates included blogs on their campaign web sites last year.

Sprouse '08?

The future political prospects of state Sen. Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, has become an issue since he ended his tenure as that chamber's minority leader last year.

Commenting on the 2008 options for Secretary of State Betty Ireland, blogger and GOP consultant Gary Abernathy observed last week that "
the most interesting scenario to emerge from recent speculation has Betty running for the State Senate from Kanawha County, if Sen. Vic Sprouse decides not to seek reelection."

Earlier that week, Daily Mail columnist and blogger Don Surber had apparently deemed Sprouse a "
dead man walking" politically. (I can't readily find the item, but it is commented on here.)

The Charleston Gazette's Phil Kabler
mentioned Abernathy's observation in his Monday column. Kabler adds that the scenario Abernathy described would require that "Sprouse will recognize (if he hasn’t already) that his personal life makes him far too damaged goods to mount a successful re-election bid."

Kabler's columns have previously mentioned Sprouse's pending divorce from Amy McKinley. It is also infrequently a topic on McKinley's blog devoted to their son.

posted a 1,039 word response on his blog today.

27 March 2007

Table Games: 2nd of 4 Elections Set

Kanawha County voters will decide June 9 whether to allow casino table games at Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center, after the county's commission took up a petition from the track on Monday, The Charleston Gazette reports.

Ohio County will also hold a special election that Saturday, to answer a similar question regarding Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center, as The Associated Press reported when Manchin signed the necessary legislation last week.

Hancock County's Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort announced plans last week to petition for a June special election as well. That county's commission expects to field the request at its meeting next week.

The West Virginia Family Foundation, meanwhile, tells The Register-Herald of Beckley that it still intends to sue to block the new law. (The article appears to include an incorrect date for the Ohio County election, however. I note that the new law does not take effect until June 6.)

26 March 2007

Quote of the Day

"It has to withstand the Visigoths, and it stood up pretty well in this instance."

-- P. Joseph Mullins, sculptor and designer of the West Virginia Veterans Memorial, on the weekend damage wrought when someone drove through the Capitol Complex monument over the weekend.

Running All The Way To 2008

Perhaps taking their cues from a growing and already active field of U.S. presidential candidates, several West Virginians are gearing up for 2008 state and local races, Phil Kabler of The Charleston Gazette observes in his column today.

Kabler mentions the growing list of folks filing pre-candidacy papers. I count more than 70 filings so far, mostly for legislative races. There is also the typically sizable number of precandidates filing for "undeclared" offices.

Four people _ all incumbent lawmakers _ have even filed precandidacy papers for 2010!

The latest list of such filings with the Secretary of State's office is here. I would note that it costs nothing to file precandidacy papers. The numbers thin when official filings are due, along with sometimes-hefty filing fees.

The 2008 election campaign cycle in West Virginia is actually starting at around the same time that the 2006 cycle did. In the opening months of 2005, the National Republican Senatorial Committee launched an Internet-based effort to dissuade U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., from seeking another term. The NRSC then followed up with the first (negative) TV ad of the cycle that July.

FY2008 Budget: The Fine Print

I take a closer look at the pay raises and other details in the newly approved budget bill in today's story for The Associated Press.

Figures from the State Budget Office show how the 3.5 percent pay raise promised to most state employees will actually vary above and below that level:

14,621 employees make more than $34,286, so their raises are capped at $1,200;
1,209 make less than $17,143, but will receive $600 nonetheless; and
19,329 receive annual salaries between those ranges, and so their actual raises will be at 3.5%.

I also have some details from the Legislature's efforts to fund Budget Digest-type items. Though lawmakers abolished the digest last year, they continue to search for a new way to earmark money for home district projects and needs.