26 May 2007

Upshur County Lands Romney's Son For Event

Tagg Romney, a son of former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, is slated to appear at the June 22 Lincoln Day Dinner in Upshur County.

West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon will host the event. A former executive in the L.A. Dodgers organization, the younger Romney is a senior advisor to his father's campaign.

The state Republican Party offers additional details.

Howard Dean coming to Charleston

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is the scheduled headliner for the 36th annual convention of the National Federation of Democratic Women, slated for May 30- June 3 in Charleston.

The former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate will help open the convention with a Thursday speech before returning to Washington, D.C., the Saturday Gazette-Mail reports today.

Dean last visited West Virginia for a Democratic Party rally in January 2006.

25 May 2007

Critics Decry Pro-Table Game Ads - Updated

Freshly kicked out of state court and looking to rebound, the West Virginia Family Foundation is crying foul over the appearance of three Kanawha County-area police chiefs _ two of them in uniform _ in direct mail flyers promoting table games.

"We think it's a crying shame that we have law enforcement actually getting involved in the promotion of gambling in the county," Foundation Executive Director Kevin McCoy told the Charleston Daily Mail. "We're appalled that law enforcement would get involved in promoting an issue that ultimately comes back to haunt them."

The flyers address the argument by gambling foes that crime will follow full-blown casinos into West Virginia. " (T)he police chiefs and the state Fraternal Order of Police president say they don't see crime increasing," the Daily Mail reports.

The Associated Press has a story drawn from the Daily Mail article.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, has a lengthy story on table games and the upcoming special elections _ but apparently still thinks that all four will be held on June 9...

Update: The Daily Mail follows up on its story with an article today citing Senate Bill 526. Passed during the recent legislative session, the new law says that "A member of a paid police department may not" engage in certain political activities including " the wearing by a municipal police officer of his or her uniform for the purpose of interfering with or affecting...the passage or defeat of any ballot issue."

Signed by Gov. Joe Manchin on April 4, the legislation also says that "
Any member of any such paid police department violating the provisions of this section shall have his appointment vacated and he shall be removed."

But, a
s the Daily Mail article notes, the new law does not take effect until June 8 _ two days after the table games legislation becomes law.

24 May 2007

Quote of the Day

"I guess I come from a small place and quite frankly I'm just not used to the scrutiny that I guess comes with the job... I'm a little bit more of a country boy than I am a city boy."

-- State Sen. Randy White, D-Webster, to the Charleston Daily Mail, about sideswiping a car Jan. 30, while in Charleston for the legislative session, and then leaving the scene.

State Senator Pleads Guilty In Hit & Run

Sen. Randy White, D-Webster, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Charleston Municipal Court to a misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of an accident from a January incident, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

"White sideswiped a car with his pickup in the 1600 block of Virginia Street near the state Capitol Complex," the article said. "White told city police it was too late to look for the car's owner or report the accident, so he left the scene."

White has agreed to pay a $100 fine and $57 in court costs within six months, and also could lose six points on his driver's license, the article said.

DOJ v. Daily Gazette - The Bray Cary Connection

As part of an extensive follow-up to the U.S. Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against the Daily Gazette Co., West Virginia Public Broadcasting interviewed Bray Cary.

The president of West Virginia Media Holdings said that DOJ contacted his company as they investigated the 2004 purchase of the Charleston Daily Mail, but "we never had any formal interviews."

The lawsuit alleges that a $55 million bid by "an experienced third-party newspaper company" for the PM newspaper in late 2003 spurred parent company of The Charleston Gazette to match the offer.

DOJ cites a December 2003 letter of intent between the unnamed company and MediaNews Group, the Daily Mail's then-owner and a co-defendant in the lawsuit.

Cary told Public Broadcasting that while he had "preliminary discussions" with MediaNews about buying the Daily Mail, he ultimately ran into the Federal Communication Commission's current ban on cross-ownership of different media in the same market.

"I can unequivocally state that at not time did West Virginia Media Holdings ever make a formal offer for the Charleston Daily Mail," Cary said.

Besides audio of today's piece and a transcript, Public Broadcasting also offers an interview with Dean Corley Dennison of Marshall University's journalism school, who "discusses the history of Justice Department enforcement in the news, and explains how joint operating agreements work."

The links are also available on Public Broadcasting's new blog, while DOJ offers both the lawsuit and a press release on the web pages for its antitrust division.

22 May 2007

Feds Sue Gazette Parent Company - Updated

The U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit Tuesday against the owner of West Virginia's largest daily newspaper, The Associated Press reports.

The DOJ's antitrust division is focusing on the Daily Gazette Company's 2004 purchase of the Charleston Daily Mail, the capital city's afternoon newspaper. The allegations are framed by the protections afforded that newspaper and The Charleston Gazette under a circa-1959 Joint Operating Agreement.

The lawsuit alleges that after the purchase, the Daily Gazette Co. "stopped all Daily Mail promotions, halted delivery to thousands of customers, discontinued publishing a Saturday edition and cut the editorial budget by almost half, forcing reporters to leave the newspaper," the AP's Tim Huber reports. "As a result...the Daily Mail's daily circulation plummeted from 35,076 in February 2004 to 23,985 in January 2005."

MediaNews Group, which sold the Daily Mail to the Gazette's parent company, is also a defendant in the lawsuit.

Update: The Gazette offers a take on the lawsuit against its parent company. West Virginia Media News, which has sought to buy the Daily Mail, has a story as well.

Justices Turn Down Table Games Challenge

Well, that was quick.

Looking for Ugly

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin is among the listed speakers for Mudslinging in Judicial Campaigns: Beginning to Look a Lot Like Congress, a Wednesday conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

"In 2006, an estimated $16 million was spent on advertising in Supreme Court races in 10 states, more per race than ever before, with an escalation in fierce and often misleading attack ads," says the event's co-sponsors, the Annenberg Public Policy Center and FactCheck.org.

As the program notes, Benjamin was "elected 2004 in a race with record-setting third-party negative ads."

21 May 2007

Blair's Logan County Connection

Today's Charleston Daily Mail touches on a (perhaps) little-known West Virginia political factoid: Tony Blair's 1986 visit to the Mountain State and resulting friendship with Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan.

The article quotes Tomblin's executive assistant, Raamie Barker, and Charleston lawyer Brad Crouser, seen in the above photo with Blair, then a Member of Parliament and a "shaggy-haired, 33-year-old." The pair served as Blair's chaperones during his tour of the southern coalfields.

"We were apologetic about how rough some of the places were," Crouser recalled. "But he represented a coal mining constituency and was familiar with the country and its folks."

Table Games - Updated

Jefferson and Ohio county voters have begun casting ballots in their respective special elections on the table games question.

Both the Wheeling News-Register and The Journal of Martinsburg found racetrack employees among the early voters.

The Journal also reports on the debate it sponsored last week on the issue in Jefferson County. "Four community leaders took center stage on the pros and cons of table games. Retired businessman Walt Pellish and Jefferson County Board of Education member Alan Sturm argued in favor of the issue, while Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, and the Rev. Douglas Fraim spoke against table games," the article said.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting also covered the debate, and offers audio as well as information on a pro-table games group in that county.

The state Supreme Court, meanwhile, is expected to decide later this week on whether to consider a constitutional challenge to the table games legislation.

Update - The Associated Press offers this roundup of the early voting and related issues -- including a rise in registered voters in the racetrack counties. Get-out-the-vote efforts in both Ohio and Jefferson counties by table games supporters includes driving track workers to the polls. But opponents are also rallying, with one Jefferson County group setting up this web site to educate would-be voters.

U.S. Chamber vs. W.Va.

The latest battle in the ongoing war over lawsuits in West Virginia pits the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against its usual foes _ the state's trial lawyer _ as well as some unexpected opponents.

As The Associated Press reports, The Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce and a bipartisan group of Northern Panhandle state senators are among those critical of the recent U.S. Chamber ad campaign targeting the Mountain State's legal climate.

(As I reported earlier for AP, the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce lodged a similar complaint with its national counterpart over the campaign.)

These local complaints are somewhat buoyed by a recent FactCheck.org analysis that labels as "false" and "misleading" a key component of the U.S. Chamber ad campaign.

While not necessarily disagreeing with the U.S. Chamber's critique of the state's judicial system, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has adopted a different approach: seeking compromises with the trial bar.

The recently redubbed trial lawyers' association remains the U.S. Chamber's leading foe on the issue. Member Scott Segal recently exhorted the State Bar's governing board to take a stand, as AP reports.

A major hurdle in this debate has been the lack of statistics that sufficiently map the terrain of West Virginia's civil court system. In the initial AP story, I cited figures showing that "the number of general civil filings began declining in 2004 and has dropped by more than 6 percent from five years ago. The nonpartisan National Center for State Courts, meanwhile, puts West Virginia's civil filings on par with its population, ranking both at 38th nationwide in its most recent report."

The May 11 FactCheck analysis, meanwhile, said that the U.S. Chamber ignored key findings in the study that it misstates in the ad campaign:

"U.S. tort costs grew by 0.5 % in 2005. This was much lower than the growth rate of 5.7 % in 2004, and was the smallest increase in tort costs since 1997...The 0.5 percent rate of growth in tort costs in 2005 was less than overall economic growth of 6.3 percent. Since 1950, growth in tort costs has exceeded growth in GDP by an average of 2 to 3 percentage points."

The U.S. Chamber stands by its ad, and plans to follow up on its West Virginia campaign today with a survey of small business owners.