01 June 2007

Howard Dean in W.Va.

DNC Chairman Howard Dean rallied delegates of the National Federation of Democratic Women today at their annual meeting in Charleston, The Associated Press reports.

Dean touted his party's 2006 electoral gains while lambasting the GOP and President Bush. Iraq was a recurring topic.

The Republican National Committee was quick to respond. MetroNews also covered Dean's late morning speech.

Quote of the Day

"They said, 'Joe, you cannot hug the queen.' I wanted to, and I believe she needed one, but I refrained."

-- Gov. Joe Manchin, telling the National Federation of Democratic Women on Friday about his meeting Queen Elizabeth II during her recent trip to Virginia.

Rahall's Latest Middle East Mission

The Charleston Gazette's Tom Searls managed to snag U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall after his John Unger endorsement Thursday, and asked the 3rd District Democrat about his recent trip to Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank.

Rahall told Searls that "weak leadership for Israelis and Palestinians leaves little hope for immediate change in the region."

Rahall also spoke to MetroNews Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval about the trip and the disheartening assessment it produced (with audio).

W.Va. Struggling To Account For ATV Deaths

Health care writer Tom Breen highlights West Virginia's lack of solid statistics on the number of and details behind all-terrain vehicle deaths in the Mountain State, in this story for The Associated Press.

It's a compelling "lede:"

"When 50-year-old Pentress resident Randy Marshall was killed in an all-terrain vehicle accident in Mingo County on Sunday, it was the 13th such death this year. Or the 14th. Or possibly the 15th.

No one seems to know, despite an order by Gov. Joe Manchin tasking the state with creating a comprehensive statewide report on fatal ATV crashes. The lack of such information, some experts say, is cloaking the severity of the state’s ATV safety problem."

Rahall, Mollohan endorse Unger

In a move that could likely give pause to any other would-be candidates, West Virginia's two Democratic U.S. House members have endorsed state Sen. John Unger in his bid to unseat 2nd District Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Both showed up and spoke at the Berkeley County Democrat's press conference at the Capitol Complex launching his campaign. So did Nick Casey, state Democratic Party chairman.

The Rev. Dennis Sparks, executive director of the state Council of Churches, led the small crowd in attendance in prayer to start and end the press conference.

Casey told The Associated Press afterward that he and the party will wait until the May 2008 primary to endorse a candidate. But he also acknowledged the significance of Rahall and Mollohan backing a candidate so early in the process.

‘‘I think that’s something that other candidates really have to look at,’’ Casey said. ‘‘These two congressmen really made a declaration today.’’

Others who covered the press event and Unger's announced candidacy include The Journal of Martinsburg, The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews. The latter links includes audio of Hoppy Kercheval's interviews with both Casey and state GOP Executive Director Gary Abernathy on the statewide Talkline program Thursday.

Once Again, Duluth Passed Over For Junket

A number of West Virginia newspapers today have picked up The Associated Press version of a story that ran Thursday in the Charleston Daily Mail about state legislators heading to balmy Puerto Rico this month for the spring meeting of the Council of State Governments.

"Taxpayers will pick up the roughly $40,000 tab for sending 25 state legislators to Puerto Rico next month for a conference," the AP's take said. "State leaders will be staying at El Conquistador Resort and Golden Spa in Las Croabas overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The hotel was voted best resort casino and hotel spa last year by the Caribbean Travel and Life magazine."

Other newspapers, including The (Wheeling) Intelligencer, have also done their own reporting on the junket.

Update: Both the Daily Mail and The Charleston Gazette opine on the upcoming junket in separate editorials today.

Also...state Sen. Andy McKenzie, R-Ohio and a scheduled participant, defended the trip on MetroNews' Talkline program (with audio).

31 May 2007

Benjamin Revisits 2004 Election

Public Broadcasting reports on Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin's recent appearance at a National Press Club forum on judicial elections, where he talked about the 2004 race.

"Benjamin defeated then-Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw in the nastiest and most expensive court race in WV history," Public Broadcasting's Scott Finn Reports. "Most of the money spent on that race came from outside groups; trial lawyers targeted Benjamin, while business groups and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship attacked McGraw. Blankenship alone spent more than $3M on the race."

But Benjamin "says he won because of McGraw’s mistakes – not Blankenship’s money."

Public Broadcasting also offers a print version as well as audio from last week's Washington, D.C., forum.

29 May 2007

The Death Penalty in W.Va. - UPDATED

I have been covering the federal trial of George "Porgy" Lecco and Valerie Suzette Friend, stemming from the 2005 death of a drug informant. The U.S. District Court jury found them guilty on all charges against each in a 13-count indictment. The jurors have been deliberating since Wednesday on whether to sentence each to death or to life in prison without parole.

Update -The jury voted for death for both Lecco and Friend _ the first death sentences handed down in West Virginia in more than 40 years. The Associated Press has the story, while The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews were among those also in the courtroom for the penalty verdicts.

Before the jury resumed deliberations today after the holiday weekend, I wrote this piece for The Associated Press on what affect this federal death penalty case might have on state law.

This is the fourth death penalty case in West Virginia since capital punishment was restored on the federal level in 1988. It was abolished for state crimes in 1965; the last execution for state crimes was in 1959.

The previous federal death penalty cases in the state all ended short of the penalty phase now underway in the Lecco-Friend case. But five other states without capital punishment have seen federal prosecutors secure the death penalty within their borders since 1988.

Yet, the death penalty remains off the books in those states. One state has revived the death penalty since 1988: New York, in 1995. But a federal death sentence was not handed down in that state in modern times until February.

28 May 2007

Hiram Considers Adding Hat to Hypothetical '08 Ring

Republican Hiram Lewis told the Charleston Daily Mail that he's testing the waters for a 2008 run for attorney general.

Lewis is among 95 West Virginians who have filed (free and non-obligating) pre-candidacy papers for legislative, statewide or undeclared offices.

The official filing period runs Jan. 14-26, and several offices carry hefty filing fees. Filing for attorney general, for instance, is $950.

More than a third of these filers did not declare an office, including incumbent Attorney General Darrell McGraw. A Democrat, McGraw filed his pre-candidacy paperwork in April 2005.

More than half the pre-candidates are incumbent legislators. Another five lawmakers filed pre-candidacy papers for 2010 races.

The Daily Mail reports that Lewis is "getting ready to set up a Web site and start fishing for campaign money." I did find this web site for his law practice, though it may pre-date his unsuccessful 2006 bid for U.S. Senate.

Lewis lost in the GOP primary that year. The Daily Mail cites how he fell to McGraw in 2004 by about 5,000 votes.