08 June 2007

They Voted For You: Illegal Immigration

West Virginia Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both Democrats, helped derail the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007."

"Needing 60 votes to end debate and schedule a final vote on the bill itself, (bill supporters) won only 45," The Associated Press reported. "Senate leaders set aside the legislation until further notice."

The AP article also cites a recent Pew Research Center poll on the issue.

(This marks the debut of a new feature I've been tinkering with, which aims to increase coverage of the state's congressional delegation.)

W.Va. GOP Joining Super Duper Tuesday

The state GOP is finalizing a plan that could raise West Virginia's political profile and land the Mountain State on the 2008 presidential campaign trail.

It has slated Feb. 5 for a "State Presidential Convention" to choose 15 of its 27 delegates to the Republican Party's national convention later that year.

Dubbed 'Super Duper Tuesday,' more than a dozen states are already slated to vote for presidential candidates and convention delegates during party primary elections.

Setting West Virginia apart, the state GOP intends to complete its selection of the 15 delegates by mid-afternoon -- hours before the polls close in these other states.

The plan has caught the attention of The Hill newspaper. "While the state is not on the tip of most pundits’ tongues, that could change if a winner is announced as early as 11:30 a.m. on the West Coast," its article said.

“I believe it can have a big impact,” Robert Fish, head of "Republican Presidential Convention Inc." told The Hill. “This can give a winning characteristic to one of the campaigns.”

"One round of voting will begin in the morning to narrow the crowded field down to three candidates," The Hill reported. "Then the party will allow for a one-hour break, during which Fish envisions serious horse-trading, as the supporters of vanquished candidates look to sign on with one of the three top vote-getters. A giant tote board at the front of the room will keep score."

The Charleston Gazette's Tom Searls reports that the 15 will be picked by a pool of 1,413 state party members, elected in January during county caucuses and via online voting.

The Republican primary in May will choose 12 of the remaining national convention delegates.

The state GOP has outlined its presidential convention plan on its web site. "The Republican National Committee has not raised any objections, and the state party is anticipating getting the RNC’s “blessing” once the final rules and schedules are reviewed this month," The Hill article said.

The state Democratic Party, which continues to outnumber Republicans by nearly 2 to 1, has also proposed a method for selecting convention candidates.

Update: MetroNews also has a story on the GOP plan, with audio.

07 June 2007

Quote of the Day

"I've gone from being an employee with a stellar record to a non-employee with no credit card."

-- Mia Moran-Cooper, longtime director of West Virginia's Problem Gamblers Help Network, to The Associated Press after she "found herself apparently fired without warning and stranded in Kansas City, Mo."

Whistleblower Sacked After Talking to Lawmakers

Appearing before legislative leaders may have come at a price for the outgoing director of West Virginia's nationally renowned problem gambler program.

Mia Moran-Cooper has told The Associated Press that she was fired without warning and left stranded in Missouri, one day after alleging the Lottery Commission had interfered with the Problem Gamblers Help Network.

Scheduled to leave at the end of the month, Moran-Cooper "had flown to Kansas City on Wednesday to attend a national conference on compulsive gambling, where she discovered her hotel room reservation and corporate credit card had been canceled," the AP's Vicki Smith reports.

"Moran-Cooper said her flight reservations also had vanished Wednesday afternoon, but an airline employee was able to retrieve them and issue her a boarding pass to Kansas City," the AP article said.

The AP has unsuccessfully sought from First Choice President Craig Curtis and CEO Scott Boileau, both by phone and via questions faxed to their office.

After Moran-Cooper spoke at a legislative interim meeting Tuesday, Curtis called Moran-Cooper's allegations 'unsubstantiated, misleading or false' in a statement. But Lottery Director John Musgrave asked the legislative auditor's office to investigate her allegations of interference and micromanagement.

The tumult comes as Jefferson and Ohio counties prepare to vote Saturday on whether to allow their local racetracks to become full-blown casinos. The AP's Vicki Smith has a separate story today setting the stage for the special elections, while MetroNews examines the ongoing campaigns by supporters and opponents of table games.

SupCo links ATVs To License Status

West Virginians with suspended or revoked driver's licenses cannot pilot all-terrain vehicles, a unanimous state Supreme Court has ruled.

The Associated Press has a story on the decision, which sets the new legal precedent that "An individual who operates an all-terrain vehicle on a public highway of this state may be prosecuted for committing the offense of driving while suspended or revoked."

The 5-0 ruling reinstates charges in Roane County against a motorist allegedly caught on an ATV while his license was revoked for repeat DUI. The style of the case, issued Wednesday, is State Ex Rel. Sergent v. Nibert.

GOP Fields 2nd '08 Challenger to Manchin

Eastern Panhandle businessman Bob Adams has announced plans to seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2008 and challenge incumbent Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, The Associated Press reports.

Adams follows Joe Oliverio, a Republican painting contractor who previously ran for his party's nod for governor in 2004. A Clarksburg resident, Oliverio filed pre-candidacy papers in November 2005 (The Secretary of State had not added Adams to the online list of 95+ precandidates as of noon today).

Adams unsuccessfully challenged Treasurer John Perdue for that statewide office in 2004, attracting 37 percent of the vote to the incumbent Democrat's 63 percent. Adams lost by 178,183 votes.

But Adams but did carry eight of the state's 55 counties that year, including the Eastern Panhandle and some of the Potomac Highlands. However, he failed to carry that portion of Jefferson County that forms the 58th House District in the 2006 election. Incumbent Delegate Locke Wysong, then a freshman Democrat, defeated Adams with 61 percent of the vote.

Manchin won the 2004 race for governor with 64 percent of the vote. Carrying all but three counties, he bested Republican Monty Warner by 219,627 votes.

Those with articles heralding Adams' pre-candidacy filing include The Register-Herald of Beckley and WSAZ-TV. The Journal of Martinsburg has the story as well.

Table Games

Early voting in Ohio and Jefferson counties ended Wednesday, but not before at least 10 percent of registered voters in each county cast ballots on the table games question. In Jefferson County, early voting turnout exceeded 11 percent.

By comparison, less than eight percent of Jefferson County voters cast early ballots before the 2006 general election, which featured congressional and legislative races. In Ohio County, the November 2006 early voter turnout was 5.4 percent.

MetroNews has a story on the early voting, while Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval opines on the topic -- and offers predictions for both Saturday special elections.

As I reported early, gambling foes believe many of these early votes were cast in favor of casino table games. These opposing forces instead plan to rally in time for election day. The Wheeling newspapers covered the Sunday event organized by local churches opposed to table games.

The Charleston Daily Mail, meanwhile, reported on the efforts of the state's most prominent religious denomination targeting gambling. But as the Wheeling papers also reported this week, the tracks continue to offer to sweeten the deal if table games are approved.

Update: The Journal of Martinsburg covered a Wednesday debate on the table games issue.

06 June 2007

Embedded in Afghanistan

Several West Virginia reporters have joined members of the Air National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing in Afghanistan to cover their latest deployment.

Public Broadcasting's Anna Sale has posted several stories on the PubCast blog, and also offers some audio.

Martin Staunton of West Virginia Media News is also there. That site also offers a number of video clips, including this interview with a 130th airman.

"The airmen are scheduled to serve about 45 days and will airlift troops, equipment and supplies throughout the region," Staunton reports.

NCLB in W.Va.

The nonprofit Center for Education Policy has found that Mountain State students have improved their scores on standardized tests since the federal No Child Left Behind Act became law. Associated Press education writer Shaya Tayefe Mohajer has the details.

"In West Virginia, the study found that overall student achievement increased between 2004 and 2006, as measured by the state's standardized test, the WESTEST," Tayefe Mohajer reports. "Gains were greater in math than in reading."

But the study's findings caution that it is "difficult to determine whether the federal reforms were the sole reason" for the higher scores, the AP article said.

Parting Shot Hits Lottery Over Helpline

After previously declining to comment publicly, the departing director of the state's program for problem gamblers lowered the boom Tuesday on the Lottery Commission.

The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports that Mia Moran-Cooper told legislative leaders "of a years-long pattern (by the commission) of interfering with the network's efforts to treat compulsive gamblers."

"Lottery tried to water down the network's advertising campaign, discouraged employees from talking to the media and asked for the names of Lottery employees who had sought treatment for gambling problems," Moran-Cooper alleges.

"Moran-Cooper said she can document between 20 and 30 such instances, ranging from attempts to manipulate data to efforts to discourage the network from advertising on billboards," the AP article said.

But the commission's defenders include her soon-to-be-former employer, First Choice. Its president said in a statement that many of Moran-Cooper's statements were "unsubstantiated, misleading or false," Breen reports.

Lottery Commissioner John Musgrave, meanwhile, said he planned to ask legislative auditors to review the situation "so that all concerns raised during the meeting can be fully resolved."

AP helped break the news last month on the Lottery Commission's plans to expand its oversight of the problem gambling hotline program. So did Public Broadcasting, which also follows up today (link should have audio).

MetroNews also has a story (with audio) on Tuesday's legislative interim meeting, as does The Register-Herald of Beckley. The Charleston Gazette offers its take as well.

04 June 2007

GOP Lawmakers Target Body Wire Ruling

Republicans in the House of Delegates want a special session this year so the Legislature can respond to a state Supreme Court ruling addressing police electronic surveillance powers.

The Associated Press' Tom Breen has the story.

The GOP members seek legislation so any circuit judge could sign off on hiding recording devices on informants before they enter suspects' residences.

Ruling in a Boone County case, a 3-2 Supreme Court concluded in February that police cannot send a wired informant into someone's home without such an order. But Breen reports that "State law now authorizes only five circuit court judges throughout the state to issue such orders, and prohibits police from seeking them from within their own counties."

Breen quotes House Minority Leader Tim Armstead of Kanawha County and Delegate John Ellem of Wood County. Both are lawyers, while Ellem's practice also includes representing criminal defendants.

Armstead called on Gov. Joe Manchin to including the topic in any special session he may have planned for this year, or to convene one if he doesn't.

"Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said the administration will research the issue more thoroughly before coming to the Legislature with proposals," Breen reports.

Breen also notes that a number of law enforcement groups have decried the ruling, which spurred separate dissenting opinions from Justices Elliott "Spike" Maynard and Brent Benjamin.

03 June 2007

Table Games: Special Elections Loom

With Ohio and Jefferson counties voting Saturday on whether to allow casino table games at their racetracks, more than 4,200 people have already cast early ballots, The Associated Press reports.

For each county, the early votes represent more than 6 percent of their registered voters. By comparison, 5.5 percent of registered voters statewide cast early ballots before the November 2006 election. And, early voting continues through Wednesday in both counties.

The AP's Vicki Smith also delves into a largely unexamined provision of the new table games law. While most have focused on its language regarding traditional casino games, it would also allow electronic (i.e., no human dealer) multi-player poker, blackjack and the like.

"But West Virginia’s new legislation and emerging technology in the gambling industry give casino operators a choice they’ve never had before: Hire live dealers, who require salaries, benefits and overtime pay, or buy a $135,000 machine with a perky virtual dealer who never gets sick, never needs a break and can deal twice as many hands as her human counterpart," Smith writes.

The tracks are adamant that they won't go down that road.

“It’s a step that’s so far below table games it wouldn’t even be worth looking at,” Ted Arneault, president of Mountaineer Racetrack & Gaming Resort in Chester, told Smith. “We want the action, the crowd, and it would not add much over what we already have. We are after people yelling and screaming and having fun with other people.”

The Wheeling News-Register, meanwhile, underscores how the groups behind ad campaigns both for and against table games don't have to follow the disclosure rules that govern candidates.

"Issue-oriented political groups aren’t required to file campaign finance reports, and they don’t have to put disclaimers at the bottom of their ads, said West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Ben Beakes. They don’t have to say how much money they spend overall, or who has contributed to their campaigns."

But Beakes also told reporter Joselyn King that these campaigns still can't deploy workers within 300 feet of a voting place, and they can’t buy votes. In my AP story, gambling foes question whether table games supporters are doing the latter by paying people $50 to take part in focus groups. Not true, supporters say.