15 June 2007

Embedded W.Va. Reporters Return

Martin Staunton of West Virginia Media and Public Broadcasting's Anna Sale have flown back to West Virginia with some members of the 130th Airlift Wing after covering its most recent mission to Afghanistan.

Staunton offers a final report here, with links to video as well as previous posts from the trip.

Sale spoke about her coverage to Public Broadcasting's Greg Collard (transcript here), and also filed daily reports and postings during her nearly two weeks with the Air National Guard unit.

Raleigh Delegate Continues Absence Streak

After his MIA status created a constitutional tumult during the year's regular session, Delegate Ron Thompson has missed each of the three interim sessions since, The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

Seeking treatment for what he and his psychiatrist describe as a bipolar disorder, the Raleigh County Democrat "appeared in the final week of the 2007 legislative session to take his oath with a pledge that he would complete his duties in the remaining days," the article said. "But he never returned to the House chamber as the winter session wound down."

Background info can be found here, here and here.

Congressional Financial Disclosures

I haven't had a chance yet to crunch the numbers, but The Associated Press has this overview of the latest financial disclosure reports from West Virginia's Congressional delegation.

The highlights from the AP article:

* As one of Congress' wealthiest members, Sen. Jay Rockefeller has assets including 3 blind trusts worth between $80 million and $125 million, which generate between $2.1 million and $11 million in annual income;

* Sen. Robert C. Byrd lists an IRA worth between $100,000 and $200,000 as the largest of 3 investments;

* Rep. Alan Mollohan listed real estate in North Carolina, as well as rental properties in Fairmont, Canaan Valley and Washington, D.C. that yielded between $35,000 and $115,000 in income;

* Rep. Shelley Moore Capito has a number of investments, inc.luding two worth between $65,000 and $150,000;

* Rep. Nick Rahall disclosed 10 acres in North Carolina as well as a time share in South Carolina that generated between $1,000 and $2,500.

A national sidebar to the AP's coverage of the reports notes that "Mollohan, formerly the top Democrat on the House ethics committee, has acknowledged in the past that he filed inaccurate financial statements and asked the House Clerk's office to correct or amend more than a dozen items on his reports dating back to 2000. The Justice Department also is investigating whether he has benefited from directing federal funds to nonprofit groups he helped start."

You can download PDF copies of both Senate and House reports from PoliticalMoneyLine, a service of Congressional Quarterly (it did not appear to have Rahall's report scanned in as of Friday morning, however).

Drug Council Tinkers With Gift Disclosure Rules

Drug companies would have to list gifts and payments to doctors "in $2,500 increments, with no limit on the maximum amount to be reported," an article in The Charleston Gazette today said.

The Gazette reports on the latest meeting of the state Pharmaceutical Cost Management Council, which had heard from an array of consumer-oriented groups who opposed a $10,000 cap on disclosures that the council had previously proposed.

14 June 2007

West Virginia's Senior Senator

The Associated Press is the latest to assess how age is bearing down on U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., "in the winter of his 54-year career in Congress."

The article recounts recent episodes on Capitol Hill when the 89-year-old appeared to forget a colleague's name, needed prompting from an aide and delegated some of his duties to others.

It also offers the recent dedication at Shepherd University of a nursing building named after his late wife. Erma Ora Byrd died last year, about two months before their 69th wedding anniversary.

"The senator told the audience his wife was in heaven, adding: 'I'm going to meet her there,'" the article said.

W.Va. Completes Tobacco Bond Deal for $807m

West Virginia will get $807 million in up-front cash by issuing bonds, promising investors future annual payments from the state's multibillion-dollar settlement with major tobacco companies, The Associated Press reported late today.

(Update: The AP article is drawn from this story from The Charleston Gazette.)

"This landmark deal is the single-largest West Virginia bond issue and the largest taxable tobacco securitization in the United States to date, said officials from Citigroup, the lead bookrunning manager on the transaction," Manchin's office said in a statement.

The successful deal follows several near misses, including a $524 million deal proposed in 2002, in which the state sought to securitize proceeds from the landmark 1998 tobacco settlement to generate cash.

But James F. Haddon, managing director for Citigroup's Municipal Securities Division, noted in today's statement that “amid challenging market conditions due to rising interest rates, it is remarkable that the state was able to accomplish its goal."

Volatile market conditions had been reported earlier by The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews, among others.

But there appears to be at least one declaration that today's bond deal "fell through."

LeRose Falls Short in Comeback Bid

Among Tuesday's numerous municipal election races statewide, Former state Republican Party Chairman Steve LeRose failed in his campaign to retake the mayor's office in Summersville.

As the Register-Herald of Beckley reports, LeRose placed third among four candidates. Newcomer Bob Shafer, a newcomer, won with 504 votes.

I noted earlier in the campaign that LeRose had been mayor since 1985 when he lost his 1999 re-election bid. Just days later, "LeRose pleaded guilty to federal bank fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from a $3.3 million check-kiting scheme."

Sentenced to 27 months in federal prison, the 57-year-old was released in November 2001.

Ross Eyeing '08 Senate Rematch

Former state Sen. Mike Ross, D-Randolph, hopes water conservation will prove the issue that helps return him to the Legislature in 2008, according to the (Beckley) Register-Herald.

"A veteran businessman in the oil and gas industries, Ross is involved in the creation of a 65-acre impoundment, just south of Huttonsville, capable of providing sufficient water to serve Tygart Valley up to half a year," the newspaper reports.

As the article notes, Ross was seeking a fourth Senate term in 2004 when he fell to Republican Clark Barnes, a political newcomer and also a business owner.

13 June 2007

They Voted For You: Stem Cell Research

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., voted with the majority June 7 to pass the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act."

The state's other House members, Democratic Reps. Alan Mollohan and Nick Rahall, voted against the bill.

As the Charleston Daily Mail reported today, "Capito was one of just 37 House Republicans to support the bill in the 247-176 vote," while Mollohan and Rahall were among only 16 Democrats who opposed it.

The Daily Mail also noted that U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., both helped pass the bill from the Senate to the House in April.

The bill would "amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research."

(Thanks to the Daily Mail for outpointing last week's vote. It also reports that President Bush is expected to veto the bill.)

DEP Stream List Battle Boils Over

Gov. Joe Manchin has waded into a regulatory fight that roiled mostly backstage during the year's regular legislative session, The Charleston Gazette reports.

Manchin has ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to pare down a proposed list of semi-protected West Virginia streams to 156, the Gazette quotes spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg as saying.

That was the potential size of the list when negotiations broke down, during the session, between DEP and industry and other interested parties. As the Gazette article notes, those parties include the West Virginia Forestry Association and the state Farm Bureau.

But that's nearly half of the streams that DEP wants in the state's "Tier 2.5" category of streams, which the Gazette ranks "among a series of compromises with regulated industries."

"Under the state’s policy, streams in this category could not be degraded more than 10 percent," the Gazette explains. "The Tier 2.5 category was created to keep many state streams from ending up classified as Tier 3, a category that allows no degradation at all."

The article also includes this DEP link with info about the stream list and other proposed regulatory rules.

"A public hearing is scheduled for mid-July, and the DEP hopes to submit the new list for legislative consideration during the 2008 session," the article said.

12 June 2007

Table Games: The Jefferson County Vote - Updated

Jefferson County has released unofficial precinct tallies from Saturday's defeat of the casino table games referendum.

It appears that the measure fared best in precincts within the 58th House District, represented by Delegate Locke Wysong, which includes the home of Charles Town Races & Slots. But even there, the precinct level-margin was never greater than 96 votes (or 62 percent).

Perhaps not surprisingly, the results tanked on the other end of the county, in the 57th District, represented by avowed referendum foe Delegate John Doyle. (Both Doyle and Wysong are Democrats, and the unofficial totals are 4,429 to 5,626 votes.)

The margins of defeat were as wide as 165 votes in those counties, with table games supporters combining for as little as one-fourth of the ballots cast.

MetroNews continues the table games post-mortem by examining how a key group declined to endorse the measure. The Journal of Martinsburg also weighs the impact of the measure's loss, while Public Broadcasting follows up both in Jefferson and Ohio counties (with audio link).

Update: The Charleston Daily Mail focuses on Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center's plans if Kanawha County approves table games (with graphic).

And... The Hagerstown Herald-Mail reported the back and forth between a Charles Town official and Delegate Doyle over the election outcome in Jefferson County (thanks to West Virginia Blue for outpointing the article).

Paper Is Beautiful

So says election officials in Ohio and Jefferson counties who recently handled the special elections addressing table games, The Associated Press reports.

"Counting the votes may take longer, but officials say it's easier than programming electronic machines or preparing scanned bubble sheets for a single yes or no question," the AP's Tom Breen writes.

They Voted For You: Alberto Gonzales

Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both Democrats, voted with 51 other senators to advance for consideration a resolution expressing "no confidence" in U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Requiring three-fifths of the Senate's approval, or 60 votes, the motion was rejected 53-38.

The Associated Press has the details.

Tennant: Trying Again for Sec. of State

Former broadcaster Natalie Tennant has joined the field of 2008 precandidates, announcing plans this week to run for secretary of state.

The Democrat and former West Virginia University mascot told The Associated Press on Monday that she planned to kick off her campaign officially on June 20, West Virginia Day.

Tennant previously sought her party's nod for the statewide office in 2004. Amid a field of seven candidates, she finished second with 25 percent of the vote. But those 65,947 votes put her within 1,118 votes of the nominee, Ken Hechler.

This time around, Tennant is joining House Majority Leader Joe DeLong, D-Hancock, and Mountain Party member David Rao among the announced precandidates for Secretary of State. DeLong played football for WVU, while Tennant was its first (and to date only) female Mountaineer mascot. Tennant is also married to fellow broadcasting alumnus and freshman state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha.

11 June 2007

Mineral County Hijinks

All is not peaceful in the Mineral County town of Ridgeley: from jail, "Mayor Mitchell Reeves fired two town employees who may have helped land the five-term mayor in the lockup for the second time in a month," The Associated Press reports.

W.Va. Sifts Through Special Election Split

The Associated Press' Tom Breen adopts a Dickensian view in following up to the weekend's table games referenda in Ohio and Jefferson counties.

Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center "began construction Monday morning on a poker room scheduled to open by Labor Day weekend," Breen reports. "Wheeling Island hopes to have other table games, like roulette and blackjack, up and running by Oct. 1."

Officials at Charles Town Races & Slots told AP not to expect downsizing in the wake of Saturday's defeat -- but the situation could change if nearby Maryland legalizes slot machines.

In the wake of the Saturday voting, the Charleston Daily Mail reports that the state United Methodist conference on Sunday "approved a resolution urging the defeat of local referendums that would allow table games at the state's casinos."

The Wheeling News-Register also focuses on reaction to the Ohio County result with news of job fairs for casino workers. The Charleston Gazette, meanwhile, looks ahead to the upcoming special elections in Hancock and Kanawha counties.

The AP's Breen and Vicki Smith provided election night coverage that was picked up widely. MetroNews interviewed key players on both sides after the voting. Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval also opines on the Jefferson County outcome.