13 July 2007

Table Games - Kanawha County

The Kanawha County Commission voted 2-1 Thursday to endorse table games for Nitro's Tr-State Racetrack and Gaming Center, in advance of the Aug. 11 special election.

The Associated Press was there, as was The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews (with audio).

As these press accounts reports, the lengthy evening meeting offered a showcase of the debate and the opposing forces. Supporters and foes helped pack the commission courtroom and also lined the street outside, replete with T-shirts and signs.

But among the 21 who chose to address the commissioners before the vote, pro-table games speakers outnumbered opponents 15-6. Nevertheless, both sides are expected to continue their campaigns as the election draws near. Early voting begins July 20.

They Voted For You: Iraq

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped their party pass the "Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act" Thursday.

Its goals include "To require the Secretary of Defense to commence the reduction of the number of United States Armed Forces in Iraq to a limited presence by April 1, 2008."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted against the measure, which prevailed 223-201 almost entirely along party lines.

The Associated Press has an audio report, as well as this article providing context to the vote and the day's other Iraq-related political developments.

12 July 2007

W.Va. Figures in NRC Sting

Congressional investigators picked West Virginia as the home of a bogus company they used to get the necessary license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission "to buy enough radioactive material for a small 'dirty bomb,' The Associated Press reports.

"Nobody at the NRC checked whether the company was legitimate and an agency official even helped the investigators fill out the application form," the AP article said, citing an interview with Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

Also of interest from the article: "The GAO also tried to get a license from the state of Maryland, one of 34 states that the NRC has given authority to handle such licensing. Unlike the NRC, the Maryland officials said they wanted to visit the company, so the investigators withdrew their application."

The AP's H. Josef Hebert, who once worked out of the Charleston bureau, wrote the story.

In its version, The Washington Post focuses on West Virginia's role in the lead paragraph, and then explains the sting operation's rationale:

"they focused the sting on West Virginia in part to show how close to the nation's capital a terrorist could build a bomb. Such proximity would reduce the chance of detection during transport to a target...In addition, by operating from West Virginia, the GAO undercover investigators were required to deal directly with the NRC. That's because West Virginia is one of more than a dozen states...that don't have their own system for issuing licenses for the handling of radioactive material and monitoring those who apply for them."

State Capitol Security

...should soon feature metal gates at all entrance roads and additional security cameras, The Charleston Gazette reports.

The Capitol Building Commission has approved measures that would extend the campus'
electronic access card access system to these new gates, which would be locked during off hours.

"Gates at main entrances will have surveillance cameras and intercoms to allow visitors to talk to security personnel," the Gazette reports.

The Gazette goes on to say that "Concerns about Capitol security were heightened this spring after two impaired drivers drove their cars onto the grounds — resulting in significant damage to the Veterans Memorial in one case." (Background here.)

11 July 2007

Ireland Out in 2008

Secretary of State Betty Ireland will not be on the 2008 ballot, for her current office or any other, she announced earlier today.

The Associated Press has the story. I note that besides being the first woman elected to West Virginia's executive branch, Ireland had won praise from would-be '08 challengers and had been touted by national GOP figures as congressional material.

Others with the story include The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail, MetroNews (Ireland announced her decision on Talkline) and West Virginia Media.

A Question of Residency - UPDATED

The issue re-emerged (see below) earlier this month, with a passing reference in an article in The Register-Herald of Beckley.

While describing his plan to announce for secretary of state, Senate Majority Whip Billy Wayne Bailey, D-Wyoming, said he had moved to Beckley.

The article noted that the state bars more than one senator from residing in any given county (in a multi-county district), but Bailey said he could reside in Raleigh County "even though the county already has a senator — fellow Democrat Mike Green."

“Sure I can,” Bailey told the newspaper. “I just can’t run for senator again.”

The Register-Herald followed up this week, by citing provisions of the West Virginia Constitution that appear to raise questions about Bailey's ability to retain the seat from Raleigh County.

Bailey told the newspaper that he can claim residency in both counties.

“I’ve got a post office box in Pineville and I can claim a residence at my mother’s house in Alpoca,” Bailey told the newspaper, while also citing his job at Wyoming County's senior center.

But as The Associated Press reports today, Gov. Joe Manchin raised similar arguments while a delegate seeking to run for the state Senate in 1984. The state Supreme Court rejected his claims, and that of a second Senate candidate, before knocking them both off the ballot.

The justices concluded that Manchin and his family lived in the wrong district, and found that the deciding factor. That ruling also says that senators
"must be residents of both the county and the district from which they are elected."

(Manchin changed his residency after the ruling, and won the Senate seat in the following election of 1986.)

Update: My apologies to Phil Kabler and The Charleston Gazette. He ran an item about Bailey's residency, "WYOMING DELEGATE IN NAME ONLY?", way back in January.

Kabler cited an August 2006 deed filing by Bailey and his wife for a $160,000 house in Beckley. He also reported that their children enrolled in Raleigh County schools that fall.

Bailey told Kabler that his family "moved there after they determined that the cost of the mortgage payment was less than the $900 a month his wife was spending for gas to commute from their home in Pineville to her job in Beckley."

Mollohan's Legal Bills Cited

Citing allegations that sparked an apparently ongoing FBI inquiry, The Politico web site found that "Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.) paid a Washington law firm more than $22,000 during the past three months."

The Politico found the payments to Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel in the 1st District congressman's latest campaign finance report.

Former Governor Slated For Honor

Former Gov. Gaston Caperton is in line to receive the "James Bryant Conant Award from the Education Commission of the States," which The Charleston Gazette describes as a prize granted for “significant contributions to the quality of education in the United States.”

Caperton, a Democrat who was elected governor in 1988 and 1992, is president of the national College Board, "which administers SAT tests and Advanced Placement high school courses."

10 July 2007

Early W.Va. Poll #s - Updated

A Republican-oriented polling outfit has surveyed 400 likely Mountain State voters to check the waters in advance of 2008. Host Hoppy Kercheval of MetroNews' Talkline presented some of the numbers in online columns Monday and today, and also talked about them on yesterday's show.

The May survey by Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates offers favorable and negative ratings for the major presidential hopefuls, and asked voters to choose between a generic Democrat and Republican for president.

It also quizzed respondents about their political leanings, and had them weigh hypothetical '08 matchups between specific presidential candidates.

In his follow-up column today, Kercheval shares numbers reflecting Iraq as an issue for would-be voters, and President Bush's approval rating.

Kercheval told his listeners Monday that the poll was commissioned by John Raese, his employer at MetroNews and the unsuccessful challenger to U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., in 2006. The former state GOP chairman has been touted as a possible opponent to Sen. Jay Rockefeller in 2008.

Update: Though no results appear available, it seems that the poll did indeed ask about a potential Raese-Rockefeller match-up. Reader responses indicate the poll also sought opinions of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and asked about party registration, abortion, gun ownership, religion and church attendance.

The Wire

For my "Capital Focus" piece this week for The Associated Press, I took a crack at the most-debated ruling from the latest term of the state Supreme Court.

The 3-2 ruling in State v. Mullens concluded that the search and seizure protections in the West Virginia Constitution require a warrant for an informant to enter a suspect's home while wired for electronic surveillance.

Law enforcement object to the ruling, as it leaves them with only five circuit judges statewide with the power to issue the necessary warrants. Gov. Joe Manchin has been urged to add the issue to a special session agenda, and he's weighing his options.

I try to point out that the 50-page ruling reflects research into how the other states have approached electronic surveillance. Only a relative handful have statutes or court decision that speak to sending a wired informant into someone's home, this research found.

If they are inclined to react to it, the ruling offers lawmakers and Manchin several options. In Wisconsin, for instance, a similar decision prompted legislation to create an exception allowing wired informants into homes without warrants in felony drug investigations. Florida voters responded by amending that state's constitution.

I also note that this hot-potato decision overrules a previous Supreme Court opinion, an infrequent event. Interestingly, lawyers for both the defendant and prosecutors missed this 1986 opinion in presenting their arguments to the court. Each also cited only a few of the 15 or so court cases from other states that address the issue.

Representing Boone County prosecutors in the appeal, the attorney general's office did cite the severely critical dissents that rulings in some of these other states had sparked. The same proved true in West Virginia: Justices Brent Benjamin and Elliott "Spike" Maynard each lambasted the majority in separate dissents to the Mullens decision.

The Register-Herald of Beckley follows up by asking Manchin about the prospects for a special legislative session. And then there's this take by West Virginia Media.

09 July 2007

Table Games: Kanawha County

Church groups made a major pitch to Kanawha County voters Sunday, urging them to deny casino table games for Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming in the Aug. 11 special election.

The Associated Press has a story, as does both The Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail.

The Wheeling News-Register, meanwhile, throws out some revenue figures to question whether the state's Northern Panhandle tracks are losing customers to the new slot machine casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania.

The threat of such competition helped fuel the drive for casino table games by the West Virginia tracks. But whether Keystone State casinos will remain open has become an issue amid a stalemate over that state's new budget.

As AP reports, the failure to break the deadlock forced the furlough of more than 24,000 public workers and the shutdown of non-essential state offices.

"At least gamblers and employees of the state's five slot-machine parlors got a reprieve when a judge late Sunday granted a request by the casino owners to remain open, at least until a Tuesday hearing," the AP story said.

08 July 2007

Bringing the Capital City Online

Or, at least part of it. The Sunday Gazette-Mail reports this morning that Charleston's East End Main Street group has landed a grant to supply wireless Internet access to that neighborhood.

"Lara Ramsburg, spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin, confirmed that he and other city leaders would be announcing on Monday 'a significant Wi-Fi project that will benefit Charleston and its visitors,'" the newspaper reports.