11 August 2007

Table Games Special Election

Nitro's Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center will learn sometime after 7:30 p.m. whether it can become a full-blown casino.

More than 10,270 Kanawha County residents have already cast early votes on question of allowing table games at the track. Officials expect overall turnout to reach between 20 and 25 percent.

Among those setting the stage for today's referendum: The Associated Press, The Charleston Gazette, MetroNews, WSAZ-TV, WCHS-TV and West Virginia Media.

AP, MetroNews and WSAZ plan to deliver results once the polls close.

West Virginia Democrats Sued

Add the Mountain State's Democratic Party to the list of those sued by Massey Energy Co. and/or Don Blankenship, its president, chairman and CEO.

The Charleston Gazette reports that "Blankenship maintains that the “Not for Sale” television commercial created by the state Democratic Party in 2006 misrepresented statements attributed to him in a Hagerstown Herald-Mail article in the wake of the Sago and Aracoma mine deaths."

The Kanawha Circuit Court lawsuit, filed Friday, also names party Chairman Nick Casey as a defendant.

"Blankenship’s business and professional reputation were damaged by Casey’s statements, the suit maintains," the article said. "The suit seeks a public apology from the defendants, and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages."

The Democrats join the Gazette, Gov. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the United Mine Workers Union, a labor-trial lawyer political action group, various coal industry vendors and a Boone County court stenographer to face a lawsuit from Massey and/or Blankenship.

10 August 2007

West Virginia's Newest Legislator

Gov. Joe Manchin appointed retired educator Louis Gall today to the House of Delegates seat vacated by Ron Thompson, D-Raleigh, who resigned after a protracted absence.

The Associated Press has the story. Manchin's office has also issued a release.

Table Games - Kanawha County Countdown Continues

* Public Broadcasting continues its analysis of the table games debate. Track supporters argue that voter approval of poker, blackjack and other table games will mean 1,000 new jobs and $250 million in facility investments. Today's headline: "Pro-gambling ads exaggerate economic benefits."


* Audio of Public Broadcasting piece now online.

* WSAZ-TV hosted a debate Thursday between Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and Rev. Dennis Sparks, director of the state Council of Churches. Video posted online.

* MetroNews' Talkline also held a debate, with
Barry Bruce of the West Virginia Family Foundation and Tri-State parent company executive Dan Adkins.

* MetroNews also looks at voter turnout estimates.

* The Associated Press reports that Pennsylvania slot casinos _ the sort of competition that spurred West Virginia's tracks to pursue table games _ is being blamed for a second-quarter loss of $502,000 by the owner of
Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort.

* WCHS-TV highlights a twist to the "God" billboard phenomenon in the dueling ad campaigns (check out the video), and also covered the final rallies held by each side.

* The Charleston Daily Mail talks to a "
Parkersburg man who's made a killing in nationally televised poker contests" who says "legalizing table games is a gamble West Virginians shouldn't take."


Besides AP, those planning election day coverage and up-to-the-minute results include WSAZ-TV and MetroNews radio.

GOP Launches Early Vs. Mollohan

The National Republican Congressional Committee has paid for a weeks' worth of radio ads attacking U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, in his district.

As The Associated Press reports, the spot running on Morgantown, Parkersburg and Wheeling stations "aims to remind voters of the apparent federal probe into the Democrat's financial dealings and earmark appropriations."

For whatever reason, the NRCC could not provide a script, a sound file or a link to AP. But a Mollohan spokesman said he's already heard the ad, and offers a ho-hum reaction.

"I'm feeling like I'm in a time warp,'' Gerry Griffith told AP. "The spot rehashed all the innuendo and all the dirty, nasty politics that we lived through a year and a half ago. But we know how the voters reacted to that.''

09 August 2007

Romney Picks W.Va. Steering Committee

Delegate Bob Ashley, R-Roane, will chair a 15-member steering committee for the GOP presidential candidate's efforts in West Virginia, his campaign announced today.

Republican Party veteran campaigners and officials help fill out the rest of the team. They include: Cabell County Sheriff Kim Wolfe and his wife; Charleston lawyer Robert Ryan, who helped drum up in-state support for President Bush's Supreme Court nominees; and Mark Blankenship, who has provided poll numbers and other services for several GOP campaigns _ including the disastrous, multimillion-dollar bid by Massey Energy chief Don Blankenship (no relation) to influence the 2006 legislative races.

The Romney campaign signed up last week for the state GOP's plan to hold a nominating convention for its national delegates on "Super-Duper Tuesday," Feb. 5.

Update: Both MetroNews and The Charleston Gazette correctly point out that a number of those named to Romney's steering committee were part of President Bush's winning West Virginia campaigns in 2000 and 2004.

Fallout Continues From Trooper's Suicide

The results of a Freedom of Information Act request by WSAZ-TV shows that more troopers have resigned under the State Police's current administration than in previous years, the station reports.

The online story, which also includes a number of illustrative charts, is one of several spurred by the suicide of Cpl. Mario Gonzales last month. The station's coverage has yielded more than 900 comments posted on its web site, reflecting a heated debate over conditions and morale at the State Police.

Table Games - Special Election Countdown

As mentioned earlier, Kanawha County has wrapped up early voting in advance of Saturday's table games referendum, after more than 8 percent of its electorate cast ballots.

For those who still plan to head to the polls:

* Public Broadcasting offers a point-by-point analysis (and audio) of the arguments raised by gambling foes _ under the headline "Anti-table games ads fuzzy on the facts." Public Broadcasting plans to give the pro-table games claims the same treatment Friday.

* WCHS-TV has a multi-part series on the table games debate. The station produced 19 segments on the topic, and also offers web-only video.

Table Games - Kanawha County

More than 8 percent of Kanawha County's registered voters have already cast ballots on the table games question, The Charleston Gazette reports.

County officials say more than 10,200 residents took part in early voting before it ended Wednesday. The actual special election is Saturday.

And while the other racetrack counties _ Hancock, Jefferson and Ohio _ are admittedly smaller, Kanawha's early votes already exceed total votes in all but Ohio when they held their balloting earlier this summer.

The Gazette article also speculates on spending by both sides in the Kanawha County contest. The mostly grassroots campaign by gambling foes has featured yard signs and some mailings. Pro-table games forces have bankrolled both as well as broadcast ads and repeated rounds of polling.

08 August 2007

Special Session Update

Gov. Joe Manchin continues to consider calling the Legislature into a special session while lawmakers are in town for the month's three-day series of interim meetings.

The Associated Press story, drawn from a report by The Charleston Gazette, lists such possible agenda items as supplemental spending measures, a curb on traffic offense fines and scaled-back rules governing the wiring of drug informants.

07 August 2007

Daily Batch O' Facts - Updated

U.S. Active Military Deaths, 1986-2006

The above chart reflects deaths, by year and by category, per 10,000 active duty service members. 2006 figures are preliminary.

Click on the chart for a clearer image.

Source: http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/CASUALTY/Death_Rates.pdf

Update: The official U.S. Department of Defense figures also provide for this information:

Note that 2006 figures are the latest available, and are preliminary.

Errant and Absent Former Lawmakers

Former state Sen. Lisa Smith, R-Putnam, and her husband pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Huntington, The Associated Press reports.


Smith, 43, admitted "she failed to pay the IRS more than $86,000 withheld for taxes from her employees' wages when it was due in 2002," and that she "mailed a false campaign finance statement to state election officials while running for her Senate seat in 2002," the AP article said.

Husband Mark Smith pleaded guilty to a single "tax fraud charge involving $63,000 in withholding taxes due in 2004 from the health care companies," AP reported.

The tax charges stem from health care businesses the couple ran. They face a Nov. 5 sentencing hearing.

"Lisa Smith had served two terms in the House of Delegates when she challenged and defeated then-Senate Finance Chairman Oshel Craigo, D-Putnam, in a 2002 election upset," the AP article said. "She resigned the Senate seat in December 2004, citing an undisclosed illness."

MetroNews also has a story from the morning hearing. "She was very frail and so much a different person than the person we came to know at the height of her political career," WSAZ-TV Reporter Doug Korstanje told MetroNews.

Also, The Register-Herald reports that Gov. Joe Manchin has received the three recommended names for a successor to chronically absent Delegate Ron Thompson, D-Raleigh, who resigned last month.


"The three nominees are Louis Gall, a retired Raleigh County educator and school administrator; Kevin Maynus, who finished sixth last year in balloting for the five House seats in the 27th district; and former House member and Senate Judiciary Chairman Bill Wooton," the Beckley newspaper reported.

Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg told The Register-Herald that while the governor has until Monday to appoint a new delegate,
he hopes to do so by Friday.

Thompson resigned in late July following an 18-month period during which he was unable to fulfill any of his legislative duties, leaving constituents in Raleigh and Summers counties without full representation in the legislature," the article said. It also cited his ongoing treatment for severe depression.

Table Games - Lawsuit Plans Dropped (Updated)

The West Virginia Family Foundation will not sue over table games in federal court, after all, The Associated Press reports.

After the state Supreme Court turned away its legal challenge in May, the group had repeatedly vowed to bring its case to federal court. "But further research showed a federal lawsuit likely would not be successful, said Ray Lambert, a spokesman for the conservative Christian activist group."

Also in the AP article, Lambert said that "lobbying the Legislature to void the act would be 'a waste of time.'"

With the fourth and final racetrack county slated to vote Saturday on the question, Lambert said the foundation will instead focus on defeating table games in Kanawha County.

The Register-Herald of Beckley was the first with the story.

In other table games news, the first batch of student card dealers has graduated from West Virginia Northern Community College, the Wheeling News-Register reports. Those who completed the six-week course must now audition for jobs at Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center, which expects to debut its table games later this year.

Update: The Charleston Daily Mail hears from church-going workers at Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center in Nitro who are "questioning why some table games opponents are invoking God into the discussion and painting the track as a house of sin."

06 August 2007

Capito Catches, Gives Heat For Iraq Vote

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, for her recent vote on Iraq troop deployments.

"Rep. Shelley Capito voted against easing that strain and against ensuring our military is ready to handle any emergency," communications director Jennifer Crider told the Charleston Daily Mail.

The comment, and the underlying legislation, prompted a response from Capito spokesman Jordan Stoick.

"It's a political stunt, a ‘gotcha' vote that allows Washington politicians to tie the hands of our military commanders, the result of which would increase the stress on our military by reducing the number of available troops and could actually lead to troops being forced to stay in Iraq longer," Stoick says in the Daily Mail article.

Table Games - Kanawha County (Updated)

The Associated Press sets the stage for the final days of early voting and Saturday's special election on the table games question.

I looked at the early voting so far in Kanawha County, allegations that opponents have been harassed and their signs vandalized or stolen, and the extensive polling that the Nitro track has conducted.

The close nature of the contest invites comparisons to 1994, when voters in the four racetrack counties were asked to authorize video lottery machines.

The above chart suggests several parallels with 1994, including the rejection of the pending initiative by Jefferson County voters. Turnout also appears similar (note that Jefferson's population has increased since 1994).

The chart also offers the turnout for the previous referendum election, the (unsuccessful) pension bond proposal of 2005.

The Charleston Gazette's Phil Kabler looked back to the 1994 vote, and to recent polling by Tri-State, in his Sunday column.

Update: The Charleston Daily Mail examines how "a big chunk of the state's take of the revenue generated at the racetracks can't be spent on anything other than debt reduction."

They Voted For You: Energy

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped pass $16 billion in taxes on oil companies by voting for the "Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007."

Mollohan and Rahall also helped approve "billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy and conservation efforts," through "a companion energy package aimed at boosting energy efficiency and expanding use of biofuels, wind power and other renewable energy sources," according to The Associated Press.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted against both the tax measure, which prevailed 221-189 and the "New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act." The companion measure passed 241-172.

The tax bill "would repeal for oil companies a tax break given in 2004 to help domestic manufacturers compete against foreign companies, and another tax break pertaining to income from foreign oil production. Critics of the two tax provisions called them loopholes that the industry had taken advantage of," AP reports.

The AP also offers highlights from both the House-passed energy legislation and what the Senate approved in June. The differing versions must be reconciled before anything reaches President Bush's desk.

They Voted For You: Foreign Wiretaps

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-1st, voted over the weekend "to expand the government's abilities to eavesdrop without warrants on foreign suspects whose communications pass through the United States," The Associated Press reports.

Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted against the "Protect America Act," which passed 227-183.

"The administration said the measure is needed to speed the National Security Agency's ability to intercept phone calls, e-mails and other communications involving foreign nationals ''reasonably believed to be outside the United States,"" AP reported. "Civil liberties groups and many Democrats said it goes too far, possibly enabling the government to wiretap U.S. residents communicating with overseas parties without adequate oversight from courts or Congress."

The AP article also notes that "Congressional Democrats won a few concessions in negotiations earlier in the week. New wiretaps must be approved by the director of national intelligence and the attorney general, not just the attorney general," and that "the new law also will expire in six months unless Congress renews it. The administration wanted the changes to be permanent."