24 August 2007

Giuliani Returning to West Virginia?

Having raised funds during a morning appearance at The Greenbrier resort Aug. 3, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani plans to attract more Mountain State money at a Sept. 12 event in Morgantown, West Virginia Media reports.

"The event will be held at the Waterfront Place Hotel," the article said. "The details are still being worked out" by the Republican presidential campaign.

Giuliani, the GOP frontrunner in most polls, has been pitted against Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in a recent hypothetical November '08 matchup.

Table Games: The Recount - CORRECTED

Correction: Initial reports incorrectly detailed the upcoming recount of the close Aug. 11 table games election. It will involve 44 precincts selected by Mia Moran-Cooper, who requested the recount, and not the first 44 on Kanawha County's roster of 175 voting precincts.

Here's a corrected breakdown separating the precincts picked for the recount from the rest:

(click to enlarge)

Moran-Cooper has selected at least 10 precincts from each of the four magisterial districts. Of the 44 she chose, 28 voted "yes," 14 voted "no" and two were split.

In each of the precincts that rejected table games, the referendum lost by fewer than 20 votes _ except for Precinct 428, at Bonham Elementary in Charleston, where it fell by 51 votes.

The margin of victory in the precincts where it won was not greater than 35 votes except for Precinct 357 in West Dunbar, where it prevailed by 109 votes.

The precincts selected include one of the 10 where poll workers failed to county early and absentee ballots (#281, Bridgeview Elementary, South Charleston), and the St. Albans precinct (#310) where votes were counted twice by mistake. The double count was corrected and the overlooked ballots validated during the canvass.

The recount will include all 3 precincts for Chesapeake and the sole precincts for Handley, Miami, Montgomery and West Dunbar. Also included are 11 St. Albans and 9 South Charleston precincts (half the total for each) and 13 precincts for Charleston (just over one-fifth of its total).

The 44 do not include any precincts in Nitro, which hosts Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center, or Cross Lanes, which bears the traffic to and from the track.

Though turnout in these 44 precincts was below that of the others, the proportion of "Yes," "No" and overall votes (and registered voters, for that matter) are consistent.

Last week's canvass widened the gap between yes and no votes from the unofficial 33 announced election night to 343 votes in favor of passage.

The recount is slated for Wednesday. County Clerk Vera McCormick "expects the recount will involve about 50 workers and cost between $1,200 and $1,400 an hour," according to The Associated Press (with original reporting by The Charleston Gazette).

Moran-Cooper has financial backing from the state Council of Churches, moral support from the West Virginia Values Coalition and legal advice from Thornton Cooper.

Stephen Walker, a manager at Tri-State, filed this week to have standing in the recount. "If Moran-Cooper asks that the recount stop or waives the recounting of certain precincts, Walker can request that the recount continue," AP notes.

23 August 2007

W.Va. in 2008: Red or Blue?

Open Left, which describes itself as "a news, analysis and action website dedicated toward building a progressive governing majority in America," analyzes available polling to draw two hypothetical November 2008 electoral maps:

This one has Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., defeating former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, 335 electoral votes to 203. Note that it has West Virginia backing Giuliani. An explainer for the map does not include West Virginia among the states decided within three percentage points.

This one has Clinton besting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 430 electoral votes to 108. This has the Republican losing West Virginia to Clinton. Again, the state is not among those decided by within three percentage points.

The Clinton-Giuliani numbers don't quite jive with the poll commissioned by Republican John Raese that Hoppy Kercheval reported earlier in the summer.

Surveillance Legislation Gets Mixed Reviews

The head of the local drug unit tells the Charleston Daily Mail that he's less than satisfied with the special session bill addressing the wiring of informants that passed Tuesday.

But The Register-Herald of Beckley hears from law enforcement who welcome the Legislature's (and Gov. Joe Manchin's) response to the recent Supreme Court ruling that has required warrants before wired informants can enter a target's home.

But the Beckley newspaper reported earlier that some lawmakers believed the bill went too far by allowing magistrates to issue the necessary warrants. Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, for instance said he would prefer that just circuit judges have that power.

(As The Associated Press has noted, county magistrates already have the power to grant search and felony arrest warrants.)

That same article also quotes Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh and a former police officer, who echoes the drug unit chief in observing that no warrants were required before the Supreme Court decision.

Kanawha Prepares For Table Games Recount

An official with Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center has petitioned to gain standing in next week's hand recount of Kanawha County's wahffer-thin table games vote, The Associated Press reports.

(The Charleston Gazette had the story originally, but I can't readily find an online version.)

Public Broadcasting, meanwhile, talks to the Rev. Dennis Sparks of the West Virginia Council of Churches about its decision to bankroll the main recount request by seeking donations.

MetroNews also focuses on the council's role.

On a sorta-related topic, "Two greyhound-racing outfits are suing the West Virginia Racing Commission for suspending their licenses in March," the Gazette reports.

The Big Eyes of the Law

The Associated Press' Tom Breen examines the debate over installing hundreds of police surveillance cameras throughout West Virginia's capital city, following the lead of such places as London and New York.

Gambling In The USA - CORRECTED

(Correction: I botched some of my numbers, sorry. Corrected figures are in bold-face.)

As the debate over table games continues in West Virginia, both sides have pointed to what other states have done to promote or reject gambling. Here are some basics:

* Every state except Hawaii and Utah allows some form of gambling.

* "Charitable gaming" _ bingo and raffles _ is the most common form, legal in 47 states and Washington, D.C. Racetrack and sports betting follows, available in 43 states. West Virginia allows both.

* West Virginia is in the company of 41 other states by offering a lottery, and 36 other states by having slot machines. But just 10 other states have racetrack casinos, and only 5 others allow gambling devices ("limited" video lottery machines, in West Virginia's case) in non-casino settings.

* Eleven states have commercial casinos, while at least 28 allow tribal casinos.

* Though South Carolina has been cited as an example of where voters have rejected gambling, it was actually a 1999 ruling by that state's Supreme Court that banned its once-notorious video poker machines. Lawmakers there had set a July 2000 date to outlaw the machines, but also scheduled a referendum to allow voters a chance to keep them. The state's high court blocked the vote but upheld the ban.

* Kansas voters have also been touted in West Virginia's debate. But as The Associated Press has reported, elections there have approved the building of four new casinos. Six counties were in the running to host these casinos. But only one, Sedgwick County, voted against gambling in an Aug. 4 election. The casino allowed for that part of Kansas will still be built, but in nearby Sumner County after it voted in favor of the proposal.

W.Va. Still Without a State Museum

But that should change in 2009, thanks to an additional $6 million in needed funding approved by the Legislature during the week's special session.

After years of delays and cost overruns, the state has labored to create a new museum in the space left by the previous one beneath the Capitol Complex's Cultural Center.

Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith tells MetroNews that the supplemental appropriation passed Tuesday should be the final piece of funding needed.

"Work is expected to take the next 15 to 18 months, which means the site should open by March of 2009 at the latest," MetroNews reports.

22 August 2007

Manchin Goes To China

Gov. Joe Manchin plans to bring a West Virginia trade delegation to China in October, his office tells the Charleston Daily Mail today.

The 7-day trade trip will hit three cities, including Beijing, and Manchin hopes both to visit a "major coal-to-liquids plant" and help open the China Coal & Mining Exhibition in that nation's capital, the newspaper reports.

Other fun facts from the article:

* Manchin has led foreign travel missions each year since taking office in 2005, visiting Japan that year and then Germany and Italy last year.

* West Virginia exported $187 million worth of goods to China last year. Chemicals accounted for $111 million of the total, followed by wood products ($26m), transportation equipment ($11m), metal manufacturing ($8m) and mineral manufacturing ($5m).

* West Virginia exported $3.1 billion in products to more than 70 countries in 2005, providing 12,000 jobs.

Table Games Recount Demanded in Kanawha - Updated

Mia Moran-Cooper during an earlier visit to the Kanawha County Courthouse. A vocal (and apparently, at times costumed) foe of table games, the former director of the state's problem gambler help network petitioned for the recount Tuesday.

Backed by the West Virginia Council of Churches, the former director of the state's Problem Gamblers Help Network has asked Kanawha County to recount, by hand, the more than 46,000 paper ballots cast in the Aug. 11 table games election.

Just 343 votes in the final tally gave Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center a win in its bid to host (lottery) casino table games.

As The Associated Press reports, Mia Moran-Cooper "was planning to resign as director of the gamblers help network when she was apparently fired after alleging the state Lottery Commission had micromanaged and interfered with her program."

"Following her departure, Moran-Cooper appeared at anti-table games rallies and in at least one radio ad before the Kanawha County vote," the AP article said.

The Charleston Gazette also details the recount, slated to begin 7:30 a.m. Aug. 29.

So does MetroNews, which offers a separate piece on the reaction from county commissioners.

Update: The Charleston Daily Mail estimates that the cost of a recount could exceed $15,000.

Special Session Recap - Updated

* OVERALL AGENDA: The Associated Press, The (Beckley) Register-Herald and Public Broadcasting are among those offering roundups from the three-day special session: the Legislature passed all but one of the 15 bill presented by Gov. Joe Manchin.

* TURNPIKE TOLLS: The AP's Tom Breen follows up on passage of the tax break for Turnpike commuters by hearing from lawmakers who question whether the move is meant to make future toll hikes more palatable.

* WIRED INFORMANTS: The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch, The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews highlight the new surveillance warrant that police can seek by phone from magistrates or circuit judges.
(Update: The man whose criminal case prompted the Supreme Court ruling that in turn spurred the legislation is in trouble again, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.)

* GAS ROYALTIES: A 50-page bill addressing natural gas taxes, exemptions, royalty contracts and well depth definitions was the sole bill to founder from Manchin's agenda. AP provides details, as does the Gazette and MetroNews.

* SCRAP METAL THEFTS: Plagued by trespassers looking to steal copper and other pricey metals, Massey Energy Co. praises the legislative crackdown on such thefts to MetroNews.

21 August 2007

Gas Royalty Legislation: DOA

West Virginia landowners went Bakersfield Chimp on Gov. Joe Manchin's gas royalty legislation, during a public hearing this morning in the House of Delegates Chamber.

The Associated Press was there, and has the details.

MetroNews offers audio from the hearing.

Public Broadcasting explores the overall fight between mineral rights owners and oil & gas companies that sink wells on their land (with audio).

Special Session Update

* The Associated Press offers an overview of Gov. Joe Manchin's special session agenda as it begins moving through the Legislature.

* Wired Surveillance: AP also focuses on changes by the House Judiciary Committee to this proposal from Manchin. Law enforcement officials at the meeting voiced support for the amended bill, but Public Broadcasting hears from officers who don't believe the pending measure goes far enough. The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch also assesses the bill, as does The Charleston Gazette.

* Turnpike Tolls: the Bluefield Daily Telegraph interviews asks local lawmakers for their opinions of the proposed income tax break. The Register-Herald of Beckley raises the question (echoed in the AP roundup) from one area legislator that the deduction could set the stage for a future toll rate hike.

* Metal Thefts: the Beckley newspaper also checks in with a lobbyist for scrap dealers who appears on board with Manchin's measure dealing with copper and other metal thefts. A similar bill foundered during the year's regular session.

Lawmakers expect to wrap up the session today. The Legislature's Office of Reference & Information offers a hyperlinked list of the special session bills.

20 August 2007

Manchin Gas Royalty/Tax Bill In Trouble

Gov. Joe Manchin is facing a hard sell with his legislation that would produce several changes for the state's natural gas industry.

The governor's bill would slightly cut the severance tax while ending two related exemptions and a credit.

It also aims to curtail the sort of gas royalty dispute that yielded a $405 million jury verdict in Roane County earlier this year.

But as The Associated Press reports, lawmakers in both chambers and from both parties consider the bill too complicated and controversial to tackle during a three-day special session.

Manchin stumped for the bill during a morning appearance on MetroNews' Talkline.

The Charleston Gazette reported earlier that the bill appeared stalled, quoting one unnamed senator that “it’s too much, too soon, too late."

AP also covered a Sunday interim legislative meeting that tackled the problem of carbon sequestration, which is linked both to the state's gas wells and incentives for extracting deadly and carbon-heavy methane gas from coal seams.

AP, the Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews, meanwhile, report that "West Virginia's natural gas producers kicked-off a three-year campaign Monday to educate state residents on the benefits the industry has to offer." Both the Mail and Metronews (in a separate story) question the coincidence.

The Prospects For a Table Games Recount

Gambling opponents plan an afternoon conference call to discuss the official results from the Aug. 11 table games vote in Kanawha County.

Update: The opponents will announce their plan of action at a Capitol press conference 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.

In the meantime:

* MetroNews' Talkline spoke with Rev. Dennis Sparks of the state Council of Churches on a possible challenge of the 343-vote-margin squeaker.

* The Charleston Daily Mail talks to lawmakers about the missed ballots and other problems that complicated the special election.

* In a separate article, the Mail reports that "the Problem Gamblers Help Network of West Virginia could net up to an extra $500,000 annually" from table games, but "but there's a likelihood more problem gamblers will need help after games like blackjack, poker, craps and roulette are installed."

* "An unusually high unfavorable rating" for one vocal table games foe may have created a backlash among voters, columnist Phil Kabler observes in The Charleston Gazette.

Manchin's Session Agenda Includes Some Heavy Lifting

The Legislature has begun the special session called for by Gov. Joe Manchin. As The Associated Press reports, the House and Senate assigned each of the 16 items on Manchin's agenda to committees Sunday evening before recessing for the day.

The Charleston Gazette focuses today on one bill that "would state that there is an implied covenant in all oil and natural gas leases that allows companies to deduct reasonable post-production costs when calculating royalties to the landowners."

Public Broadcasting also singles out the gas royalty bill (update: and offers audio). As with the AP and Gazette, it notes that the bill "stems from a $404 million verdict in Roane County that landowners won against Chesapeake Energy, parent company of Columbia Natural Resources. A jury found that the company defrauded landowners out of their royalties, and a judge agreed."

Public Broadcasting reports that "
Manchin’s bill wouldn’t affect that verdict, but it would affect other landowners in similar situations." The Gazette reports that the bill "would effectively overturn" the verdict, because it would "make the covenant provision retroactive to apply to the companies named in the court verdict."

The bill includes a provision that says it "shall be applied retroactively to all matters in which a jury verdict has not been returned or a final decision or judgment by a court of competent jurisdiction has not been rendered."

Given its apparently confusing nature, "
Lawmakers are saying the bill is so complex, they might not have time to pass it in a special session," Public Broadcasting reports.

An Updated Look At Kanawha's Table Games Vote

The Kanawha County Commission will meet 7 p.m. Tuesday to accept the final, 23,192 to 22,849 vote in favor of allowing casino table games at Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center.

Opponents will then have 48 hours to request a recount. Gambling foes plan to meet this morning to discuss their options. Members of both the West Virginia Family Foundation and West Virginia Values Coalition tell The Associated Press that they're leaning toward challenging the vote in some way.

The AP outlines the current situation, and sets the stage for Tuesday's meeting.

Friday's nearly 12-hour canvass of the Aug. 11 special election added 1,066 votes to the tally, including 675 votes in favor of table games.

More than 500 of those "yes" votes emerged from Charleston precincts, and were either overlooked early ballots or votes cast Saturday that were mistakenly left off of tally sheets kept by the clerk's office.

Other communities that saw their vote counts rise by 20 or more ballots: Sissonville, South Charleston, Dunbar, Nitro and Cross Lanes.

Among other highlights from the declared results:

Best turnout: Cross Lanes, at 45.8%.

Worst turnout: Montomery, on the other side of the county from Nitro, at 20.5%.

Highest winning percentage: West Dunbar, at 69%.

Highest anti-table games percentage: Tad, where 73% of 263 voters cast "No" ballots.

Biggest winning margin: Charleston approved table games by 2,427 votes.

Biggest losing margin: Elkview rejected table games by 418 votes.

And as AP noted: "Reflecting the close vote, just 87 precincts approved table games while 86 rejected them. Two precincts -- one at Elk Elementary in Charleston, the other at First Presbyterian Church in St. Albans -- both canceled themselves out with tie votes."

19 August 2007

Legislature Heading Into Special Session

Gov. Joe Manchin has called the West Virginia Legislature into a special session that begins this evening.

The Associated Press offers an overview of the agenda topics.

The special session coincides with monthly interim meetings already scheduled for Sunday through Tuesday at the Capitol, and is expected to take as long.

Among the agenda items previewed in detail:

* Oil & Gas Royalty Contracts - The Charleston Gazette.

* Warrentless wiring of informants - the Charleston Daily Mail, The Register-Herald of Beckley.