16 November 2007

Claude "Big Daddy" Ellis: 1926-2007

The city of Logan lost its mayor Thursday, while West Virginia is left with one less "tough boy."

Claude "Big Daddy" Ellis, 81, was a key figure in the widely suspected vote-buying that helped John F. Kennedy win the Mountain State's primary during the 1960 presidential campaign.

Ellis and other chief players spoke at length for a 2003 book on the topic: "West Virginia Tough Boys: Vote Buying, Fist Fighting, And A President Named JFK."

The Logan Banner has a story on Ellis' death.

They Voted For You: Iraq

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., voted Friday to advance the "Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Appropriations Act" that passed the House on Wednesday.

The 53-45 tally failed to garner a sufficient majority. It also followed a GOP-led push for an alternative measure addressing Iraq funding that fell short as well, 45-53.

Byrd and Rockefeller both voted against that alternative.

The Associated Press has the details. "(Sen. Majority Leader Harry) Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said this week that if Congress cannot pass legislation that ties war money to troop withdrawals, they would not send President Bush a bill this year," AP reports.

"Instead, they would revisit the issue upon returning in January, pushing the Pentagon to the brink of an accounting nightmare and deepening Democrats' conflict with the White House on the war."

Election 2008: Robocalls

With just under a year until the 2008 election, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is already bearing the brunt of automated phones calls to voters in the four-term Republican's 2nd House District.

The recording from the "Campaign to Defend America" says Capito "continues to support an endless American quagmire in Iraq's civil war," while "Democrats in Congress want to bring our troops home through responsible redeployment."

The pro-Democrat campaign is part of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a coalition of a dozen like-minded groups.

SourceWatch has more details on that umbrella organization, while the campaign is/was looking for a CFO.

The robocalls quickly followed Wednesday's vote on an Iraq funding measure, which also earned Capito a scathing press release from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Capito decried the legislation as a "politically motivated" maneuver "that would undercut the decision-making power of commanders on the ground in Iraq," The Charleston Gazette reports.

Arguing that "we’ve seen hopeful signs of progress on security and localized political reconciliation," Capito in her statement said "now is not the time to pull the rug out from under our troops, who are performing admirably and achieving results."

15 November 2007

W.Va. Troops Make The "News"

The Onion, that is. At least one West Virginian (the female soldier later in the clip refers to Marshall, so maybe two) in Iraq proved a good sport for this segment from America's favorite parody newspaper.

They Voted For You: Iraq

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted late Wednesday for legislation that The Associated Press reports would provide $50 billion for the Iraq war but also "require President Bush to start bringing troops home in coming weeks with a goal of ending combat by December 2008."

Rep. Shelley Moore, R-2nd, voted against HR 4156, which prevailed 218-203.

Four Republicans crossed party lines to support the measure, while 15 Democrats opposed it.

The AP calls the bill "largely a symbolic jab at Bush," as troop reductions have already begun, and deems it unlikely to clear the Senate.

"The White House pledged to veto the bill, and Republicans said they would back the president," the AP article said.

A $470 million Price Tag

Drug and alcohol abusers consume $470 million a year in West Virginia funds through such direct costs as hospitalization, treatment and incarceration, a new study has found.

As The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports, an author of that research has contrasted such spending with the less than $8 million devoted annually toward prevention.

Wayne Coombs, director of the West Virginia Prevention Resource Center, also speculated that lost productivity and other indirect costs could increase the annual toll to $1.8 billion.

"That's what I would call a heck of a burden to taxpayers right there,'' Coombs told AP.

At least some folks are focused on prevention. The Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership plans to hold a drug summit Nov. 29, The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington reports.

The Charleston Gazette also has a story on Coombs' research and the ongoing Charleston conference addressing substance abuse at which it was presented.

Archives Protest Planned

The Mining Your History Foundation plans to lead a Friday rally at the Capitol Complex's Cultural Center to protest "Manchin administration proposals to convert the current location of the archives library in the Cultural Center into a café/catering facility/gift shop," The Charleston Gazette reports.

Organizers say the move was also prompted by the Nov. 1 firing of Fred Armstrong as longtime Archives and History director.

“With Fred’s firing, historians and genealogists realize now they better step up to the plate and do something,” foundation board member Kellis Gillespie told The Gazette.

The West Virginia Library Association, meanwhile, hopes to agree on a formal statement "to make clear to state leaders that they support Armstrong and want his firing reviewed," the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

Table Games Update

Suffering the same trend as West Virginia's other Northern Panhandle track, Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center has reported a 50 percent drop in third quarter profits.

The Associated Press has the details. As with nearby Mountaineer Casino Resort & Racetrack, the loss is blamed on Pennsylvania's competing slot machine venues.

But as underscored by Mountaineer's tweaked name, that track and Wheeling maintain faith in casino table games coming to the rescue. Both opened poker rooms in October (the quarter ended Sept. 30), with other games to follow.

Yet, their real and potential competitors aren't sitting still.

As the AP also reports, Maryland lawmakers are meeting in special session to consider a $1.7 billion budget deficit reduction package than relies on state-sanctioned gambling. "A proposal to hold a referendum in November 2008 on legalizing slots already has passed the Senate," the article said.

(The House there appears to differ over where to locate proposed slot parlors, according to The Baltimore Sun.)

The Intelligencer of Wheeling also has a story on the local track's quarterly report.

14 November 2007

Lawson W. Hamilton Jr.: 1923-2007

Before his death Wednesday at age 84, Lawson W. Hamilton Jr. had become a legend in several respects: as a successful coal operator, an often-anonymous philanthropist and a key figure in the state's select pantheon of GOP donors.

The Associated Press has a report on his passing, as does the Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews (with audio). (Update: The Charleston Gazette also has a story.)

Hamilton's support was sought by generations of Republican politicians, though he also contributed to the occasional Democrat. He gave at least $105,000 in the last decade to federal and state candidates and causes, including $25,000 for the 1997 inauguration of Gov. Cecil Underwood.

But Hamilton was perhaps more-well known for his charitable giving - to hospitals, for cancer research, to co-found Kids Count, to name just a few.

Yet, Hamilton often kept a low profile in his giving, as when he donated about $500,000 in gold leaf for the state Capitol dome in 1990. His gift became known only when he joined calls in 1998 to address the black streaks that had marred it.

Bo Meets Byrd

The office of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd released this photo today after the West Virginia Democrat met with actors Bo Derek and John Corbett, a Wheeling native.

The couple was on Capitol Hill "to discuss legislation to prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption," the accompanying release said. "Byrd is an original sponsor of the legislation. "

Manchin Wades Into Nurses' Strike

Aides to Gov. Joe Manchin will be on hand to observe talks in between Appalachian Regional Healthcare and striking nurses, The Charleston Gazette reports.

The negotiations in Lexington, Ky., aim to resolve a strike that began Sept. 30 at nine hospitals in that state and West Virginia.

"When the strike began, ARH had more than 700 registered nurses working at nine facilities, including hospitals in Beckley and Hinton, as well as seven hospitals in Kentucky," the Gazette reports.

Since then the hospitals "have hired hundreds of nurses to work during the strike, including 150 permanent replacement workers," the article said.

Several striking nurses from Beckley visited Manchin on Tuesday to make their case. "Both the union and hospital management agreed to let Manchin’s representative sit in on the talks," one of these nurses told The Gazette.

Nursing Home Merger Raises House Dem Hackles

Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates are sounding alarms over the pending $4.9 billion buyout of a national nursing home chain with seven facilities in West Virginia.

As both Public Broadcasting and The Charleston Gazette report, the lawmakers are questioning the state Health Care Authority's approval of the sale to the Carlyle Group investment firm of Heartland nursing homes in Beckley, Charleston, Clarksburg, Keyser, Kingwood, Martinsburg and Rainelle.

The sale is part of a larger deal by Carlyle to acquire HCR Manor Care, an S&P 500 company with about 60,000 employees "at more than 500 skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers, assisted living facilities, outpatient rehabilitation clinics, and hospice and home health care offices."

The West Virginia lawmakers echoed concerns raised by their counterparts in Pennsylvania and Florida, among other states.

The legislators, in turn, appear to be following the lead of the Service Employees International Union, which urged greater scrutiny by state health care regulators last month.

Carlyle has countered that the union's campaign "is aimed at unionizing employees and not improving patients' health care."

13 November 2007

Election 2008: State Senate

* Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, had weighed a Supreme Court run in 2008 but will instead seek re-election to his current seat, The Intelligencer of Wheeling reports.

* Republican Bob Adams may drop out of the 2008 governor's race and instead vie to succeed Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, who is aiming for a circuit judge seat next year.

"We’re keeping all of our options open. Sen. Yoder’s announcement was unexpected, at least unexpected by me, and we are giving it serious consideration,” Adams told The Journal of Martinsburg.

Supreme Court Sets Jan. Hearing in Pension Merger Dispute

Options appear limited for addressing the pension woes of more than 1,000 retirement-ready educators, after the state Supreme Court delayed any possible action in the situation until 2008.

As The Charleston Gazette reports, the court has set a Jan. 8 hearing for the Consolidated Public Retirement Board to argue that the justices should hear its appeal in the case.

Earlier this year, a Kanawha Circuit Court judge blocked the proposed merger of 401(k)-style retirement accounts with the state's traditional pension fund for teachers. A number of these account holders, in the Teachers Defined Contribution (TDC) program, argued that the state was taking their private property with its merger plan. The judge agreed.

With the 2008 regular session starting the day after the Supreme Court hearing, lawmakers are unlikely to meddle unless the justices refuse to hear the case.

And the timing is also bad for state officials for another reason. They told the Gazette "that even if the court agrees to (hear) the appeal and overturns the lower court ruling, it would take about six months to complete the merger — too late to accommodate TDC participants who hoped to retire in June."

12 November 2007

2008 Election Notes

In addition to Monday's announcement by state Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, the latest 2008 precandidacy filings show:

  • Delegate Jack Yost, D-Brooke, has switched his precandidacy status from undeclared to the 1st District seat being vacated by Sen. Andy McKenzie, R-Ohio.
  • Huntington lawyer Menis Ketchum has become the fifth Democrat to test the waters in the two-seat Supreme Court race;
  • Martinsburg resident Frank Kula is considering running as an independent for governor;

Quote of the Day

“There are just certain things I have no control over.”

-- Gov. Joe Manchin, commenting to reporters on the abrupt firing of longtime Archives & History Director Fred Armstrong.

(Speaking of which, Public Broadcasting focuses on the issue underlying Armstrong's ouster and ensuing tumult.)

Another GOP Incumbent Leaving W.Va. Senate

At least three of the seven GOP incumbents up for re-election in the state Senate next year won't be seeking another term.

The latest is Sen. John Yoder, who said today that he instead plans to run for circuit judge in his Jefferson County district.

Yoder hopes to succeed a retiring Judge Thomas Steptoe in the 23rd Judicial District. Yoder's resume includes time as a trial-level judge in Kansas in the late 1970s, and as a staffer at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. Andy McKenzie, R-Ohio, recently announced his 2008 bid for mayor of Wheeling.
Sen. Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, said earlier this year that he would not run for another term.

Two additional GOP senators up next year have also expressed interest in seeking other posts.

At least 2 of the 10 Democrats up in 2008 have ruled out another run as well. Sen. Billy Wayne Bailey, D-Wyoming, is instead vying for secretary of state while Sen. Jon Blair Hunter, D-Monongalia, is retiring.

Republicans hold 11 of 34 seats in the state Senate.

11 November 2007

Taking a Page from the Bush-Cheney Playbook?

A recent appearance by Hillary Clinton at an Iowa forum last week saw her fielding at least one question planted in the audience by her campaign staff beforehand, The Associated Press reports.

An aide to the New York senator asked an audience member, a student at Grinnell College, to pitch a question to the Democratic presidential front-runner about global warming, the AP article said.

The college's student newspaper broke the story, after interviewing the student.

Various permutations of such a stunt have repeatedly been attributed to the Bush-Cheney administration.

Examples include:

  • Pre-arranged questions at a October 2005 videoconference between the president and troops in Iraq (commented on here and here);
  • A series of allegedly staged and scripted "Town Hall" meetings on Social Security (mentioned here, here, here and here);
  • A fake October press conference rigged by FEMA officials and staffers, as perhaps the most recent episode (AP story here).
The 2000 and 2004 elections, meanwhile, featured allegations of carefully screened and orchestrated "public" events. While some were arranged by the campaign, an official 2004 Fourth of July visit to West Virginia's Capitol sparked a recently settled lawsuit (background also here).

The lawsuit, in turn, helped yield a heavily redacted Presidential Advance Manual that details tactics deployed to ferret out and and deal with agitators real or perceived (That visit also included a softball interview with local media).

During her August visit to the Mountain State, Clinton held a Town Hall-style meeting, an hour-long event at West Virginia State University.

At least one question wasn't planted: the one about Iraq posed by Rev. Jim Lewis, shortly after Clinton ignored the prayer vigil he and West Virginia Patriots for Peace held outside her downtown Charleston fundraiser.

Lewis pressed her about withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Members of that audience also asked her about:
  • Health care (that question came from an AARP member as part of its Divided We Fail campaign, which is appealing to all the presidential candidates);
  • China (the trade imbalance, the buying of U.S. debt and the rash of tainted imported consumer products);
  • The status of women in the U.S. (unequal pay);
  • Illegal immigration (posed by a student on behalf of those who follow the naturalization process).
Phony baloney public events appear to be all the rage these days. Consider Sen. John McCain's observations of "carefully staged campaign events" by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after he helped the California Republican promote November 2005 ballot initiatives.

And in Japan, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration was caught staging Town Hall meetings late last year.