30 December 2008

The Elusive Goal of Mine Safety in W.Va.

The Associated Press reports that "faced with a turnover rate topping 20 percent, the state is scrambling — for the second consecutive year — to perform five mandatory annual inspections at each of the state's 230 coal mines."

Director Ron Wooten tells AP that his Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training is pursuing inspections through overtime and other means: "inspectors no longer help with mine rescue team contests nor, as of December, are they presenting fatal accident reports to the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety. The latter change allows inspectors to visit more mines."

The article notes the disparity in pay between state and federal inspectors. It observes further that "fatal accidents also have decreased to eight this year, down from 10 in 2007, according to the agency's Web site. Injuries increased slightly from 936 in 2007 to 970 as of last week."

"The situation raises questions about Gov. Joe Manchin's pledge to make the state's coal operations the safest in the nation after 14 miners died in two high-profile January 2006 accidents," the article said, adding that the coal industry "argues it's time to change the state's role."

The AP report comes on the heels of a record $4.2 million in penalties leveled at a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co. over the January 2006 fire that killed two miners in Logan County.

Aracoma Coal Co. also agreed to plead guilty to 10 criminal charges, including one felony, under an agreement reached with federal prosecutors.

AP, The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail and Public Broadcasting (with audio) are among those with coverage of the federal case.

Workman Ready to Rejoin Supreme Court

Once and future Justice Margaret Workman was sworn in at a Monday robing ceremony in advance of her latest term on West Virginia's Supreme Court, which begins with the New Year.

Workman became the first woman elected to statewide office in the Mountain State, with her election to the court in 1988. After a nearly 10-year absence, Workman is poised to alter the complexion of the five-member bench along with fellow incoming Justice Menis Ketchum. Her fellow Democrat and winner on Nov. 4 was sworn in earlier this month.

The Associated Press covered Monday's ceremony, as did MetroNews.

24 December 2008

William D. Proudfoot, 1940-2008

Just elected to his tenth term last month, Delegate Bill Proudfoot, D-Randolph, was killed in a Tuesday automobile accident, The Associated Press reports.

The farmer and retired school administrator was most recently vice-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He previously chaired Natural Resources and Political Subdivisions.

"State Police said Proudfoot lost control of his Ford F-250 and was ejected when the pickup overturned," AP reported. "Several family members who were passengers in the truck were injured."

22 December 2008

W.Va. to Pay $500k to Settle Pinecrest Case

The state's insurer has agreed to pay $500,000 to "11 people testing positive for tuberculosis while either working at or visiting Pinecrest Hospital, or treated there as a patient," The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

The article cites how recent GOP gubernatorial nominee and former state Sen. Russ Weeks, of Raleigh County, "first blew the whistle" on conditions at the state-run hospital blamed for the infections.

"Weeks has been demanding an inquiry the past four years, maintaining 'a massive cover-up' was keeping the lid on a number of illegal practices at Pinecrest, ranging from bookkeeping to mistreatment of patients," the article said.

W.Va. Evading Deficit Threat, So Far

The Associated Press cites a recent analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures to report that "the Mountain State is among less than a dozen that expect revenues to cover spending during the current budget year."

West Virginia is also avoiding the deficit watch list for 2010, though the analysis warns that the chief culprit behind the coast-to-coast budget gaps -- plunging tax revenues -- is starting to reflect in severance collections.

19 December 2008

Full Ride Ending for Promise Scholarships?

A state panel is poised to recommend that West Virginia cap its annual Promise college scholarships at $4,500 a student, an amount what would no longer cover full tuition and fees at West Virginia University, Marshall and other state schools, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

"The draft report from the Promise Scholarship Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee represents a complete review of the 6-year old program," the article said. "The cap would help the state control costs associated with the program."

The article also notes that "the committee also rejected adding any mandatory in-state work requirement, like the one proposed and then withdrawn earlier this year by Gov. Joe Manchin."

Ketchum Sworn in

A Supreme Court chamber packed with family, friends, legal dignitaries and other officials helped highlight Thursday's robing of Menis Ketchum as one of West Virginia's two new justices, The Associated Press and others report.

With his 12-year term beginning Jan. 1, Ketchum, 65, is "joining a court that drew national headlines in 2008," AP notes.

"Photos that surfaced last January showed Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard socializing in Monaco with Don Blankenship, the top executive at Massey Energy Co," the article said, while "Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether a second justice, Brent Benjamin, should have recused himself from a $50 million case involving Massey."

Maynard did not appear at Thursday's ceremony, while Benjamin presided over it as next year's slated chief justice.

Former Justice Margaret Workman, who with Ketchum won this year's Democratic primary and general elections, was on hand and will follow suit Dec. 29.

Others with coverage include the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington and MetroNews.

Barth Back with Byrd

Anne Barth has returned to the office of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., as its state director, following her unsuccessful challenge of U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

"She had taken some time off after the election to catch up on sleep and get some rest," Byrd spokesman Jesse Jacobs told the newspaper. "Sen. Byrd kept bugging her to come back because he believes she's the best state director in the whole wide world."

16 December 2008

West Virginia Casts Its Five Electoral Votes for McCain

The Associated Press was on hand when West Virginia's five electors met at the state Capitol to cast their electoral college votes for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

"The Republican ticket carried West Virginia with more than 55 percent of the vote. But Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden won the White House race in a 365-vote Electoral College landslide," the article said.

AP also explains that "
each state has electors equal to its number of representatives and senators. West Virginia's electors, chosen by its GOP, are Robert Fish of Parkersburg, Zane Lawhorn of Princeton, Catherine McKinney of Bridgeport, Marti Riggall of Charleston and Theresa Waxman of Clarksburg."

MetroNews also covered the electoral vote, and has audio of Fish.

Life, Death and Health in West Virginia

Convenience to doctors and the pregnant women, particularly in rural areas, is apparently behind a steady rise in West Virginia babies "delivered prematurely by induced labor and Caesarean section," The Charleston Gazette reports.

"The rise in elective deliveries has prompted state regulators to urge hospitals to reduce such births, which cost significantly more than normal deliveries," the article said. "Numerous studies have shown babies born before the 39-week gestation period have more complications, such as respiratory distress syndrome and infections. They're also more likely to wind up in newborn intensive care units at hospitals."

West Virginia's troubling trend of overdose prescription drug deaths, meanwhile, has become the subject of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

As The Associated Press reports, "overall, the study put West Virginia's unintentional prescription drug related fatal overdose rate at roughly 16 deaths per 100,000 residents, more than twice the national average."

But "among the 275 people whose death was linked to 'prescribed opioids,' 56 percent were never prescribed those medications," AP's Tom Breen reports. "The findings suggest that drug 'diversion' — acquiring the medication illegally, by lying to doctors, buying it from black market Internet pharmacies or outright theft — accounts for a significant majority of prescription drug misuse."

Breen has a separate story that finds that while "19 states have either made cuts to their Medicaid or Children's Health Insurance Program budgets or are considering reductions," West Virginia " still plans to move ahead with an expansion of its CHIP plan next month."

The state is "expanding coverage to children whose families earn up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $53,000 for a family of four," that article said. Three other states had planned expansions, but are putting those moves on hold "as officials calculate the effect of the economic downturn on their budgets."

The latter AP article was drawn partly from a new report from the group Families USA.

Health insurance for state children is also a topic of a lawsuit threatened by a public interest law firm against West Virginia's Medicaid program, The Gazette reports.

"Mountain State Justice says the state Medicaid office has repeatedly violated federal law and subjected families to a confusing benefits package that limits services to kids," the article said.

Rockefeller Taking over at Senate Commerce

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is stepping down as chairman of the Intelligence Committee to take the helm of the Commerce Committee, Public Broadcasting reports.

"The committee will play an important role in the upcoming Obama Administration, dealing with rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and making America more competitive in world trade," the report said. "Rockefeller says as Commerce chairman, he intends to focus on building nationwide technology infrastructure, promoting clean energy research, and protecting American consumers."

Audio here.

15 December 2008

Independent Campaigns Spent Millions in 2008

The Charleston Daily Mail reports that "third parties this election year spent more than $2 million, compared to $1.4 million in the 2006 elections," but that "the big-ticket spending pushes, just as in the 2006 elections, again failed to sway voters."

The Associated Press earlier reviewed general election campaign spending in various races.

Manchin: No Tax Hikes, Across-the-Board Budget Cuts in '09

So reports The Associated Press, after Manchin said he is instead "linking agency funding levels to performance."

While his administration had predicted an $11.7 million shortfall next year, Manchin "believes the state can balance its next budget without hurting services," the article said.

Besides "judging programs by performance," the governor told AP he has "asked tax officials to review collection rates and check for credit loopholes to close."

Manchin also continues to believe West Virginia is faring better fiscally than most other states. Offering context, the Charleston Daily Mail reports that "while West Virginia is on tap to lose nearly 5,000 jobs next year, the pending economic woes likely will pale in comparison to what happened during the early 1980s."

"The state this time is positioned to weather the storm better than most of the country, but that surely wasn't the case two decades ago," that article said. "The West Virginia job loss rate was roughly triple that of the nation's during the 1980s recession."

West Virginia 2008 Turnout Reached Nearly 736,800

Secretary of State Betty Ireland released turnout figures Monday that show nearly 736,800 ballots were cast for the general election, reflecting participation by about 60.7 percent of registered voters.

As The Associated Press reports, both the percentage and the overall number
fell below 2004 levels.

"More than 23 percent of this year's voters cast early or absentee ballots," the article said. "An estimated 24 percent voted straight party tickets. Democrats accounted for nearly 59 percent of those, but the GOP number reflects a larger margin of that party's share of the voting population."

The figures also show that not all ballots cast were counted. The difference between those two tallies exceeds 5,100 votes.

Ranking West Virginia for Corruption

The coverage of the Gov. Rod Blagojevich scandal has led to talk of the storied history of corruption in Illinois, which in turn has fostered a discussion on crooked state-level politics generally.

The New York Times sought to rank the states for corruption, and sliced the numbers several different ways:

  • West Virginia ranked 32nd for the sheer number of federal public corruption convictions in the last decade, according to Justice Department figures. The state has had 74;
  • It ranked 21st for annual convictions per-capita (at 4.1 per million residents per year);
  • But it climbed all the way to 8th in a 2003 study that "asked state house reporters to assess their subjects and ranked responses on a scale of 1 (clean) to 7 (crooked)." West Virginia scored a 4.7, with Rhode Island topping the chart at 5.5.

Quote of the Day

"I've been doing all I can to tell people that this is not the year to come ask us for money."

-- State Sen. Ed Bowman, D-Hancock, while explaining the tight fiscal times ahead to The Intelligencer of Wheeling

Pondering Judicial Selection

Just three states have change the way they pick their judiciary since 1994, but West Virginia is among more than a half-dozen debating the issue, The Associated Press reports.

"A review of the states shows no clear favorite" selection method, the article said. "More than half the states appoint their top appeals courts, but a greater number elect at least some of their trial-level judges, according to research by the American Judicature Society."

Boggs Named New House Majority Leader

Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, will succeed a departing Joe DeLong as House majority leader for West Virginia's 79th Legislature, The Associated Press reports.

Delegate Tom Campebell, D-Greenbrier, will take over Boggs' post as vice chairman of the House Finance Committee. Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, announced the picks after a weekend meeting.

The Charleston Gazette
also has a story, as does MetroNews.

12 December 2008

Obama Raised Nearly $621,000 in W.Va.

The Associated Press rounds out its review of 2008 campaign finance by reporting that President-elect Barack Obama outraised John McCain by more than 2-to-1 among West Virginians before losing the state to the Republican nominee.

"The final round of campaign finance reports show that Obama attracted more than $139,000 from West Virginians during the final month of the campaign," AP reports. "That last burst of more than 1,200 contributions boosted Obama's in-state total to nearly $621,000."

McCain had raised around $255,000 from state residents before switching to public financing in September.

W.Va. GOP Again Picks Abernathy for Exec. Dir.

Gary Abernathy is again executive director of West Virginia's Republican Party, returning to a post "that found him in a storm of controversy four years ago with the Warner family," The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

State GOP Chairman Doug McKinney said Abernathy's duties include raising money, The Associated Press reports. AP notes that the party's latest filing shows "$20,015 in its federal account, compared to the Democratic Party's balance of $279,528."

A longtime political consultant, Abernathy's clients during the most recent election cycle included presidential candidate Fred Thompson, GOP nominee for governor Russ Weeks and state Senate hopefuls Gary Howell and Bob Adams.

But not all state Republicans appear pleased by the hiring.

Replacing DeLong

Democrats in the House of Delegates will need a new majority leader next year, as Hancock County's Joe DeLong ran (unsuccessfully) for secretary of state instead of for re-election.

The Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews each report on his possible successor.

11 December 2008

Ex-Lawmaker Busted for DUI While Leaving Gov's X-Mas Party

"The first of four Christmas parties at the Governor's Mansion turned out to be less-than-festive for a Charleston health care administrator and former state delegate," The Charleston Gazette reports.

Pat White, head of West Virginia Health Right and formerly D-Putnam, "was arrested for driving under the influence by Charleston Police after wrecking her car on Piedmont Road at the Capitol complex" late Tuesday, The Gazette reports.

White had been a guest at the first of four holiday parties scheduled for the Governor's Mansion this month. Each features free food and beverages, including beer, wine and liquor. The governor has invited about 600 people to each, the article said.

WSAZ-TV reports that White had a blood-alcohol content of 0.156 percent, nearly twice the legal limit. A Manchin spokeswoman told the station that for the rest of the parties, "we will begin to make announcements throughout the evening reminding everyone to please act responsibly and that our staff is available to assist them should they need a ride home for any reason.""

W.Va. '08 Congressional Race Spending Topped $12.5 million

West Virginia's candidates for U.S. House and Senate spent more than $12.5 million on their races this year, The Associated Press reports, continuing (edit) its post-general review of campaign finance.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., accounts for more than half the total. He plowed more than $7 million into his successful campaign against underfunded Republican Jay Wolfe.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, spent $805,493 against a GOP opponent whose lack of fundraising exempted him from Federal Election Commission filing requirements. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, was unopposed but still spent $1.03 million.

The most competitive congressional race saw Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, spend $2.3 million, or twice as much as Democratic challenger Anne Barth. About 18 percent of the $1.6 million Barth laid out during her campaign was consumed by her party's contested primary.

Capito also outraised Barth by 2-to-1, and nearly outraised her by that margin, during the final weeks of their race. She also benefited from $721,000 worth of ads supporting her from National Right to Life, the American Hospital Association and the National Association of Realtors.

Update: "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $267,712 promoting Barth and an equal amount attacking Capito," the article also notes, citing analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

They Voted For You: The Big Three

West Virginia's U.S. House members ended up divided when that body voted late Wednesday for legislation "to authorize financial assistance to eligible automobile manufacturers, and for other purposes."

Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, helped pass the "Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act" 237-170, while Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted against it. He was among 20 Democrats to oppose the measure, while Capito crossed the aisle with 31 GOP colleagues to support it.

The measure would infuse $14 billion "within days into cash-starved General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC," The Associated Press explains. "Ford Motor Co., which has said it has enough cash to make it through 2009, would also be eligible for federal aid."

"Supporters cited dire warnings from GM and Chrysler executives, who have said they could run out of cash within weeks, and concerns that a carmaker collapse would erase tens of thousands of jobs and jolt an already bleak economy," the article said.

But Senate Republicans "are challenging lame-duck President George W. Bush on the proposal, arguing that any support for the domestic auto industry should carry significant concessions from autoworkers and creditors and reject tougher environmental rules imposed by House Democrats," AP also reported.

MetroNews also reports on Wednesday's vote, while the Charleston Daily Mail queried the state's delegation beforehand.

09 December 2008

Debate Continues over W.Va. Health Care Spending Rules

West Virginia doctors have been leading a charge for most of a year against rules that mandate state approval for spending on expanded services, new facilities and related areas.

As lawmakers heard during this week's interim meetings, "some in border counties have begun sidestepping (the rules) by setting up shop right across the state line, particularly in Ohio and Pennsylvania where comparable rules are lacking," The Associated Press reports.

The West Virginia Hospital Association offered its views Monday. It favors the "certificate of need" system, but suggested ways to streamline its process and ease its burden on non-health care projects pursued by regulated providers.

The hospitals also want a chance to compete with the doctors crossing the borders, by eliminating the review requirement hospitals face when seeking to expand across the state line. That spurred questions from Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, during Monday's interim meeting.

"Executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association, which represents doctors, Jenkins has been the committee's most vocal skeptic of the certificate of need system," the article said. "Jenkins said it sounded as if the hospitals had adopted a 'if you can't beat them, join them' response to the doctors."

Manchin's Inaugural

USA Today reports that while "many of the governors who will be inaugurated next month are scaling back their celebrations," Gov. Joe Manchin has already caught flak for planning "a lavish inaugural ball."

"His 2005 ball, funded by private donations and sponsorships, had a budget of about $1.3 million," the article noted, citing Manchin's inaugural committee spokeswoman Sara Payne Scarbro.

Scarbro, who will return to the governor's press office in January, also defended plans for the 2009 ball, citing how "Manchin has created 23,000 jobs and reduced the state's debt."

"We've got our financial house in order and made some lasting changes," she told the newspaper. "That is definitely worth celebrating."

Recession Unkind to State Road Fund

The Associated Press reports that signs of an economic downturn also spell additional trouble for an already stricken West Virginia State Road Fund.

A decline in new vehicle registrations, changing driving habits and rising building materials costs all hurt the state's main source for highway needs, West Virginia University economist Tom Witt told a legislative interim committee Monday.

Witt also highlighted an ongoing update of a sweeping 2004 study that sought to chart the road fund's future.

The Charleston Gazette and The Register-Herald of Beckley also covered Monday's meeting.

Manchin on Obama

The Rothenberg Political Report quotes Gov. Joe Manchin in a lengthy piece drawn from last week's meeting between the nation's governors and President-Elect Barack Obama.

"Although the bulk of the conversation took place behind closed doors, subsequent interviews with Democratic governors revealed a high level of excitement about the next administration," the article said. "According to governors in the meeting, the conversation with Obama included talks about an upcoming stimulus package, infrastructure, energy and Medicaid, as well as an overall discussion about how the federal government can partner with the states."

The piece says Manchin, outgoing chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, spoke for several of his peers when he said “We don’t want a provider, we want a partner.”

"Other governors expressed similar sentiments, saying they weren’t looking for a block grant or a blank check, but instead the ability to shape the infrastructure into specific projects that work in their states," the article said.

W.Va. Jail Firings Explained

The Charleston Gazette reports that "Regional Jail Authority director Terry Miller told legislators Monday he fired the administrator of Southern Regional Jail and four jail officers in October because of two incidents in which inmates were mistakenly released from jail."

The Gazette explains that "Monday's meeting was the first time Miller gave an explanation for what led him to fire Tom Scott, a longtime administrator of the Southwestern and Southern regional jails," and the others.

Miller also said "there have been three other instances of erroneous releases since October, including two at the Tygart Valley Regional Jail, and one incident involving an inmate who was supposed to be transferred from Southwestern in Logan to South Central regional jail in Charleston," the article said. "Miller said officers at Tygart Valley been suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation, and said the Logan County incident is in the initial stages of investigation."

08 December 2008

Recession Puts Recycling on the Skids (Updated)

The Associated Press highlights the tough times facing West Virginia recycling programs to report that "the recycling market has tanked almost in lockstep with the global economic meltdown. As consumer demand for autos, appliances and new homes dropped, so did the steel and pulp mills’ demand for scrap, paper and other recyclables."

The state's largest program, in Kanawha County, has reduced work schedules, closed drop-off stations and asked "
residents to hoard their recyclables," AP reports. Elsewhere, "haulers in Oregon and Nevada who were once paid for recyclables are now getting nothing or in some cases are having to pay to unload their wares," while in Washington state, "what was once a multimillion-dollar revenue source for the city of Seattle may become a liability next year."

Update: The New York Times also includes West Virginia in a national story, headlined "
Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up."

The Charleston Gazette first reported on Kanawha County's quandary in November, and followed up to highlight the impact on recycling drives at area schools.

Tomblin, Thompson Headed to New Terms as Senate President, House Speaker

The majority Democrats in the House and Senate caucused (separately) Sunday before their interim session began to re-nominate Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, and President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, The Associated Press reports.

"Tomblin became the longest-serving president in 2003, and 2009 would mark his eighth term with that titler," AP notes, while "Thompson would begin his second term as speaker. Each leadership post carries a two-year term."

The article continues that "GOP lawmakers also re-nominated their leaders: Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth of Mercer County and House Minority Leader Tim Armstead of Kanawha County."

Newly elected lawmakers took part in the caucusing. The full House and Senate will each vote on their leadership choices in January. "The Democratic caucuses also each renominated the House and Senate's non-lawmaker officers," AP reports. "They are Clerk Gregory M. Gray, Doorkeeper John A. Roberts and Sergeant at Arms Oce Smith in the House, and Clerk Darrell E. Holmes, Doorkeeper William Bevino and Sergeant at Arms Howard Wellman in the Senate."

The Register-Herald of Beckley reports on the caucusing as well, with comments from legislators on the renominations.

Judicial Selection Remains a Topic in W.Va. (Updated)

The Associated Press reports that "the Legislature continues to study the way West Virginia picks its judges and justices, in the wake of a vote of confidence by most of the state's judiciary in favor of the current method of partisan elections."

A legislative interim committee heard several differing views on the topic Sunday. Speakers included the heads of the state's plaintiff's and defense bars, and former judge-turned-lawmaker-turned-judge-elect John Yoder, R-Jefferson.

The committee met after "the West Virginia Judicial Association adopted a resolution last week in support of partisan elections," AP notes. "The measure came after the group's executive committee unanimously endorsed a proposal from Gov. Joe Manchin for nonpartisan elections of circuit judges."

The legislative panel also learned from the other speakers, Allan Karlin and Thomas Hurney, of their work on "a special committee formed by the West Virginia Bar Association to study the state's judicial selection method."

The Charleston Gazette also reported on the interim session meeting, as did MetroNews.

Update: Stateline.org reports that "bare-knuckle races in states including Alabama, Mississippi, Wisconsin and West Virginia have renewed calls from advocacy groups, lawyers and others in the legal community for structural changes to the way judicial elections work."

Candidates Plow nearly $11 million into W.Va. state, legislative races

The Associated Press continued its analysis of campaign finance reports from the 2008 elections by delving into post-general filings and offers overviews of spending by candidates for the Legislative and for such statewide offices as governor and Supreme Court.

AP also compared some of the statewide spending to that seen in other states.

Among other findings:

  • Statewide candidates plunked down a combined $6.6 million, while legislative hopefuls together laid out more than $4.3 million.
  • State Supreme Court candidate spending exceeded $3 million in that two-seat race, but that's less than what was seen in other states this year or in West Virginia in 2004.
  • West Virginia's race for governor, clocking in at under $2.9 million, was among the nation's cheapest in 2008. The priciest was in Washington state, where Gov. Christine Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi spent a combined $23.6 million.
  • Republican candidate for governor Russ Weeks apparently amassed a smaller campaign chest than any other major party nominee for governor in the 11 states that voted on that office this year.
  • In the most expensive legislative race of the year, "former state Sen. Mike Ross spent nearly $440,000 before losing his rematch against state Sen. Clark Barnes."
  • Ross was among just nine losing candidates who had outspent the winners in their races. The rest had run for the House. All nine are Democrats.
  • "The priciest House contest during the general election season was in Mercer County, where about $47,100 was spent for each of two 25th District seats."
  • "The biggest spender among House candidates during both the primary and general campaigns was Sally Susman, who regained the Raleigh County seat she gave up for an unsuccessful (2006) state Senate bid."

05 December 2008

Quote of the Day

"That's just not something I would ever want to drive."

-- House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., upon learning from U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito that a station wagon owned by her family while growing up had been dubbed "chick magnet."

Capito, R-2nd, took part in Friday's re-appearance by the Big Three CEOs before the House Committee.

Banking Giant Weighs in on MTR

The Charleston Gazette reports that "one of the world's largest financial institutions said this week it will phase out lending money to coal operators that use mountaintop removal mining."

"Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp. said it will stop financing companies that produce more than half of their coal from mountaintop removal," the article said. "Bank of America has provided financing for several major surface mine operators, including Massey Energy and International Coal Group, according to corporate financial disclosures."

Update: The Associated Press reviewed "annual reports for some of the largest U.S. producers" to find that "few get more than half their coal from mountaintop mines, and few borrow significant amounts of money from the North Carolina-based lender."

"The policy, buried in the company's Web site this week and barely acknowledged by its public relations department, may be little more than show," AP reports. A National Mining Association spokeswoman called it "a bit of a public relations ploy at a time when there's a lot of press attention on mountaintop removal," that article said.

04 December 2008

W.Va. Standing By Touch-Screen Voting Machines

West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland spoke to The Associated Press about how the state was " simultaneously criticized and praised for its electronic voting machine procedures" during this year's general election.

After a handful of complaints received national press and Internet attention, Ireland told AP's Tom Breen "she's convinced much of the criticism was prompted by the heat of a fiercely fought national election."

"This particular election was so highly charged, nationally, and we got bombarded by out-of-state groups," Ireland said. "Some people were looking for problems, and instead of calling us first, they called CNN."

Ireland's successor, meanwhile, told Breen she "plans to convene a forum with lawmakers, county clerks, voters and others to discuss how votes are tallied in the state, and whether changes should be made."

"There are some people who love the touch-screen machines, but in the last election, some questions came up that need to be answered," said Natalie Tennant, who won the statewide seat Nov. 4.

MTR Rule Sets Off Furor (Updated)

The Charleston Gazette reports that "Bush administration officials paved the way Tuesday to revoke parts of a key water quality rule that environmental groups say could greatly limit mountaintop removal mining if it were properly enforced."

Public Broadcasting also has coverage of the late rule change, saying it "makes it harder for environmentalists, and the incoming Obama Administration, to challenge mountaintop removal mining." Audio here.

Update: The Associated Press reports that angry environmentalists have launched an online campaign "urging President-elect Barack Obama to undo a federal rule that clarifies when coal companies can dump mining waste in streams, calling it a long-awaited 'parting gift' from the Bush administration."

Huckabee in W.Va.

The Republican presidential candidate who won West Virginia's GOP delegate convention is returning to the state to promote his new book, The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews report.

Mike Huckabee will sign copies of Do the Right Thing from noon to 1 p.m. today at Books-A-Million in Dudley Farms Plaza.

"Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, is now an analyst and host at Fox News and is considered one of the early front-runners for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012," The Gazette notes.

Choosing Judges in W.Va.

The West Virginia Judicial Association has endorsed the state's current method of voting for judges and justices along party lines, after Gov. Joe Manchin sought support for nonpartisan elections for at least circuit judges, The Associated Press reports.

Representing more than 90 active and retired judges and justices, the association has adopted a resolution that also declares its members "are always committed to participating in discussions to improve the judiciary.''

AP reported earlier that Manchin had approached the association's executive committee, which in response unanimously endorsed a resolution in favor of nonpartisan elections and agreed to present it to the full group at this week's winter conference in Morgantown.

Supporters of Tuesday's alternative resolution cited ongoing studies of the issue. The outcome "also follows a plea to the state's 55 county Democratic Party chairmen to oppose any move away from partisan elections," AP reports.

MetroNews and Public Broadcasting (with audio) also have coverage of Tuesday's resolution.

03 December 2008

Pushback on W.Va. Drug Courts

At least one of West Virginia's newly elected county prosecutors isn't interested in taking part in West Virginia's ongoing drug court experiment, The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

County and circuit court officials, with help from the Legislature, have pursued "an alternative sentencing setup aimed at getting non-violent offenders unhooked and back into society as productive citizens while sparing taxpayers money normally routed to regional jails to pay for their upkeep," the article explains.

But Raleigh County's prosecutor-elect,
Kristen Keller, told that county's commission that she opposes the concept, the newspaper reports.

“There is not a uniform belief that the therapeutic approach to criminal behavior is the appropriate approach or the approach that people who are victimized by criminals would appreciate,” Keller is quoted as saying.

She instead wants the commission to investigate the region's day reporting center for drug offenders, by auditing its books and checking the credentials of its staff.

W.Va. Reports Revenue Decline for November

Unlike most other states, West Virginia expects to ends its current budget year with more than enough general revenue to cover spending. Since the fiscal year began July 1, general revenue has exceeded estimates by $72 million.

November saw a downturn, however, with revenues missing projections by $27 million. But state officials told The Associated Press "an economic recession is not to blame."

"The state closed its books on Nov. 26, before the extended holiday weekend, but most businesses had until Sunday to pay what they owed," the article said. "As a result, those last-minute payments will show up for December."

The State Road Fund also missed its revenue mark for the month, but for the same reason, officials said.

Others reporting on the revenue figures include The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews.

Manchin on Fox News

Gov. Joe Manchin touted West Virginia's fiscal health in a Tuesday interview with Fox News while in Philadelphia for the governors' meeting with President-Elect Barack Obama. With video.

The Associated Press covered the meeting, which focused on the troubled economy.

02 December 2008

Manchin, Other Governors to Meet with Obama

Gov. Joe Manchin travels to Philadelphia on Tuesday to discuss the nation's troubled economy with President-Elect Barack Obama and the nation's other governors, MetroNews reports.

"We're not necessarily asking for more federal dollars," Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg told MetroNews. "We get a lot of federal dollars for important things, but we don't get the flexibility to use them to the best of our abilities in our individual states."

Robert J. Staker, 1925-2008

Former U.S. District Judge Robert J. Staker has died at 83, The Associated Press reports.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Staker, then a Mingo County circuit judge, to the state's southern federal court district in 1979. He stepped down from the federal bench in 2005.

The Charleston Gazette and the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington also report on Staker's passing, while the state Supreme Court has issued a release.

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses Massey Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a $260 million judgment won by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Co. in a West Virginia civil lawsuit against Massey Energy Co., The Associated Press reports.

The high court declined Massey's appeal just weeks after it agreed to hear a separate appeal arising from a West Virginia judgment against Massey. In that case, Harman Mining argues that Justice Brent Benjamin should have recused himself after winning election with a $3 million-plus boost from Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

In the appeal refused Monday, Massey wanted the U.S. high court to take the case alleging another justice, Larry Starcher, is biased against the company and Blankenship, AP reports.

MetroNews also reports on the latest appeal's denial.

01 December 2008

Underwood Remembered (Updated)

Media throughout the state have offered memorials and tributes to former Gov. Cecil Underwood since his death last week, from his native Tyler Star News to the statewide Public Broadcasting (with audio).

Such coverage will likely continue Monday. As The Associated Press reports, Charleston's Christ Church United Methodist will hold a public memorial service for the two-term Republican, with Gov. Joe Manchin among those expected to attend. Flags remain at half-staff as well.

Update: AP covered the service, as did The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail. MetroNews has text, photos and audio.

Manchin Weighing Nonpartisan Judicial Elections

Gov. Joe Manchin has asked the state's judiciary to get behind a plan to end the election of that branch, or at least for circuit judges, along party lines, The Associated Press reports.

The executive committee of the West Virginia Judicial Association has already endorsed a resolution in support of such a proposal, its new president tells AP, and has agreed to present the issue during the group's annual winter meeting that begins Tuesday.

"The push has already drawn harsh words from a legislative leader of Manchin’s own party," the article said. "Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin has called on West Virginia’s Democratic Party county chairmen to oppose such a plan."

Rockefeller Losing Longtime Aide

The Charleston Gazette has a lengthy Sunday piece on Lou Ann Johnson, who is departing this month as state director for U.S. Sen. Rockefeller after 28 years with the West Virginia Democrat.

At age 50, "retirement, she said, will allow her to unleash some of the soapbox activism she restrained in deference to his position," the article said.

Rockefeller plans to promote Deputy State Director Rochelle Goodwin to the post, The Gazette reports.

24 November 2008

Cecil Harland Underwood, 1922-2008

Former Gov. Cecil Underwood, who held the distinction of being both the youngest and the older West Virginian ever elected to that office, died Monday at age 86, The Associated Press and others report.
In 1956, Underwood became the Mountain State's first Republican governor since the rise of the New Deal Democrats in the 1930s. He reclaimed the state's top office in 1996, before losing a bid for a third term in 2000.

Underwood was a business executive and president of Bethany College in between his gubernatorial terms. He had been hospitalized over the summer.

Others with coverage include the Charleston Daily Mail. MetroNews also has a report, with audio, and reaction from Gov. Joe Manchin; U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd; and state GOP Chairman Doug McKinney.
Manchin has also posted his statement.
Update: Others marking Underwood's passing include U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va.; and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd. MetroNews has also posted historical audio from Underwood's 1956 campaign.

23 November 2008

Quote of the Weekend

“It is as great a pleasure for me to be criticized by the communists and the atheists of the Charleston Gazette as to be applauded by my best friends... Would we be upset if Osama Bin Laden was critical of us?”

-- Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, as quoted by the Williamson Daily News at a Thursday coal industry event at which he also targeted congressional Democrats, climate change, energy conservation, "greeniacs," the Iraq war and U.S. foreign policy. "Let the world fight over the oil," he said at one point. "Liquify the coal.”

Capito Helps Quiz Big Three CEOs

As a member of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, took part in questioning the Big Three's chief executives during a Nov. 19 hearing "on extending the Department of Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to the U.S. auto industry."

The committee has posted video of the six-hour hearing. Capito's questioning begins around 1:37:24, and lasts about five minutes.

Lemmon Out at State Police

State Police Superintendent David Lemmon may be the first high-ranking administration official leaving before Gov. Joe Manchin begins his second term.

As The Associated Press reports, Lemmon sent the governor a letter Thursday saying he would resign on Dec. 31. Manchin has not yet announced a successor.

"However, in an issue that has hit the news the past few days, a majority of field troopers complained in a recent survey of inadequate staffing across the state," the article said. "Some of the troopers also alleged that they face punishment for missing unofficial traffic ticket quotas. "

21 November 2008

Report Includes Ex-W.Va. Govs on Obama Roster

The Charleston Daily Mail relays reporting from The Chronicle of Higher Education that suggests that "former West Virginia Govs. Gaston Caperton and Bob Wise each have an outside shot of pushing education policies on the national front as part of President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet."

"Caperton, president of the College Board, and Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, are listed in the article after six other more likely candidates," the Daily Mail reports.

Some Shuffling, But No Turnover Yet as Manchin Preps for 2nd Term (Updated)

The Associated Press notes some promotions slated at Gov. Joe Manchin's administration once he's inaugurated Jan. 19.

"Communications Director Lara Ramsburg will move up to the now-vacant post of director of policy," the article said. Press Secretary Matt Turner will succeed Ramsburg and in turn will be replaced by press aide Sarah Payne Scarbro, fresh from the re-election campaign.

MetroNews also has those changes, and word from Manchin that Chief of Staff Larry Puccio “is staying put.”

Update: Well, that didn't take long.

Remembering Farmington

(Photo from W.Va. Division of Culture & History)

It was 40 years ago this week that 78 men descended into the sprawling No. 9 mine in Farmington, W.Va., never to return to the surface.

A massive, early morning explosion left them dead or trapped below. Additional explosions and fires ultimately thwarted rescue attempts, and what remained of the mine was sealed 10 days later.

(By 1978, the mine had been unsealed and 59 bodies recovered before it was again closed off. The state Division of Culture and History has a roster of the dead.)

The Charleston Gazette marks the anniversary by talking to survivors of those killed, including Gov. Joe Manchin. The 1968 disaster had triggered a push for mine safety measures, and Manchin often invoked the loss of his Uncle John there when he renewed that drive following this decade's mine fatalities at Sago and Aracoma.

The Gazette also offers video of some of the interviews, an image of its front-page coverage of the disaster, and the 1990 report from a federal probe of Farmington with an analysis.

National Public Radio and state Public Broadcasting also marked the anniversary -- and highlights possible evidence of what cause the disaster, considered a mystery to date:
(S)everal months after the explosion, a federal investigator discovered one possible explanation — a safety alarm on a ventilation fan had been deliberately disabled... That memo — and sworn testimony taken after the disaster — suggest that no one had to die on Nov. 20, 1968. Had this alarm been working, the men most likely would have been evacuated before the explosion.
That coverage includes both audio and video.

The Times-West Virginian of Fairmont was on hand for this year's memorial outside the disaster site, attended by Manchin and others.

The governor also spoke to MetroNews about the disaster and its effect on him and his family.

20 November 2008

State Employees Balking at Insurance Hikes

Proposed rate increases and benefit cuts in their Public Employees Insurance Agency health coverage turned out more than 100 state workers, teachers and retirees against the changes at a Wednesday hearing, The Charleston Gazette reports.

"Public workers have been told for years that the benefits package is a trade-off for what is the lowest pay for public workers in the nation," union official Steve Thompson is quoted as telling representatives of the PEIA Finance Board. "This PEIA plan proposal is essentially docking the pay of public workers."

The Gazette explains that "as tentatively adopted by the PEIA Finance Board Nov. 6, the plan proposes a 9 percent increase in employee premiums as of July 1, 2009, to be followed by increases in excess of 10 percent each year for the following three years... Retirees would see an 11 percent premium increase in July, followed by larger increases for each of the following three years."

"Retirees, who made up a majority of the crowd, stressed that they are even less able to shallow an 11 percent premium hike, living on fixed incomes with no cost of living increases in their state pensions," The Gazette reported.

PEIA officials argue that "state employees have not had a premium increase in three years, although PEIA's medical and prescription drug costs have been increasing at a rate of about 7 percent a year," the article said.

Public Broadcasting
has a report on the proposal, with audio, while MetroNews also covered the Charleston hearing.

Supreme Court Responds to Fired Official

"After initially declining comment" when fired Supreme Court official Pancho Morris alleged retaliation by Administrative Director Steve Canterbury, the court "responded Wednesday with a two-page statement that challenges each of Morris' allegations and calls those directed at Canterbury 'scurrilous, offensive lies,'" The Associated Press reports.

"Morris alleges he had reported racist language" by Canterbury before his Friday discharge, the article said. Morris, who is black, "also says he was targeted over the now infamous European vacation photos that contributed to the election defeat of Chief Justice Elliott 'Spike' Maynard."

Wednesday's statement said "the racist language attributed to Canterbury by Morris came from two incidents in which Canterbury was quoting someone else," and that "while Morris did allege racial discrimination to Canterbury during a discussion, he never complained or contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission," AP reported.

As for the photos, the article notes that Maynard's supporters had sought to link them to his political enemies after they became public in January, before he lost the Democratic primary in May.

The statement said that "Canterbury has never accused Mr. Morris of having anything to do with the release of those photos, nor has anyone else at the Supreme Court,'' and that "the release of those photos has never been investigated by the Administrative Office, or any other agency.''

MetroNews also reports on Wednesday's statement.

Update: Justice Larry Starcher tells AP he wants it known that he and his colleagues played no role in either decision by Canterbury's office to fire Morris or issue Wednesday's statement.

Quote of the Day

"Nine of the eleven (coal miners) came out even with the mistake. The two that didn't either, for whatever reason, didn't get their masks on or panicked."

-- Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, on MetroNews Talkline discussing the recent settlement of wrongful death claims arising from the 2006 Aracoma mine fire that killed two Massey miners.

(The Charleston Gazette notes that federal investigators found both men had donned their emergency breathing devices. "We can only say that they demonstrate a special lack of grace," a lawyer for their widows said of Blankenship's statements.)

19 November 2008

W.Va. Troopers Vent in Survey

More than 360 state troopers assigned to field detachments _ about 82 percent of the in-the-field total _ responded to a questionnaire from legislative auditors about working conditions. Among the highlights, as reported by The Associated Press:

  • A majority -- 247 troopers or 68 percent of those responding -- said their areas lacked adequate police coverage at all times.
  • Nearly a fourth claimed that State Police brass impose an unofficial monthly quota for traffic warnings or citations. Several pegged that quota at 100 "contacts."
  • About 30 percent say they're punished for not meeting their quotas.
  • More than one-fifth believe troopers are arbitrarily transferred or relocated as a form of discipline, even though that's against state law.
State Police officials have responded to the audit report, agreeing with some findings but disputing the quota allegations.

Legislative auditors have posted both the survey report and an appendix of the more than 1,800 comments submitted by the responding troopers.

AP and The Charleston Gazette reported earlier on a separate audit that found spotty record-keeping and improper storage of valuables at several State Police detachment evidence rooms.

Recession Looming for W.Va.

West Virginia will soon join most other states and watch as global financial woes shrink its economy and the ranks of its employed, The Associated Press reports.

AP was on hand for the latest West Virginia University forum on forecasting the state's economic health. The Charleston Gazette, Public Broadcasting (with audio) and MetroNews also covered the annual outlook conference.

"We are right on the edge of recession and a big part of that story is the slowdown in the goods-producing sectors," WVU economics professor George Hammond said. "The silver lining on that cloud is that we're actually doing better than the national economy."

The forecast calls for a net loss of about 4,800, or 0.7 percent, of jobs in West Virginia from 2008 to 2009, the article said.

MetroNews has audio both from Hammond's presentation and from David Wyss from Standard and Poor's, who commented on the national economy.

Ex-Supreme Court Official Links Firing to MonacoGate

A lawyer fired from the state Supreme Court blames his ouster on racism and the now-infamous Monaco vacation photos that roiled the court earlier this year, The Associated Press reports.

A lawyer for the fired official, Pancho Morris, wrote a Monday letter to Administrative Director Steve Canterbury outlining the grounds under which he planned to challenge his discharge.

The letter alleges that "Canterbury accused Pancho Morris of leaking details about Maynard's Monaco rendezvous with Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship."

It also tells Canterbury he retaliated against Morris ""because he blew the whistle to state officials on your use of the 'N' word and other racially derogatory language in the administrative office."

Morris talked about some of his allegations both to AP and the Charleston Daily Mail.

18 November 2008

Quote of the Day

"I am humbled by the power of the market, and the utter disregard it has for the welfare of the participants. It's kind of a cold-hearted beast, and we felt that like everybody else."

-- Executive Director Craig Slaughter of the West Virginia Investment Management Board, explaining to legislators that the state's portfolio has lost 25% of its value since July 1, as reported by The Associated Press.

W.Va. Investment Down 25%

"The ongoing Wall Street crisis has washed away a fourth of the value from West Virginia's investment portfolio - a $2.5 billion decline - since the state's budget year began July 1," The Associated Press reports.

Executive Director Craig Slaughter delivered the bad news to a special joint meeting of House and Senate committees during this week's interim legislative session. The severe hit will affect next year's state budget, has prompted a spending review by the Manchin administration and has erased a portion of the state's "rainy day" fund.

But tax revenue projections and other factors suggest the state remains better off than many others. And "citing Wall Street's historical ability to rebound," Slaughter said "the board plans to stick with its investment strategy and stay in the market at current levels," AP reports.

"Slaughter expects to recoup most of the losses over time, depending on the pace of the eventual recovery, except for about $49.3 million invested in such financial crisis casualties as Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual," the article said.

The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews (with audio of Slaughter) also have reports.

17 November 2008

Aracoma Case Settles Amid Trial

"The widows of two men killed in a 2006 coal mine fire in West Virginia settled a wrongful death lawsuit against Massey Energy Co., attorneys for both sides announced Monday," reports The Associated Press.

AP notes that the civil trial settled midway through the videotaped deposition testimony of Massey CEO Don Blankenship, a co-defendant. It also follows Friday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to review the reversal of a judgment against Massey by the state Supreme Court.

The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews also have details from Logan County.

W.Va. City Ranked as Unhealthiest, Fattest in U.S.

In the wake of a recent federal report on the health of U.S. communities, The Associated Press profiles Huntington as "America's fattest and unhealthiest city."

"Nearly half the adults in Huntington's five-county metropolitan area are obese - an astounding percentage, far bigger than the national average in a country with a well-known weight problem," the article said. "Huntington leads in a half-dozen other illness measures, too, including heart disease and diabetes. It's even tops in the percentage of elderly people who have lost all their teeth (half of them have)."

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington and WSAZ-TV (with video) are among those with follow-up coverage, including local reaction and questions raised about the findings and report.

The Charleston Gazette reports separately on childhood obesity in the Mountain State.

West Virginia as a Blue State

The Associated Press explores the phenomenon that has seen West Virginia go red in three consecutive presidential elections, but deep blue when it comes to statewide, legislative and county races.

The review included an analysis that found West Virginia among just a handful of states that have seen one party _ the Democrats, in each case _ hold majorities in both chambers of their legislatures consistently since the days for FDR.

For most of those states _ Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana _ Democratic dominance dates back to the end of Reconstruction.

AP also reports separately on the few shortcoming state Democrats encountered on Election Day, including the presidential race, while assessing possible future challenges. To state Chairman Nick Casey, they include a better way to respond to massive spending against its candidates, as seen with the last-minute TV ad buys by pro-business groups.

"I want to see the state party have enough resources so the next time one of these interests come in and try to take a swipe at a Democratic candidate, we can push back,'' Casey told AP. "We didn't feel powerless, but it is a very distinct disadvantage.''

2009 Means Pay Raises for Manchin et. al.

MetroNews notes that winning a second term has also earned Gov. Joe Manchin a $55,000 salary boost, thanks to legislation passed in 2006.

The hike is among an array for elected officials from that bill scheduled for 2009 . Lawmakers also raised the pay of numerous appointed officeholders, at Manchin's request.

Manchin's annual salary will rise from $95,000 to $150,000. "The governor still lags behind several other state workers in salaries including university football coaches, college presidents and state School Superintendent Steve Paine," MetroNews notes.

The 2006 legislation raised the yearly pay of the rest of the Board of Public Works to $95,000.

14 November 2008

U.S. Supreme Court Accepts Caperton v. Massey for Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court voted Friday "to review the actions of a West Virginia Supreme Court justice whose vote overturned a $50 million verdict against a company that is run by the most generous backer of his election," The Associated Press reports.

AP explains that "Don Blankenship, the chief executive of Massey Energy Co., spent more than $3 million to help elect Justice Brent Benjamin to the West Virginia high court. Benjamin twice was part of 3-2 majorities that threw out a verdict in favor of Harman Mining Co. in its coal contract dispute with Massey."

The nation's highest court agreed to take the case after such groups as the American Bar Association filed briefs supporting the appeal. It also attracted an editorial from The New York Times.

Update: The justices voted as a Logan County civil trial continues in the lawsuit filed by survivors of two miners killed in a 2006 fire at a Massey subsidiary. AP and The Charleston Gazette are among those covering the wrongful death case, which includes Blankenship as a co-defendant.

W.Va. Weighing Another County School Takeover

A "laundry list of problems" revealed by a 151-page audit report of Randolph County schools has state education officials eyeing a takeover, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

"The cited problems include the county's decision to keep several hundred thousand dollars in an uninsured account, its persistently low test scores, its non-compliant hiring practices and a school board president attempting to micromanage the system," the article said.

County officials are resisting the possible move, and questioning some of the audit's findings.

Quote of the Day

"I understand why people pay attention to me on this issue, and that's why I want to be a spokesman about it."

-- former state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, to The Associated Press' Tom Breen about how his 2003 DUI arrest and underlying alcohol problem has prompted him to pursue "legislation aimed at helping addicts overcome their dependencies."

Voters returned Snyder to the Senate on Nov. 4, according to unofficial results. "As of Thursday, Snyder had a lead of 228 out of more than 53,000 cast, and the number of late absentee and provisional ballots left make it likely he'll be the eventual winner," the AP article notes.

Post-Election Brings Hint of GOP Statehouse Power Struggle

MetroNews reports that "Republican House of Delegates member Craig Blair (Berkeley) says he intends to challenge Delegate Tim Armstead of Kanawha County for the position of House Minority Leader."

The House's 28 Republicans (they will gain a seat in 2009) will caucus on Dec. 7. "
Blair and Armstead have talked, and Armstead has come away hopeful Blair's issues can be addressed without an actual challenge," the MetroNews item said.

The Associated Press reported earlier on the largely tough results suffered by West Virginia's GOP for the second consecutive general election. Both Public Broadcasting (with audio) and the Charleston Daily Mail have also explored the topic. Update: so has The Intelligencer of Wheeling.

One other potential power play may also arise before the 79th Legislature convenes next year. Stay tuned.

13 November 2008

Greenbrier Ballot Canvass Leaves Results Unchanged

The Register-Herald of Beckley updates on the ballot miscount in Greenbrier County and puts the number of untallied votes at 411.

But adding those ballots to the total did not change the winners in three close races.

Republican Jim Childers increased his lead from 280 to 299 votes over Democrat Bruce Hosey in the contest for sheriff. "A special casino vote also saw slight increase in 'yes' votes, while the $40 million school bond issue saw an increase of 101 'yes' votes," the article said. "The school bond passed by only 88 votes on election night."

"By mid-afternoon, school officials calculated that it was mathematically impossible for the bond to be defeated due to the remaining number of challenged ballots left to be counted," the article also said.

12 November 2008

Ballot Miscount Could Upend Greenbrier Results

Greenbrier County officials left 340 ballots uncounted on Election Day, and when combined with 167 provisional ballots throw several races into uncertainty, The Associated Press reports.

The more than 500 votes that could still be counted "could be the difference in the sheriff's race, a $40 million school bond levy and a referendum on gambling at The Greenbrier resort," the article said.

The Register-Herald of Beckley was the first with the story, and also reports that the canvass is proceeding much more smoothly in Raleigh County.

Crime and Punishment in West Virginia

The Associated Press previews this week's summit to tackle an over-capacity West Virginia prison system beset by escalating costs.

"This year, the state is expected to spend nearly $156 million to house, feed and provide health care to about 6,000 inmates in work release centers, regional jails and correctional centers across the state," the article said. "The system is already over capacity as about 1,000 additional state inmates are being housed in one of 10 regional jails."

10 November 2008

Sifting Through Election Results

The Associated Press reviews the series of narrow losses that helped mark another tough election for the West Virginian Republican Party, with its state party chairman offering a mixed assessment of money's impact on the GOP fortunes.

AP also reports on the debate within the state Democratic Party over such environmental issues as mountaintop removal mining and the viability of "clean" coal technology.

The Charleston Gazette relays an earlier Politico profile of Charleston native Sarah Feinberg, an aide to President-Elect Barack Obama's chief of staff.

Russ Weeks tells The Register-Herald of Beckley that after his drubbing at the hands of Gov. Joe Manchin, the Republican is "through with politics after being dealt his latest setback, and there is nothing anyone can say or do that is going to change his mind."

Eustace Frederick, 1930-2008

Delegate Eustace Frederick, a retired Consol Coal engineer who represented Mercer County for 15 years in the House, died last week, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports.

Marc Meachum, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, credited Frederick for the region's biennial Coal Symposium while calling him "a passionate supporter of the coal mining industry."

As The Associated Press reports, the 78-year-old Democrat "had been in declining health when he announced this year that he would not seek a ninth term."

The Charleston Gazette has his obituary.

07 November 2008

Byrd Agrees to Step down as Appropriations Chair

After renewed questions about his ability to continue in the post, Sen. Robert C. Byrd announced plans Friday to relinquish the reins of the powerful Appropriations Committee in January, The Associated Press reports.

The Charleston Gazette
was first with the story, while Politico also has coverage. AP reports separately on the reaction by state political leaders.

Update: Byrd's planned departure as chairman has set off a chain reaction of Senate committee changes, and could likely land Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., atop the influential Commerce Committee, AP reports.

Election 2008: Gambling

AP's Tom Breen follows up on his coverage of the ballot issue that would allow gambling at The Greenbrier, reporting that the resort "will hire a consultant to evaluate the prospect."

The Register-Herald of Beckley also has a story.

AP reported earlier that Maryland voted to legalize slot machines Tuesday, "paving the way for up to 15,000 machines in five locations."

"For slots, the sites approved by voters are in Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties, the city of Baltimore and on state property in Rocky Gap State Park in western Maryland," the article continues.

At least one of those locations could compete with Charles Town Races & Slots for gamblers, as the West Virginia track draws most of its customers from out-of-state and was denied casino table games by voters last year.

But Ohio voters rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed a casino in that border state, AP reports.

Election 2008: Republicans

The Charleston Daily Mail says that "in 2012, West Virginia could elect either its first-ever female governor or United States senator. It all depends on which office Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito decides to run for."

The Daily Mail also hears from state GOP Chairman Doug McKinney about the Tuesday victories of the seven House Republicans targeted by last-minute attack ads from state Democrats.

With only 200 votes separating him from Tuesday's apparent winner in their state Senate race, Republican Bob Adams tells The Journal of Martinsburg that he's waiting for the canvass.

MetroNews quizzes GOP operatives and Charleston Mayor Danny Jones about a string of close Republican losses Tuesday, and what their party should do going forward. With audio.

Election 2008: President

Public Broadcasting sifts through the election results to identify what kept West Virginia "red" in the Obama-McCain race. With audio, and a map showing how the counties voted.

Public Broadcasting also spoke to residents of Huntington (with audio) and Morgantown (ditto) about Obama's win, and covered a speech at West Virginia University by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts on the topic (audio here).

Others field local reaction include The Intelligencer of Wheeling, the Charleston Daily Mail and the Parkersburg News.

Election 2008: Governor

The Associated Press reports that "Buoyed by the largest victory margin ever won by someone seeking his office, Gov. Joe Manchin vowed Thursday to extend health coverage to every uninsured working West Virginian," possibly by expanding PEIA and Medicaid.

"The governor also pledged to continue the gradual tax cuts that helped define his first term — but he offered no specific tax-related proposal for next year’s session," the article said. "He instead cautioned that a national recession could at least hamper that goal."

The Charleston Gazette reported earlier on Manchin's possible agenda and the factors behind his landslide win Tuesday.

Toll Hike for Turnpike on the Horizon

Both The Register-Herald of Beckley and The Charleston Gazette report that state officials see little choice but to raise tolls on the 88-mile West Virginia Turnpike "at some point, in the near future," as one official put it.

The Beckley paper focuses as well on the factors that have made a rate hike an issue: reduced traffic from both passenger and commercial vehicles, thanks to high gas prices and the economic woes.

It also reports separately on possible future options for Tamarack, the arts and crafts showcase destined to be removed from the agency that oversees the Turnpike.

06 November 2008

Election 2008: Turnout

Despite hitting a record number registered voters, and after the most successful round of early voting yet, West Virginia's turnout Tuesday bucked a national trend that saw ballots cast reach an all-time high.

The Associated Press reports that "a national expert on voter turnout says the signs of an overwhelming Obama win nationally, and a lack of enthusiasm for his alternative, tell the story."

Others examining turnout include The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail, the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington and MetroNews.

05 November 2008

Election 2008: The Results

The Associated Press has a a roundup of both the federal contests in West Virginia, from the McCain-Obama battle on down, and the statewide and legislative races.

AP also conducted extensive exit polling, and reports the results, and also has an item on passage of the bid to add casino gambling to The Greenbrier.

As for the headlines and coverage across the state:

The Register-Herald (Beckley): Sumner lone Republican to win 27th House seat; Senate leader defeats challenger; Incumbents take House 28th; Louisos, Staggers, Perry to claim 29th House seats; Greenbrier gambling gets nod.

The Charleston Gazette: ; House sweeps: Dems in 30th, GOP in 32nd; Putnam legislators win re-election.

The Charleston Daily Mail (updated):
Voter turnout in W.Va. down, breaks from nationwide trend; A newcomer claims a seat in the 30th District, and Hunt returns after 2-year absence; Incumbents hold onto House seats representing Putnam, Mason and Jackson.

The Herald-Dispatch (Huntington):
Wolfe elected mayor (AP also has an item); Adkins, Chiles, Stephens all re-elected.

The Times-West Virginian (Fairmont): Software glitch delays vote count; Mayor unseated in Fairmont council election; Tennant prevails in race for commission.

The Journal (Martinsburg);Voters don’t despair despite long lines; Snyder retakes seat in Senate; Barnes likely;Incumbents Blair and Cowles win re-election to seats; With a majority of precincts reporting, Yoder wins election (as circuit judge); Doyle, Lawrence take seats in W.Va. House.

The News and Sentinel (Parkersburg):Turnout hits 67 percent in Wood County; Ellem, Azinger, Poling win; Airport levy crashes.

The Intelligencer and News-Register (Wheeling): Voters Have Trouble At the Polls; Jack Yost elected to WV Senate;Kessler retains state Senate seat; Klempa, Hutchins retain seats.