19 January 2008

Sharpe Leaving Senate

Sidelined since major surgery last year, Senate President Pro Tempore Bill Sharpe is retiring after 44 years in the Legislature, Senate officials announced.

First elected to the Senate in 1960, but with a gap in service during the early 1980s , the Lewis County Democrat "has more years of service than any other sitting senator, officials told The Associated Press.

The 79-year-old underwent risky surgery to remove a brain aneurysm in 2007. He also lost both his wife, Pauline, and his brother Thomas in 2005.

Sharpe is the seventh incumbent senator, and the fourth Democrat, who definitely won't be returning to that chamber in 2009. Like the others, he is up for re-election this year.

Public Broadcasting recently examined the potential turnover in the Senate, where half the 34 seats are on the 2008 ballot.

18 January 2008

Maynard Quits Massey Case - 2nd Update

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard has agreed to recuse himself from a pending case involving Massey Energy Co., The Associated Press reports.

The decision follows concerns raised over his relationship with Don Blankenship, the company's president, chairman and CEO, highlighted by recently revealed photos of the two of them together in Monaco.

Update: Maynard's decision comes after several state newspapers had opined in favor of recusal. The Charleston Daily Mail appears to have sounded the first editorial call, followed by The Register-Herald of Beckley and The Charleston Gazette.

Others with the latest development include the Daily Mail, MetroNews and Public Broadcasting, which has also posted Maynard's written response announcing his recusal.

Update II: Rejecting the call for his recusal, Acting Chief Justice Brent Benjamin has appointed Hampshire County Circuit Judge Don Cookman in Maynard's stead. AP has details.

GOP Convention: The At-Large Factor (Updated)

The unofficial results are in and Mitt Romney has retained his edge of pledged state GOP convention delegates.

Recent voting largely settled the hundreds of contested at-large seats to the Feb. 5 event.

Mike Huckabee also did well, as did Fred Thompson. Each won enough at-large seats to boost their totals above 100.

Among the tidbits:

  • Mineral and Monongalia counties ran into voting problems, leaving the fate of 35 at-large seats up in the air;
  • 16 party members in five counties who were unopposed for at-large seats ended up losing because no one turned out to vote in those counties (Braxton, Gilmer, Grant, Ritchie, Wirt);
  • In the state's largest county, Kanawha, delegates for Romney and Huckabee out-muscled the rest of the field, though Romney ended up with nearly twice as many seats as Huckabee there;
  • Of the party members who pledged to Huckabee when they filed to be delegates, nearly 90% won convention seats. That's the highest success rate among pledged delegates;
  • Uncommitted delegates remain a formidable wild card, with the at-large voting increasing their numbers from 390 to 521 _ just under half the delegates seated to date.
The Associated Press has the latest details. The Intelligencer of Wheeling focuses on Ohio County results as well.

Also... The AP's recent analysis of the possible at-large vote outcome (also found here) included this:
The pledged allegiances of those delegates (eligible to vote) suggests that Huckabee is favored to pick up at-large seats in Wayne County, while Fred Thompson should add to his margin in Nicholas County.

Thompson also has a sizable portion of delegates eligible to vote in Berkeley, as does Romney in Kanawha County and Ron Paul in Jefferson and Monongalia counties. Delegate-voters are not the majority in any of those four, however.
While results have not yet been reported for Monongalia County, this assessment proved accurate, as those candidates did indeed make gains in the rest of those counties.

Update: A further crunching of the numbers reveals other interesting details:
  • Huckabee was the only candidate to win all at-large seats selected in a given county, and actually pulled that off in two: Cabell and Raleigh (for a hefty total of 48). He also came close in Wayne, getting 11 of 12, while capturing 15 of Putnam County's at-large delegates;
  • 145 at-large seats remain unfilled, including the 35 in Mineral and Monongalia counties;
  • 23 counties have now filled their at-large slots;
  • Uncommitted delegates did best in Wood County, winning 14 of 31 seats, while getting 11 of 31 spots in Berkeley County.
  • Two Alan Keyes delegates won at-large seats, in Harrison County, but their candidate is not registered for the convention.

New Vet Home Flunks Inspection

Its opening already delayed for at least two years, West Virginia's new, $26 million nursing home for military veterans has been refused an operating license "because of a host of problems, including failure to meet requirements for accident prevention and infection control," The Associated Press reports.

Picking up a story from The Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram (subscription required), the AP article said a 120-page report issued last week by the state Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification details an array of problems.

They include "failure to meet requirements for therapeutic diets, care of pressure sores, vision and hearing, activities of daily living, menus and nutrition, quality of life, staffing and general maintenance," AP said.

Administrators "also failed to ensure that all job applicants were screened against the state's nurse aide abuse registry before they were hired," the article said.

"The staff is working diligently to resolve all the issues we need to resolve to get OHFLC back in there to issue a license," Joe Thornton, spokesman for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, told AP. "I hesitate to give a specific date, but I hope by the end of this month we can resolve all the issues and ask for a re-inspection."

Short Takes from the Session: Day 10

CLEAN STREAMS, PRIVATE PROPERTY: Gov. Joe Manchin's Environmental Protection chief, Stephanie Timmermeyer, sought to explain her department's approach to designating waterways for special protections on Thursday.

The Associated Press was among those covering the House Chamber presentation, as was The Charleston Gazette. The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington focused on the proposal's regional impact.

GRADES & LICENSES: The Parkersburg newspapers report that "Manchin’s plan to link high school grades to driver’s licenses for students is getting a mixed reaction in Wood County." The Register-Herald of Beckley gauges a tepid reception from lawmakers as well.

BUCKS FOR JOBS: State university officials appear largely in favor of Manchin's legislative agenda items that would "pump money into the state’s higher education system to encourage work force training and business investment," The State Journal finds. The Charleston Daily Mail, meanwhile, checks out Manchin's assertion that the state is running out of skilled workers.

HOME RULE: Senate Government Organization Chairman Ed Bowman, D-Hancock, is among those planning to resist changes to the state's "home rule" pilot program, he tells The Intelligencer of Wheeling.

HEALTHY SCHOOLS: Public Broadcasting tracks the latest sign of an ongoing effort among lawmakers: "
Legislators want junk food and sugary soft drinks out of public schools. Bills introduced Wednesday would require that only healthy beverages and nutritional snacks be sold in schools." (Audio here.)

STATE ROAD FUND: Predicting a $25.8 million drop in fuel tax revenues _ their largest single source of funding _ next year, state highway officials are telling lawmakers that "demand
for state road construction projects already far exceeds the available money," The Gazette reports.

W.Va. GOP Whittling Down Debt, Chairman Says

After as much as $180,000 in unpaid bills, West Virginia's Republican Party has whacked down its debts to a more maneagable $40,000, Chairman Doug McKinney told MetroNews' Talkline.

McKinney predicted the party will be back in the black by the state's May 13 primary. "I think we'll attract some of our major donors back and a lot of the people who have been regular, modest to moderate contributors but just didn't feel good about contributing to old debt, I think we'll see the Party's resurgence," he told Talkine's Hoppy Kercheval.

MetroNews also has audio from Thursday's interview.

Massey Tying Up Loose Legal Ends

With its top executive creating a furor over his ties to a state Supreme Court justice, Massey Energy Co. could pay as much as $30 million to settle a massive lawsuit filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Associated Press reports.

The leading coal producer has agreed to a $20 million fine to resolve allegations "it routinely polluted hundreds of streams and waterways in West Virginia and Kentucky with sediment-filled waste water and coal slurry," AP reports.

The settlement terms also require it to "invest millions of dollars for pollution control improvements at its 44 mines and coal facilities in the two states and in Virginia," the article said. A Massey lawyer disputes the EPA's estimate that the price tag of that term could reach $10 million.EPA photo, "Downstream impacts from a Massey coal mining operation."

MetroNews and The Charleston Gazette also detail the settlement. The latter notes that "If approved by a federal judge, the settlement announced Thursday would rank as the largest civil penalty ever for Clean Water Act permit limit violations."

Citizen groups and environmental enforcement experts also told the Gazette that, "while praising the deal," also "wondered why it took regulators so long to catch up to Massey, and why the punishment wasn’t more serious."

EPA sued Massey and several of its subsidiaries in May. The proposed settlement reflects the latest of several efforts to resolve legal difficulties involving the company and Don Blankenship, its president, chairman and CEO.

Blankenship withdrew a lawsuit in October that had targeted West Virginia's Democratic Party over a 2006 TV ad.

Two months later, he ended his lawsuit against Gov. Joe Manchin. The two issued a joint statement to defuse Blankenship's allegations that the governor was singling out his company for regulatory scrutiny.

Massey also dodged a major bullet the month before, when the Supreme Court overturned a $76.3 million judgment against it in a coal contract dispute. But allegations of favoritism toward Massey and Blankenship by Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard have fueled a push to revisit that ruling.

(The latest, as AP reports, expands the pending recusal bid against Maynard to include Brent Benjamin, citing Blankenship's multimillion-dollar effort to help get him elected in 2004.)

The (Beckley) Register-Herald's take on the unearthed Monaco photos.

The revelation that Maynard and Blankenship met up in Monaco while vacationing in mid-2006 also factors into yet another lawsuit -- the one filed by Massey against the Supreme Court.

Pending in federal court, that case targets the very disqualification procedure that now comes into play in the petitions targeting Maynard and Benjamin.

Another remaining litigation loose end for Massey is the $239 million (corrected figure) judgment won by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Co. in July. Unless the judge hasn't ruled on a new trial motion, that case should be headed to appeal before the state Supreme Court.

17 January 2008

Short Takes from the Session: Day 9

MINE SAFETY: The first bill up for passage in the House "would require the coal industry to post notices informing employees they are being exposed to a hazardous chemical material or lead, both of which can create serious health problems," The Charleston Gazette reports.

The article also notes that its chief sponsor, House Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion and a United Mine Workers union official, has had the measure on his wish list since arriving at the Legislature in 1997.

GUNS BENEATH THEIR ROBES: West Virginia Media takes a look at three different measures that together "would allow magistrates and family court judges to begin carrying concealed deadly weapons without permits."

SENATE TURNOVER: Public Broadcasting explores the growing number of incumbent senators who plan to seek other offices or not run for re-election in 2008. With audio.

Legislature 2008: Teachers

A new survey helps explain Gov. Joe Manchin's proposed crackdown on school bullies this session.

A survey of 2,000 teachers and service personnel found that "More than a third of teachers, 36 percent, say they lose 20 percent of instructional time every week to disruptive behavior -- a loss that amounts to one day a week," The Associated Press' Shaya Tayefe Mohajer reports.

"School employees were almost unanimous when it comes to concern about bullies, with 92 percent identifying bullying as a problem at their school or on buses," the article continues.

As Tayefe Mohajer reports, "Manchin has made discipline part of his legislative agenda for this year's session. During last week's State of the State address, he called upon lawmakers to address school bullies and disruptive students."

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia School Service Personnel released their survey Wednesday along with recommendations. "The main thrust of the recommendations is strengthening and enforcing the 1995 Safe Schools Act," AP reports.

The Register-Herald reports on the survey and on one Beckley-area lawmaker's reaction, as well as on the related teacher pay raise proposed by Manchin.

The Charleston Gazette has coverage as well.

Update: MetroNews has a story and interviews with AFT-WV's Judy Hale and personnel group chief Bob Brown.

Quote of the Day

"When you sue people, would you believe, they don't like it. Then, when you take money from them, they like it even less. And they make a political issue out of it to try and take revenge.''

-- Attorney General Darrell McGraw, offering his view on criticisms of his handling of several recent lawsuit settlements.

AG Pitches Sales Tax Holidays to Lawmakers

Already under fire for his handling of previous state lawsuit settlements, Attorney General Darrell McGraw hopes to win over the Legislature with his latest proposal, The Associated Press reports.

"McGraw said the money from a settlement with Visa USA Inc. over antitrust and consumer protection charges has been placed in a trust to be used for a sales tax holiday," AP's Tom Breen writes.

"Some lawmakers, though, argue that all decisions about appropriating state money -- including money brought in by litigation -- should be made by the Legislature," the article said.

Radio ads paid for by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the state Business and Industrial Council are targeting McGraw over past settlements. "At a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday, McGraw dismissed the criticism as politically motivated," Breen writes.

The Charleston Gazette also has a story, and like AP covered the sometimes-testy Senate Finance meeting.

They Voted For You: Mine Safety

The U.S. House passed the Supplementary Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act late Wednesday, with the help of West Virginia Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd.

Capito was among seven GOP members to vote for the bill, which prevailed 214-199.

The bill would "establish improved mandatory standards to protect miners during emergencies," among other purposes. Supporter call it "a needed follow-up to the sweeping safety changes in the 2006 MINER Act," The Associated Press reports.

The Charleston Gazette details some of the measure's provisions:

(F)ederal regulators would have sweeping new enforcement authority and independent investigators would probe major accidents. Mine operators would have to comply with tougher new coal dust limitations and more stringent rules on exposing workers to other hazardous substances.
The Gazette also reports that Capito "voted for the bill, after first voting for an unsuccessful Republican substitute measure and for a failed attempt to kill the legislation," and that "In a floor speech, Capito said the bill was 'flawed in many ways” and would “hold up the progress that is underway.'"

In a statement issued after the vote, Capito said "We must be cautious that new regulations do not jeopardize job security for our miners or undermine safety efforts already underway. "

AP also reports that "The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto a mine safety bill, saying the new regulations proposed by Democrats would interfere with legislation President Bush signed in 2006."

16 January 2008

Legislature 2008: Prisons

Gov. Joe Manchin's proposed budget for 2008-2009 includes $151 million for the state Division of Corrections.

As The Charleston Daily Mail reports, that's nearly twice what West Virginia's prison system cost taxpayers just seven years ago.

Medical costs are one culprit, with more than 11 percent of the prison population over age 65, the Daily Mail found.

"Meanwhile, the inmate population in the state's prison has risen from 3,027 to 4,145 -- a 37 percent increase. Projections have this number escalating," the article said.

Among possible options, "Two bills are currently pending in the state Legislature that would create commissions to study criminal sentencing guidelines and the state's overall criminal justice system," the newspaper reported.

Spike & Don's Excellent European Vacation, Part Deux

Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard and Massey Energy Co.'s Don Blankenship have both responded to the recent airing of photos showing them together in Monaco.

As The Associated Press reports, the two longtime friends acknowledge that they met up on the Riveria while a $76.3 million case involving Massey was heading to the court.

But both reject allegations that such socializing was inappropriate. Maynard stated that their friendship "has never influenced any decision I've made for the Court," and that "The suggestion that I have done something improper is nonsense."

But others aren't so sure.

Echoing other ethics experts, Ben Greene, law professor and director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University, tells AP that "several questions arise from Maynard’s and Blankenship’s apparent socializing."

And Deborah Rhode, a law professor and director of Stanford University's Center for Ethics, said "It doesn't matter whether they planned it, or discovered by happy coincidence that they would be in the same place. ... This kind of ex parte contact is clearly inappropriate."

AP also reports on the memo from Justice Larry Starcher, whose comments about Massey and Blankenship have played a role in the underlying case as well.

"The memo asks (Court Administrator Steve) Canterbury to ensure that no documents are destroyed or records 'on servers or otherwise, of any document or digital photographs, be altered, removed or erased,'" the article said, adding that "Canterbury said the memo echoes court policy."

Update: Public Broadcasting reports on both the motion to disqualify (with audio) and Maynard's response.

MetroNews focuses on the latter.

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington hears from one of Maynard's would-be Democratic primary challengers on the topic.

Short Takes from the Session: Day 8 (Updated)

COALBED METHANE: The Register-Herald of Beckley hears from one state senator regarding Gov. Joe Manchin's tax-related proposal.

MENTAL HEALTH CARE: Manchin's 2008-2009 budget proposal includes $9 million "to house some mentally ill patients at private facilities because of overcrowding at the state's two main hospitals," The Charleston Daily Mail reports.

ELECTING JUDGES: The Beckley newspaper also details a newly introduced bill that would remove party tags from the elections of West Virginia's judicial officials.

TOO DUMB TO DRIVE? (Update): Manchin's legislative agenda includes a bill "to make passing grades a prerequisite for teenagers seeking to obtain and keep a driver's license, a proposal he hopes will underscore the notion that getting behind the wheel is a privilege that entails certain responsibilities," The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports.

Legislature 2008: Day 8

The House and Senate have seen 900 bills introduced as their 60-day regular session enters its second week.

The bulk of the measures have been carried over from the 2007 session of the 78th Legislature.

The Top Five topics so far:

1. Crime & Punishment (adding crimes, increasing penalties): 13%
2. Regulations: 12.5%
3. Taxes (mostly proposed cuts, deductions and credits): 10.5%
4. Government Organization (creating, abolishing or transferring state agencies): 7%
5. Education: 5.7%

Regulation-related bills include one to require neck braces for high school football players (HB2018), one addressing telemarketing by quasi-state agencies (HB2004), and a bid to increase the maximum legal weight of six-axle tractor trailers (SB86).

Legislature 2008: Abortion (Updated)

West Virginians for Life has renewed its push to end "state funding for elective abortions for poor women," arguing that would "decrease the number of abortions in the state as a whole," MetroNews reports (with audio).

"Records indicate the Department of Health and Human Resources paid almost $400,000 for 798 abortions in West Virginia in 2006," the report said.

But an official with the group argues "the majority of those abortions were elective, meaning rape, incest or a health threat to the mother were not reasons for those abortions."

"West Virginia is one of 16 states that funds abortions for women who cannot afford one through Medicaid coverage," MetroNews reports. "In 1993, the Legislature passed a law that would have kept taxpayer dollars from being used in that way. A State Supreme Court ruling overturned that."

Update: MetroNews followed up Wednesday with the executive director of the pro-choice group West Virginia Free (audio here).

Margaret Chapman told Talkine host Hoppy Kercheval that "We're talking about poor women who may already have several children who don't want to be pregnant and, if they can't afford an abortion, how are they going to afford a child?"

Chapman also cited the 1993 court ruling. "They (those proposing the bill) know it to be so and it's really tragic because they are attacking West Virginia's poorest women," she told Kercheval.

Ex-Senator Going To Prison

After a promising start in the West Virginia Legislature, former Sen. Lisa Smith was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison.

The Associated Press is among those with the details. Smith, R-Putnam, and her husband both pleaded guilty to failing to pay employment taxes from their in-home health care companies.

The ex-lawmaker also pleaded guilty to mailing campaign finance reports during her successful 2002 bid for the state Senate. Smith had masked her personal donations to her campaign by listing them as contributions from individuals.

Smith resigned from the senate in 2004, was indicted along with her husband in 2006 and was temporarily ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial until she received treatment.

WCHS-TV also has the story, as does MetroNews.

Karl Rove in W.Va.

Former White House deputy chief of staff and longtime Bush advisor Karl Rove was in Charleston on Monday to raise money for the state Republican Party, and Gary Abernathy appears to have an exclusive.

"Rove reminisced about his 30 year friendship with President Bush, and spoke movingly about the visits the president has held with families who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq and Afghanistan," Abernathy writes.

Local GOP activists Larry and Lisa Pack hosted the fundraiser at their home, the post said.

The state part has faced significant debt over the last several years, and has taken several steps to whittle down the amount. Chairman Doug McKinney recently announced that, with the help of Larry Pack and others, "
we have been able to erase $52,600 of our debt as reported to the FEC."

The state party's Feb. 5 presidential convention has also offered an opportunity to raise funds, by charging candidates $5,000 and attending delegates $25.

Rove previously appeared at the Kanawha County GOP's annual Lincoln Day Dinner in February 2006, raising funds there as well.

15 January 2008

Flack Quits DaughterGate Probe

A state education official has heeded the Faculty Senate at West Virginia University and stepped down from the three-member panel picked by WVU to investigate the EMBA degree awarded Heather Bresch.

The Associated Press' Vicki Smith has the details.

(AP's Tom Breen, meanwhile, coined "DaughterGate.")

Short Takes From The 2008 Session

COALBED METHANE: Gov. Joe Manchin has revived his drive to end a break on severance taxes, adding a sweetener to win over lawmakers, The Associated Press reports.

RESEARCH ENDOWMENT: Marshall University University President Stephen Kopp tells MetroNews why he supports Manchin's proposal to draw matching research funds for Marshall and West Virginia University with a $50 million state investment. With audio.

PROMISE: Local educators are the latest to question Manchin's push to change the terms of the PROMISE scholarship program, in this story from The Parkersburg News.

MINE SAFETY: AP reports that state mine inspectors would still lag behind their federal counterparts in page even with the salary hike sought by Manchin.

Degree of Doubt Update

The Faculty Senate at West Virginia University has voted in favor of removing state higher ed official Bruce Flack from heading WVU's review of the EMBA degree awarded Heather Bresch.

The Charleston Gazette
has the story.

Update: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also covered the Faculty Senate meeting, while Public Broadcasting recently interviewed Provost Gerald Lang (audio here).

Bringing Food to W.Va.'s Cultural Center

State officials still plan to open a cafe to the Cultural Center on the Capitol grounds, amid lingering objections that food will attract pests that threaten the building's invaluable archives trove.

The Associated Press attended a Senate committee meeting Monday where Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith made a case for adding both a cafe and a gift shop to the 1970s-era building.

Reid-Smith offered several examples where food and rare materials co-exist, including the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., and the Boston Public Library.

He also showed the committee an artist's sketch of the Cultural Center's original design, which had included an atrium Reid-Smith offered as an option for a cafe/gift shop.

(When asked to show the sketch to the sizable audience behind him in the committee room, Reid-Smith flashed it briefly. The committee chairman told Reid-Smith to "be nice" and show it to them again. With his back turned to the audience, the commissioner held it up over his head. Someone next to me turned to others in the audience and said, "See, I told you he was an asshole.")

The possibly related firing of longtime Archives and History Director Fred Armstrong was not discussed at the meeting. MetroNews, The Charleston Gazette and Public Broadcasting (with audio link) have coverage as well.

Election 2008: Candidate Filings Begin

West Virginia's 2008 election season kicked off Monday when more than 70 people marked the beginning of the candidacy filing period.

Those turning in the necessary paperwork include "Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, House Majority Leader Joe DeLong and former television news anchor Natalie Tennant," The Associated Press reports.

The latter two filed for Secretary of State as Democrats, and were joined by a Republican candidate for that office, Charles Minimah. Incumbents filing for re-election included Attorney General Darrell McGraw, state Treasurer John Perdue and Auditor Glen Gainer.

"At the top of the ticket were the first three presidential candidates to file paperwork in West Virginia: Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney," the AP's Tom Breen writes.

"When Republican primary voters select a presidential candidate May 13, they will be voting for his slate of congressional district delegates to the national convention," the AP article notes. "This departs from prior elections, when party members could file to run as district or 'at-large' delegates. A Feb. 5 state convention will decide the state GOP's 18 at-large delegates this year."

MetroNews and The Register-Herald of Beckley also report on the opening of the filing period, which ends midnight Jan. 26.

Also, the Secretary of State's office offers four different ways to search for candidacy filings online.

14 January 2008

Spike & Don's Excellent European Vacation? (Updated)

(photo from court filing)

The apparent relationship between Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard and the head of Massey Energy Co. has become an issue in a case before the court.

As The Associated Press reports, a Monday filing invokes photos of Maynard and Don Blankenship together in Monte Carlo in the summer of 2006 to argue the justice's removal from the Harman Mining case.

Maynard helped form the 3-2 majority that overturned the $76.3 million judgment won by Harman and its president, Hugh Caperton, in a contract dispute with Massey.

Caperton's lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to reconsider that ruling, and want Maynard disqualified from that proceeding. They also argue Maynard should withdraw his vote from the November decision.

A Massey spokesman says that the two men vacationing within 13 miles of each other on the Riviera at the same time is a coincidence. From the AP story:

A Massey spokesman said Maynard and Blankenship did meet up that summer, but while vacationing separately in Monaco and Nice, France, about 13 miles away.

"While there, they did meet up for lunch and dinner occasionally together," spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said.

Gillenwater said he did not believe the two had coordinated their vacation plans.

"They're both from Mingo County, and they've known each other for years," Gillenwater said.

Massey sued the Supreme Court one month after the European meet-up. The federal lawsuit, still pending, alleges the court "violates due process rights by denying impartial reviews when justices refuse to disqualify themselves from hearing cases," the article said.

AP also notes that "State court rules require judicial officers to disqualify themselves from proceedings if their 'impartiality might reasonably be questioned,' or they have 'a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party's lawyer,' among other factors."

Maynard announced plans last year to run for re-election in 2008.

MetroNews also has the story.

Update: The New York Times has the story (and some of the photos).

Update II:
Others with the story today include The Charleston Gazette (with photos). Also, Blankenship is on the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. An organ bankrolled by that group in West Virginia offers its take as well. Same with West Virginia Media.

Update III: Those joining the fray this morning also include the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Legislature, Day 6: Short Takes

YOUR HOME IS YOUR CASTLE, SANS TREBUCHET: Lawmakers have revived a bill from last year's session that would make clear that West Virginians "can use deadly force in the protection of your home and family," The (Beckley) Register-Herald reports.

COVER THAT CARCASS: A McDowell County high school freshman is behind legislation highlighted in the Bluefield Daily-Telegraph that aims to "
spare motorists and onlookers the sight of dressed game during West Virginia’s hunting season."

LET IT GO: That's the headline summing up Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin's view of the push by fellow lawmakers to increase scrutiny of workers' compensation, as reported by MetroNews.

BUYING BLACKWATER: Gov. Joe Manchin's proposed 2008-2009 state budget includes "
$5 million to purchase a portion of the Blackwater Canyon," The Associated Press reports.

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY: The Journal of Martinsburg hears from local lawmakers about prospects for the 60-day session.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: The Register-Herald also reports on one Raleigh County delegate who plans to champion a bill targeting illegal immigrants (West Virginia has the lowest share of non-white and non-native residents of any state in the union, according to the U.S. Census. But there has been the occasional INS raid on work sites.)

W.Va. GOP Convention Update

Midnight marks the end of online voting to decide some 419 contested "at-large" seats to the state Republican Party's Feb. 5 presidential convention.

A dozen counties also held local conventions to settle these races. As The Associated Press reports, "initial figures show that a relative handful of party members have gained considerable sway over who among them gets to participate Feb 5."

"Party members have until midnight to cast online ballots in these at-large races," AP explains. "But to be eligible to vote this way, they had to register by Nov. 30. Less than 1,700 did so in those 30 counties" with contested at-large seats.

A review of online voters who also filed to be state convention delegates (and pledged to particular candidates) "suggests that (Mike) Huckabee is favored to pick up at-large seats in Wayne County, while Fred Thompson should add to his margin in Nicholas County," AP reports.

"Thompson also has a sizable portion of delegates eligible to vote in Berkeley, as does (Mitt) Romney in Kanawha County and Ron Paul in Jefferson and Monongalia counties," the article continues. "Delegate-voters are not the majority in any of those four, however."

Convention organizers expect to have voting results tallied by Wednesday, and that should pare down the delegate roster from 1,564 names to about 1,213. Pending those results, Romney leads the field both in total delegate filings (244) and guaranteed minimum delegates (123).

Fayette Senator Bowing Out in '08

State Sen. Shirley Love tells The Register-Herald of Beckley today that he will not seek a fourth term this year.

The Fayette County Democrat is a "a veteran southern West Virginia broadcaster who parlayed his popularity as host of a televised wrestling show into a successful political career," the article said.

Love, 74, has risen to chairman of the
Senate Confirmations Committee and co-chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority since then- Gov. Gaston Caperton appointed him to fill a legislative vacancy in 1994.

Love is the sixth state senator, and the third Democrat in that chamber, to opt against running for re-election in 2008. Half the 34-seat chamber is on the November ballot.