28 March 2008

State Agency Buys TV Coverage

The Charleston Gazette reports that "the state Division of Natural Resources pays a local TV station for control over the content of a news segment about outdoor life in West Virginia."

The $90,000-a-year contract with the owners of WCHS-TV and WVAH-TV calls on them to "produce and air 52 90-second 'West Virginia Wildlife' segments, as well as 30-second ads that lead into the segment," The Gazette reports.

DNR's Wildlife Resources Section provides the topics, sets up any necessary interviews, and has final approval over all segment scripts as well as promos and commercials, the newspaper found.

"While the station does acknowledge the sponsorship, there is no indication during the news broadcast that 'West Virginia Wildlife' is any different from other news segments," the article said. "But unlike other advertisers, who might sponsor the station's weather coverage every night, DNR dictates its own coverage."

DaughterGate Probe Report Delayed

It will be at least mid-April before a team picked by West Virginia University will have results from its review into "whether the university manufactured an executive MBA degree for Gov. Joe Manchin's daughter," The Charleston Gazette reports.

The panel had earlier estimated it would complete its probe into the Heather Bresch situation by late March or early April, the newspaper said.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which broke the story, continues its coverage as well.

Manchin Moves Ahead with Private-Public Drug Plan

Gov. Joe Manchin is proceeding with an earlier-announced partnership with drug companies to increase the amount of free prescription drugs available to uninsured West Virginians, The Associated Press reports.

"Drug companies have long donated medications to free clinics, but the West Virginia Rx program is being touted as a major streamlining of the process, which hopes to get more medications to more patients quicker," AP's Tom Breen explains.

But gaps in the system persist, says Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

Bryant told Breen "that the number of West Virginians without prescription drug coverage is about twice the number of uninsured, meaning that as many as 250,000 residents are insured by plans that don't include medication."

MetroNews also has details from the plan.

Report Touts Technology in West Virginia Schools

For all their shortcomings and challenges, West Virginia schools have more classrooms with computers, a lower ratio of students per computer and even more widespread online course offerings than the national average, according to a new report highlighted by The Register-Herald of Beckley.

"The state received an overall score of 95.3 on the report, which ranks West Virginia at the top of the class for its use of technology," the article said.

The report, T
echnology Counts 2008: STEM, The Push to Improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, was issued by Education Week and features a separate section on the Mountain State's scores.

27 March 2008

The Byrd Factor in WV-2nd

(campaign photo)

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's status as a living political legend could prove a potent boost for his former longtime aide, Anne Barth, as she runs for Congress in West Virginia's 2nd U.S. House District.

The longest-serving senator in U.S. history has joined others in the state's Democratic congressional delegation in endorsing Barth in advance of their party's May 13 state primary (to the chagrin of the race's two other Democrats, as the Charleston Daily Mail reports).

But WSAZ-TV offers video from a recent Barth event headlined by Byrd, where it interviewed the senior senator. The video prompted a discussion today on MetroNews' Talkline.

DaughterGate Coverage Turns to Phone Calls

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that "a top aide to West Virginia University President Michael Garrison had multiple phone conversations with Mylan Inc. executive Heather Bresch over five days in October - a period when university officials were deciding to award her an M.B.A. degree even though official university records showed she did not earn it."

The newspaper also offers a chronology of relevant events.

In Wake of Table Games, Racetrack Workers Talk Strike

After helping to persuade legislators _ and Hancock County voters _ to allow casino table games at their track, The Associated Press reports that "Some 200 cashiers, slot technicians and money room employees are set to strike at midnight Saturday at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in Chester, in protest of 'poverty wages' that make health care and other basic needs unaffordable."

Track officials are defending their offer to Local 23 of the United Food & Commercial Workers, as the two sides negotiate to replace a contract that expired March 1.

One union official told AP's Vicki Smith that "When West Virginia legislators approved both slot machines and table games, 'the intent was to put money into the coffers of the state of West Virginia.' But many Mountaineer workers are turning to the state for help, relying on the Children's Health Insurance Program, food stamps and other public assistance."

The article also said that "if a strike takes place, the track's attorney says supervisors, managers and other employees will cover for the missing employees."

Lawmakers Cash in Early from Pay Raise Bill (Updated)

The Legislature has already caught flak for voting itself a $5,000 salary hike this year. But while that pay raise won't take effect until 2009, at least one other part of that bill has been deemed retroactive to Jan. 1, The Associated Press reports.

The provision is a $16 increase to the daily payment received by "lawmakers who live too far from the Capitol to commute from home during the session."

By increasing that per diem to $131, "23 of the state Senate's 34 members have received additional payments totaling $25,136, that body's payroll figures show," AP reports. "Figures from the 100-member House of Delegate were not immediately available."

Update: Public Broadcasting also has a story, and talks to one of the bill's architects.

Update II: AP follows up on its initial report, tracing the confusion over the trigger date to a typo in the final bill.

Capito, Women in Congress and the 2008 Elections

The American Enterprise Institute includes U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, among "Republican incumbents facing tough races" in an analysis of the prospects for women in Congress this year.

"The bottom line is that the seats House women will gain and lose are likely to be fewer than 10 in each category, and the net gain is likely to be close to zero," the think tank opined.

Doing nothing for the self-esteem of certain Democratic challengers, the piece also includes Capito among GOP incumbents who "wil
l square off against female challengers, so there will be no net change."

26 March 2008

Food Stamps in W.Va. at 30-year High

Putting recent good economic news in context, "about one in every six West Virginians gets food stamps," the Charleston Daily Mail reports, adding that "amid rising food and fuel costs, the assistance is becoming worth less and less."

Bill Clinton in W.Va. - Updated

Those with coverage of the former president's three-stop sweep through West Virginia include The Associated Press (with photos hosted by the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington), MetroNews (with audio and a slide show), multimedia from The Charleston Gazette, The Parkersburg News (also with photos), WSAZ-TV (with several video clips), WCHS-TV (w/video), WOWK-TV (ditto), and WTAP-TV (with video of the entire Parkersburg appearance).

The Parkersburg News, The Gazette and The Register-Herald of Beckley all previewed his scheduled campaign appearances.

Public Broadcasting, meanwhile, examines whether Clinton's policies regarding steel during his presidency "could affect the Democratic primary in the Northern Panhandle."

And WTAP-TV hears from local Republicans that presumptive GOP nominee John McCain "
has been invited to campaign in West Virginia, possibly even in Wood County."

W.Va. Electioneering Law Challenged

The Beltway-based Center for Individual Freedom has filed a federal lawsuit targeting West Virginia's rules regulating corporate political spending and independent campaign advertising.

As The Associated Press reports, the group "wants to run television and radio ads targeting West Virginia's upcoming Supreme Court elections, but doesn't want to disclose how much it spends or who is footing the bill."

"The Center's values compel it to avoid speech that is conditioned on reporting and disclosure," the group's lawyers wrote, adding that "As a matter of policy, and because its supporters are not willing to be identified, the Center must either refrain from speaking or accept the risk of punishment if its speech is determined to be subject to regulation."

The center also seeks a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the relevant statutes, so it can air ads in time for the May 13 primary.

"To be clear, but for those laws and the injury they threaten, the Center would be proceeding with its ads right now," its lawyers also wrote.

Election 2008 Shorts

The Charleston Daily Mail interviews two of the Democrats running for Kanawha County's two state Senate seats on the ballot this year (Update: So did The Charleston Gazette).

MetroNews interviews former South Charleston mayor Richie Robb, one of three Democrats running for the U.S. House in the 2nd Congressional District. With audio.

Coalfield Living: a Health Hazard?

A West Virginia University study that combined study coal production data and mortality rates in eight coal-producing states with a telephone survey of 16,400 state residents "concludes that people who live in Appalachia's coalfields are far more likely to have chronic heart, lung and kidney problems," The Associated Press reports.

Public Broadcasting and The Charleston Gazette also report on the new study, which will appear in the American Journal of Public Health next month.

"Residents in major coal counties had a 70 percent increased risk of kidney disease and a 64 percent increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease such as emphysema," The Gazette article said of the findings. "Coal county residents were also 30 percent more likely to report high blood pressure."

The Flip Side of the Gas Tax

Rising gas prices have revived resentment toward West Virginia's 32.2 cents-per-gallon tax. But as The Charleston Gazette reports, "for the 2008-09 budget, the gas tax is projected to bring in $380 million - by far the largest source of state funding for highway construction and repair. All other state vehicle taxes, registration and fees will account for less than $258 million."

Manchin Draws Ire with Line-Item Veto

One of the 35 line-item vetoes that whittled down the 2008-2009 budget bill may land the Manchin administration in court, Public Broadcasting reports.

"Disability advocates are angry with Governor Manchin for vetoing language in the state budget regarding in-home care for mentally retarded and developmentally disabled people," the report said.

Update: The Associated Press also has a story, focusing on Wednesday's court filing seeking enforcement of a 2000 federal compliance order.


A recent casting call prompted The Associated Press to explore the ins and outs of the famed Appalachian moniker.

"When it’s self-described, it’s a term of endearment. When someone else uses it, particularly an outsider, you better watch out,” John Lilly, editor of Goldenseal, told AP's Tom Breen and Shaya Tayefe Mohajer.

25 March 2008

Election 2008 Shorts

  • The Associated Press explains that while voters in the May 13 Democratic primary will be picking a presidential candidate, that party's pledged national convention delegates won't be decided until June.
  • The Gazette interviews the two Republican candidates for state attorney general. Dan Greear and Hiram Lewis say they're not so much running against each other as they're running against Democratic incumbent Darrell McGraw.

23 March 2008

Bill Clinton Coming to W.Va.

Former President Bill Clinton plans to stump for his wife in Parkersburg and Beckley on Wednesday, her campaign told The Associated Press.

On the heels of Hillary Clinton's visits to Charleston and Huntington last week, the former president is following up on his October speech at a state Democratic Party dinner (before which he headlined a fundraiser for the New York senator's White House run.)

Raymond Chafin, 1917-2008

Another "West Virginia Tough Boy," credited (or accused) in the alleged vote-buying that marked the state's 1960 Democratic presidential primary, has died.

The Logan Banner has a report on the death of Raymond Chafin, "most famous for his support of John F. Kennedy in the 1960 primary race. Chafin was one of the key figures in Kennedy winning West Virginia in the May 1960 primary and was invited to the White House by Pres. Kennedy himself."

The article also cites Chafin's presence in the book West Virginia Tough Boys: Vote Buying, Fist Fighting, And A President Named JFK.

Wielding Line-Item Veto, Manchin Signs Budget Bill

Gov. Joe Manchin trimmed about $8 million from the general revenue and lottery sections of the recently passed budget bill before approving the spending measure for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

As The Associated Press reports, "casualties include nearly $1 million for 4-H camp improvements, $50,000 for a new authority to oversee State Route 2, and $250,000 for the Senior Corps volunteer program."

Manchin also reduced or zeroed out funding for 51 of the 414 fairs and festivals earmarked by lawmakers in the legislation. Deleted events include "Fourth of July events in Chester, Hurricane and Hampshire County, the Nicholas County Fair, four events in Greenbrier County and the Taste of Parkersburg," AP reports.

As both AP and The Charleston Gazette report, Manchin vetoed $24.5 million out of a separate bill meant for the pending transfer proposal involving the Teachers' Retirement System.

"Manchin, in his veto message, said the actual expense won't be known until the Teachers Defined Contribution to TRS transfer election is completed this spring," The Gazette article said.

The budget line-item vetoes also reflect Manchin's earlier veto of a pay raise for conservation officers. AP has those details.

MetroNews also reports on the line item vetoes.

Starcher to Hold Public Hearing for Recusal Bid

Massey Energy Co. will get a change to argue in open court for Justice Larry Starcher's recusal from a pending appeal.

"Richmond, Va.-based Massey unsuccessfully sought to disqualify Starcher before appealing a $240 million judgment awarded to Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel and Mountain State Carbon," The Associated Press explains. "Massey is trying again and Starcher said Thursday he’ll hear arguments on the request April 10."

The article also notes that "West Virginia’s Supreme Court has been buffeted by disqualification requests involving Massey Energy cases since photos surfaced of Chief Justice Elliott ‘‘Spike’’ Maynard with Massey Chief Executive Don Blankenship vacationing in Monaco while the company had appeals pending. Maynard has since stepped aside from at least three Massey cases, including the Harman appeal."

The MonacoGate scandal helped fuel a Saturday op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

On a related note, John Grisham's The Appeal has fallen to #2 on The New York Times' bestseller list for hardcover fiction.