11 April 2008

They Voted For You: Colombia

The U.S. House voted 224-195 on Thursday to put off the deadline for considering legislation "to implement the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement."

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted with the majority. U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, joined all but six of her GOP colleagues in opposing the measure.

The Associated Press reports that "
the Democratic-led House, in an election-year showdown with the White House, on Thursday effectively denied President Bush a vote any time soon on a free trade agreement with Colombia, a key South American ally."

They Voted For You: Mortgage Crisis

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., voted for legislation Thursday "to provide needed housing reform and for other purposes."

The bill sent to the House 84-12 is "
a bipartisan package of tax breaks and other steps designed to help businesses and homeowners weather the housing crisis," though "even its supporters acknowledge it's tilted too much in favor of businesses such as home builders and does little to help borrowers at risk of losing their homes," The Associated Press reports.

"Before passing the measure, the Senate added $6 billion in unrelated tax breaks for renewable energy producers, despite Senate rules that say tax cuts need to be "paid for" with revenue increases elsewhere in the tax code," AP notes. "The bill also offers $150 billion for pre-foreclosure counseling and stronger loan disclosure requirements."

10 April 2008

Election 2008 Shorts

  • The Charleston Daily Mail profiles GOP gubernatorial candidate Russ Weeks, after the Navy veteran and former state senator sat down with its editorial board.
  • The Daily Mail also reports that Democratic Supreme Court candidate Menis Ketchum may have run afoul of state law by having uniformed police officers appear in one of his TV ads. "Ketchum's campaign, after being notified of the law, said it would immediately pull the brief shot of the candidate associating with the officers near some police cruisers," the article said.

W.Va. Electioneering Law Challenged

A federal judge could decide today whether to block enforcement of West Virginia's electioneering communications law.

The Center for Individual Freedom argued Wednesday that requiring it to disclose its spending and identify its donors, for ads it wants to run in the state Supreme Court race, is unconstitutional.

Secretary of State Betty Ireland and the state's county prosecutors disagree, citing a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the topic.

These officials were joined as parties in the case by three of the four Democratic Supreme Court candidates, the West Virginia Education Association and the state's AFL-CIO. Lawyers for each party got their turn during the two-hour hearing.

The Associated Press has details, as does The Charleston Gazette.

DaughterGate Roils On (2nd Update)

In the wake of Heather Bresch's interview with The Associated Press and others, The Charleston Gazette focuses on her "unconventional acceptance"into West Virginia University's executive MBA program.

The program's former head "said it was not uncommon for the college to provisionally accept students into the program if they did not meet all the criteria for acceptance," the newspaper reported.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that her "explanation of her claim that she earned a graduate business degree from West Virginia University is inconsistent with changes that WVU made to her records in October to show that she earned the degree."

WDTV airs more of its interview with Bresch, in which she "answers to the accusations that her father, Governor Joe Manchin, may have influenced university officials to award her the degree."

Manchin, in turn, spoke to MetroNews in the wake of Bresch's testimony this week before a panel investigating the matter.

"I understand the public scrutiny that comes," the governor said (audio here). "It's hard when your children get pulled into something. And again, I say, you ought to give a child the benefit of the doubt and she was just so professional about how she handled it and waiting until what she considered the proper time to talk to the proper authorities before she went to the media."

AP, meanwhile, talks to Bresch's boss at Mylan Inc.

"Milan "Mike" Puskar has been linked to controversy around Bresch's 1998 executive master's business administration degree through association: He is not only her employer, but also a major benefactor of Gov. Joe Manchin and of WVU, contributing $20 million to the school in 2003," AP's Vicki Smith explains.

"I find it disheartening that a woman of Heather's integrity, character and extraordinary intellect has been attacked as she has been over the past four months," Puskar told AP. "It's particularly troublesome because, if not for Heather, it's likely we would not have an Executive MBA program at WVU."

Update: Bresch also spoke to George Hohmann at the Charleston Daily Mail (with audio), and Hoppy Kercheval on MetroNews' Talkline (yep, that's right, audio).

Update II: The Daily Athenaeum reports that "
Statements by Heather Bresch are contradicted by the director of the program from which she said she earned a degree and by a newspaper that has obtained her student records." The Post-Gazette, meanwhile, follows up by quoting a former class mate who says the "Mylan executive joked about skipping entry exam for WVU program." (Thanks to the comment posted)

Massey, Massey, Massey

  • Justice Larry Starcher has dropped his plan to hold a public hearing today to air Massey Energy Co.'s recusal request targeting him in a pending appeal. He cited the court's unanimous (Maynard disq.) rejection of Massey's bid to block the unprecedented hearing. Starcher also said "he now plans to seek further information by sending out written questions rather than holding the public hearing," The Associated Press reports. The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews also have reports.
  • The Daily Mail also reports that Massey's federal lawsuit against the Supreme Court, which targets its recusal process, is continuing. The case had been on hold while the Supreme Court's lawyers appeal their denial of a dismissal motion. The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said "a review at this stage in the case would be premature," the newspaper reported.
  • A federal judge has also approved a settlement "that requires Massey Energy to pay a record $20 million in fines to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency," The Gazette reports. "The settlement, first announced in January, resolves a lawsuit filed by EPA over thousands of water pollution permit violations at Massey operations in West Virginia and Kentucky."

09 April 2008

Byrd's Health Remains a Topic on Capitol Hill

The Hill reports that the regular Tuesday meeting of top Senate Democrats focused this week on "the idea of shifting the workload of ailing Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd."

"The 90-year-old West Virginia Democrat has been present for several recent votes, but earlier this year was in and out of the hospital for short stays," the article said. "Many participants of the closed-door meeting wouldn’t discuss the details, noting the sensitivity of Byrd’s situation."

As noted at the time, The Politico reported in December that "A group of Senate Democrats has begun quietly exploring ways to replace the venerable Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee."

More recent observations on Byrd's condition are here, here and here.

08 April 2008

DaughterGate: Bresch Speaks (Updated)

...and tells The Associated Press' Vicki Smith that she parlayed a "career-defining" job assignment - riding herd on a "complex corporate lawsuit" involving employer Mylan Inc. - into "work-experience credit for her final four courses" at West Virginia University's EMBA program.

"I secured my degree in '98 when my father wasn't governor, when (Mylan chairman) Mike Puskar hadn't given millions and Mike Garrison wasn't (WVU) president," Bresch told Smith.

Bresch also told AP that she's testified this effect before the panel assigned to investigate whether she earned the degree she received. "She said she cleared the work-experience-for-credit arrangement with Paul Speaker, the former head of WVU's EMBA program," the article said.

Speaker withheld detailed comment, pending any statements by the school, but did say that "he cannot recall any instance in the history of the EMBA program when work experience substituted for course work.

"If you look through the annals of anything at the university, you will not find a single course for which experience would replace the course," he told Smith. "If you were a CPA, you had to take our accounting. If you were an attorney, you had to take our business law. And it was very strict."

Update: Bresch also spoke to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and to WDTV in Bridgeport. The latter has posted video.

Bonus Quote of the Day

"I have a team of lawyers, right now, who are evaluating the evidence, evaluating what people are doing, what the news media's doing and people who accused me of doing anything wrong, particularly taking money, will be a defendant in the lawsuit. You can take that to the bank."

-- Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard, regarding MonacoGate and related coverage, on MetroNews Talkline Tuesday.

Spike Strikes Back (Updated)

In the wake of the report by ABC News on MonacoGate, Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard attributed such coverage to a conspiracy during a Tuesday interview on MetroNews' Talkline.

MetroNews reports that Maynard"says he is the victim of what he calls 'the mother of all political smears' and 'disgusting mud slinging at its worst.'"

Battling with three other Democrats in a two-seat May 13 primary race, Maynard also told Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval that "he was considering filing a lawsuit against those who, he claims, have unfairly targeted him in this election year."

"Win or lose, when this is over, there will be litigation," Maynard told Kercheval.

MetroNews also offers audio. Public Broadcasting (audio here) is among those to report on the segments aired Monday by ABC News.

The Athens Messenger, meanwhile, has interviewed native Asa Eslocker, an investigative field producer/reporter for ABC News. "While attempting to interview Chairman Don Blankenship of Massey Energy, one of the country's biggest coal-mining companies, Eslocker was subjected to a surprise attack by Blankenship - busting his $4,000 video camera," the newspaper reported.

Update: Maynard also spoke to the Charleston Daily Mail, echoing his vow to sue and his allegations of a smear. He "
called the photos a 'red herring' trotted out before the public by groups that don't agree with various legal reforms Maynard says he's consistently voted to uphold," the newspaper reported.

Maynard also issued a statement to The Associated Press, which follows up on a statement made during his ABC interview.

Employment and Income in West Virginia

In reporting that West Virginia "has never ranked higher than 44th in the nation when it comes to the income level of its average citizen" since 1979, the Charleston Daily Mail also sheds light on a troubling statistic.

"WVU research shows that in 2005, only about 55 percent of able-bodied people aged 16 and older participated in the workforce," the article said. "Nationally, the average was 65.9 percent in 2005."

The article cites Tom Witt, director of WVU's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, who said "the high number of citizens who are able to work but don't is a serious drag on the overall average income."

"West Virginia has the lowest labor force participation rate in the country," Witt told the newspaper. "This has been a chronic, long-term statistic in our state. I see no reason for that to change."

Quote of the Day (2nd Update)

"McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit... What happened when they [the missiles] get to the ground? He doesn't know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues."

-- U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., in an interview with The Charleston Gazette on his support for Barack Obama.

(Update: McCain's campaign has issued a response. Rockefeller's office told MetroNews' Talkline on Tuesday that the senator had also praised McCain's service during the interview, and that the remark meant to address the presumptive GOP nominee's approach to domestic issues. )

(Update II: Rockefeller tells The Associated Press that he's called McCain to apologize, saying "I made an inaccurate and wrong analogy, and I have extended my sincere apology to him.")

Deal Reported in Casino Strike

The Associated Press reports that "Union negotiators and executives at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort in Chester have reached a tentative deal on a new contract for 200 striking workers."

MetroNews also has details, with a union official saying the proposed three-year contract "addresses the concerns workers have about rising healthcare costs."

Election 2008: Campaign Finance

All state candidates faced a Friday deadline for filing the initial round of campaign finance reports for the May 13 primary.

The Associated Press offers details from the reports filed in the gubernatorial race, with incumbent Joe Manchin poised to repeat the utter dominance of the money race displayed in 2004.

AP also has highlights from the Supreme Court, secretary of state and attorney general's contests.

Here's a basic rundown:

(click to enlarge)

Charlton Heston in W.Va.

The weekend passing of Charlton Heston has The Register-Herald recalling the Hollywood legend's 2000 appearance in Beckley to urge West Virginia voters to elect George Bush over Al Gore:

Then president of the National Rifle Association, the venerable actor attracted such a large crowd that he was compelled to deliver a second address outside the arena after completing his first one.

“We love you, Moses,” one man shouted.

Hunting 101

Public Broadcasting delves into legislation signed into law last week that aims to increase the state's hunting ranks by offering classes in public schools.

"The bill’s passage on the last day of the legislative session made national headlines – including the front page of the New York Times," Public Broadcasting reports. "But that story missed that hunter safety training in schools isn’t a new phenomenon at all in West Virginia, and the new law doesn’t do much to expand the practice. "

With audio.

Capito Takes a Hit on Wall Street (Updated)

USA Today offers a teaser from a Roll Call (subscriber only) article that found "the personal portfolios of 51 representatives and senators may lose as much as $13.2 million in value thanks to the credit crisis that has cleaved the value of shares in banks and other financial institutions.

"Roll Call says Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who serves on the Financial Services Committee, may have lost the greatest amount of money, somewhere between $859,000 and $3.44 million," the blurb said.

Update: Roll Call says Capito is not one of the two lawmakers who "held stock in
Bear Stearns, the Wall Street giant whose federally backed sale is now drawing scrutiny on Capitol Hill." It instead traces her potential hit to the 57 percent slide in Citigroup's stock:

She holds $1.5 million to $6.02 million worth of the stock — a result of the fact that her husband, Charlie Capito, has worked for the firm for 30 years, spokesman John Coffin said. Her holdings have lost at least $859,000 in value, or as much as $3.44 million.
Roll Call also notes that "As the ranking member on the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, Capito has been on the front lines of the debate over how to respond to the housing crisis. But Coffin said no matter the degree of her loss, the lawmaker’s personal stake in the market does not impact her legislative work. He said that given her Citigroup holdings, she sought and received clearance from the House ethics committee before joining the committee in 2001. "

W.Va. Supreme Court on ABC

ABC News has posted video of its reporter's run-in with Massey Energy's Don Blankenship. It also offers a photo slide show for its "scandal" story.

07 April 2008

Lawmakers Paid More Than Just Salary

Besides a $15,000-a-year salary, which will increase $5,000 starting next year, legislators can expect compensation for travel and lodging plus daily extra duty payments if they're leadership.

The Charleston Gazette reports that nonsalary pay in the House of Delegates has exceeded $1 million for the budget year ending June 30. The Gazette found that "12 delegates have been paid more in expense money year-to-date than their $15,000 legislative salaries. "

The Gazette reported earlier on legal precedent that may bolster the possible legal challenge by GOP gubernatorial candidate Russ Weeks of retroactive increases to some of the per diem payments.

Election 2008 Shorts

  • The Charleston Gazette covered a weekend debate of the Democratic Supreme Court candidates (sans Maynard), hosted by the Young Democrats at their annual convention.
  • Secretary of State Betty Ireland predicts healthy voter turnout May 13, particularly for the Democratic primary. "Ireland says the motivating factor for those voters will be the race for the Democratic Presidential Nomination between Illinois Senator Barack Obama and New York Senator Hillary Clinton," MetroNews reports. With audio.