06 June 2008

The Bell Tolls for WVU's Garrison

The Associated Press was on hand for West Virginia University President Mike Garrison's announcement to the school's board of governors.

Others with coverage include:

Gov. Joe Manchin has also posted a statement online.


The Associated Press' Vicki Smith sets the stage for today's meeting of West Virginia University's Board of Governors.

"On the eve of what could be a key meeting about his future, pressure mounted on embattled West Virginia University President Mike Garrison, with his law professor colleagues and others demanding that he resign or be fired over a master's degree scandal involving the governor's daughter," Smith writes.

"A total of 124 donors with past gifts ranging from $1,000 to $450,000 have told the WVU Foundation Inc. they will withhold future donations "until such time as there is a leadership change," director R. Wayne King told Smith. "That number has tripled in the past month."

"From a full-page ad in the local paper, The Dominion Post of Morgantown, to op-ed pieces in the state's largest, The Charleston Gazette, critics insisted Thursday that the university cannot recover from the scandal that has compromised its national reputation as long as Garrison has the helm," the article continues.

MetroNews also previews today's board meeting. The Charleston Daily Mail and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette each highlight Thursday's written call for resignation from "a majority of the tenured faculty of West Virginia University's law school."

Public Broadcasting has coverage as well (with audio and the law professors' letter), as does the State Journal.

Byrd Out of Hospital

"West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd was released from the hospital Thursday after being treated for a mild infection," The Associated Press reports.

"Senator Byrd will complete the course of his antibiotic treatment as prescribed by his doctors at his home and is expected to return to his official Senate duties upon his doctors' approval,'' Byrd spokesman Jesse Jacobs said in a statement.

05 June 2008

More W.Va. Rankings

West Virginia is staying ahead of the national average in the number of its students graduating from high school, and improved slightly over the prior year, according to the latest Diplomas County survey in Education Week.

The Charleston Gazette and Herald-Dispatch of Huntington are among those with coverage, drawn from The Associated Press' report.

The Journal of Martinsburg, meanwhile, reports that "West Virginia is one of the highest-rated states in the country for domestic violence homicides against women."

The West Virginia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team counts "39 deaths from 2003 were reviewed and determined to be related to domestic violence," the article said. "Of the deaths, 26 were homicides while 13 were suicides."

04 June 2008

Election 2008 Shorts

  • Gov. Joe Manchin tells MetroNews' Talkline that he's sticking with his plan to "wait until Friday to announce which Democratic Presidential Candidate he'll support as one of West Virginia's ten superdelegates." With audio.
  • The Charleston Daily Mail reports on efforts by Ralph Nader supporters to offer their candidate to Mountain State voters. "Staff and volunteers for the independent candidate have collected more than half of the signatures required in the state to put Nader on the general election ballot," the newspaper reports.
  • The Parkersburg Register revisits one of the more unusual outcomes from the May 13 state primary. "The Democratic Primary for the West Virginia House of Delegates 10th District became a statistical oddity with the third-place tie between Iris McCrady and Tim Fittro; an oddity that Wood County Clerk Jaime Six would like to see studied," that newspaper reports.
  • (Update) The Associated Press offers separate highlights of post-primary campaign finance disclosures by the Supreme Court candidates and those in other major statewide races.

Manchin Joins National Call for Dem Unity

As chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, Gov. Joe Manchin issued a statement with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean after their party ended their primary season Tuesday.

"Democrats must now turn our full attention to the general election. To that end, we are urging all remaining uncommitted super delegates to make their decisions known by Friday of this week," the statement said.

The Los Angeles Times has an item on the statement.

Manchin is among those uncommitted super delegates, as earlier reported. He also headlined a Tuesday rally in Parkersburg "to promote unity of the Democratic party" there, The Parkersburg News reports.

Update: The Parkersburg Register also covered the unity rally, where Manchin " announced plans to call for all superdelegates nationwide to make their presidential nomination selections by this weekend."

Underwood Hospitalized

Former Gov. Cecil Underwood is in fair condition at Charleston Area Medical Center's Memorial Division after being admitted to the hospital "several days ago," a family friend and a nursing supervisor tell MetroNews.

The 85-year-old Republican "has the distinction of being both the youngest and oldest person to serve as the state’s Governor," MetroNews notes. "His first term was from 1957 to 1961. He served his second term from 1997 to 2001."

Another West Virginia elder statesman also remains hospitalized. "A spokesman for U.S. Senator Robert Byrd says the senator is going to stay in the hospital for "several more days," MetroNews also reports. " Communications Director Jesse Jacobs says the 90-year-old Byrd is being treated for a mild infection."

DaughterGate Update

  • "Five members of West Virginia University's Academy of Distinguished Alumni have told the school's governing board that they deplore the decision to award an unearned degree to Gov. Joe Manchin's daughter, and say WVU President Mike Garrison must resign or be removed from office," The Charleston Gazette reports. MetroNews also has the alumni's "scathing letter."
  • (Update) The Charleston Daily Mail reports that two of the alumni "expressed strong displeasure several months ago over the way the school treated ex-coach Rich Rodriguez," while another "was a candidate for the WVU presidency last year before Garrison got the job and continues to criticize the way the WVU Board of Governors conducted the presidential search." It also posts the aforementioned letter.
  • WVU Assistant Vice President for Graduate Education Jonathan Cumming tells MetroNews (audio here) that "claims that as many as 70 eMBA degrees may be in question have not been fully reviewed," and that "discrepancies were found as part of an interim review but the nature of those specific issues with those degrees has not been completely investigated."
  • (Update) The Associated Press also spoke to Cumming, and reports that "problems with record deficiencies, grading practices and inconsistent policies in West Virginia University's master's programs are not limited to the College of Business & Economics."
  • AP reports as well that "pay cuts aren't in the picture for two West Virginia University administrators who were reassigned or relieved of some responsibilities after a master's degree scandal involving the governor's daughter."
  • Public Broadcasting reports that Garrison recent presentation to the Board of Governors "mischaracterizes" remarks made to him by "WVU Professor Roy Nutter, the chairman of the independent panel that found Bresch did not earn the MBA degree retroactively awarded to her."

03 June 2008

The Fuel Cost Crunch in W.Va.

Some 50,000 West Virginia truckers can avoid paying their $1,132.75 annual registration fee for most trucks for two months, in a bid to help them manage rising fuel costs, The Associated Press reports.

Gov. Joe Manchin and the state Division of Motor Vehicles agreed to push back the deadline for those fees from July 1 to Sept. 1, AP reports.

"According to AAA, diesel averages $4.85 a gallon in West Virginia, compared with $4.78 nationally," the article noted.

MetroNews reports that "the idea of the two-month reprieve came from talks the governor had with truckers who drove to the state capitol as part of a protest earlier this year. The governor spoke with the truckers by phone that day and later met with some of them."

MetroNews also reports that "West Virginia has seen its third straight month of motor fuel tax collections below estimates," with one state official commenting that "people are consuming less gasoline and are a little cautious of their driving habits."

The move comes after Vice President Dick Cheney called the
proposed suspension of the federal gasoline tax "a false notion," as AP and others reported, during his otherwise notable appearance Monday at the National Press Club.

Teacher Pension Transfer Approved

More than 78 percent of Teachers' Defined Contribution plan members have elected to move to the Teachers' Retirement System and its traditional pension benefit.

The Associated Press has details.

With 14,871 TDC enrollees approved for the exodus, the rate more than exceeds the 65 percent threshold set by lawmakers. It also triggers the state subsidy provision, as it cleared 75 percent of eligible members.

Lawmakers had previously proposed providing $24.5 million to ensure the transfers can receive full benefits under the other plan. They had otherwise faced paying sizable actuarial estimates, as they've been paying less from their wages than their soon-to-be TRS brethren have been toward their retirement.

Teacher Pension Transfer Results Due

West Virginia's Consolidated Public Retirement Board expects to get the final tally today from the bid by Teachers' Defined Contribution plan members to transfer into another pension program.

"Transfers will be allowed if the number equals at least 65 percent of TDC members," The Associated Press explains. "That means at least 12,343 teachers, school service personnel and other enrollees must approve the transfer."

The state has promised to subsidize payments required to ensure full benefits under the other program, the Teachers' Retirement System, but only if 75 percent or more move.

The Charleston Gazette also sets the stage for Tuesday's meeting.

"One likely issue will be what to do about teachers at a Marion County high school, where the principal submitted transfer forms after the May 13 deadline," The Gazette reported. "At present, the CPRB cannot accept those transfers."

An official said "that was the only instance where a supervisor failed to submit collected transfer forms before the deadline."

The West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, both supportive of a transfer, have each been mulling over a Plan B if the tally falls short.

Same-Sex Marriage in W.Va.

The West Virginia Family Foundation wants a special session, or an item added to the one expected later this month, for "a resolution to let voters decide if a ban on same-sex marriage should become part of West Virginia's Constitution," The Associated Press reports.

The group says "rulings in California and New York threaten West Virginia's law," which "bans same-sex marriage and says the state won't recognize such marriages performed in another state," the article said.

"Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg says the governor believes the group's proposal is better suited for a regular session, rather than a special session," the article continued.

Manchin Figures in SuperDelegate Mix as Dems End Primary Season

Gov. Joe Manchin remains one of three West Virginia "super" or unelected delegates uncommitted to either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, The Associated Press reports.

He's also chair of the Democratic Governors Association, and so is poised to play a role in the Democrats' efforts to solidify their support after today's primaries in South Dakota and Montana, AP also reports.

"Officials said that if Obama failed to gain 2,118 delegates by tonight, one possibility under discussion was to have key leaders to issue a statement Wednesday urging superdelegates to state their preferences as soon as possible," that article said. "The leaders suggested were Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader; Speaker Nancy Pelosi;" and Manchin.

AP's count found that "Obama was 41.5 delegates shy of the 2,118, needed to clinch the nomination at the party's convention in Denver," while Clinton had 1917.5.

AP also has a separate report on the task that awaits Manchin and other DGA members: "Eleven of the nation's governors will have to perform some political sleight of hand if Barack Obama clinches the Democratic nomination for president. After months of supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton, they will have to convince voters they're just as happy with her rival."

Obama has been endorsed by another 11 Democratic governors, while Manchin is among six uncommitteds, that article notes.

02 June 2008

Byrd Hospitalized

Quoting a spokesman, The Associated Press reported late Monday that Sen. Robert C. Byrd "has been hospitalized at his doctor's urging after suffering from lethargy and sluggishness at his home."

"He was found to have a fever, and at his doctor's request he was taken to a nearby hospital," the report said. "Press secretary Jesse L. Jacobs says the West Virginia Democrat will be there overnight for observation."

The 90-year-old's health has been a recurring topic on Capitol Hill. The longest-serving senator in U.S. history "was hospitalized March 5 for tests after a reaction to antibiotics," AP noted. "A week earlier he was hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after a fall at home."

The Charleston Gazette also has a report.

Quote of the Octennium

"So, I had Cheneys on both sides of the family, and we don't even live in West Virginia. You can say those things when you're not running for re-election."

-- Vice President Dick Cheney, to a National Press Club audience Monday.

Cheney Makes West Virginia A Punchline

Vice President Dick Cheney was wrapping up his Monday appearance at a National Press Club event when the final question from the audience addressed his apparent blood ties to Barack Obama.

Cheney went on to explain that research into his family tree revealed Cheneys on his mother's side of the family.

"So, I had Cheneys on both sides of the family, and we don't even live in West Virginia," the vice president quipped.

The remark drew laughter, and perhaps some groans, from the Washington, D.C. audience.

"You can say those things when you're not running for re-election," Cheney continued, to additional laughter and slight applause.

West Virginia officials were less than thrilled, as The Associated Press and others report.

"I truly cannot believe that any vice president of the United States, regardless of their political affiliation, would make such a derogatory statement about my state or any state for that matter," said Gov. Joe Manchin. The Democrat issued a statement requesting an apology.

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, has benefited from Cheney headlining her fundraising events. "This is exactly the type of stereotyping that we don't need from our elected officials," she said in a statement. "It's disrespectful, and it's certainly not funny. ... As a proud state, I can say we are disappointed."

Noting that the Bush-Cheney ticket carried the Mountain State twice, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said that "now that he or the administration he represents no longer needs their vote, Mr. Cheney apparently feels that he is now free to mock and belittle the people of West Virginia."

As The Charleston Gazette reports, Cheney later apologized through a spokeswoman.

"The vice president's offhand comment was not meant to hurt anyone,'' Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said. "On reflection, he concluded that it was an inappropriate attempt at humor that he should not have made. The vice president apologizes to the people of West Virginia for the inappropriate remark.''

C-SPAN carried the afternoon event, and has video. Cheney responds to the question about 57 minutes into the event.

WSAZ-TV also has raw video and coverage.

Update: Others with coverage include The Washington Post and its blog The Sleuth; The Chicago Tribune's Beltway blog The Swamp, which also hosts video from MSNBC; the New York Daily News; and The New York Times, in an article titled "Cheney Discloses His Lighter Side."

MetroNews has an item and audio.

Special Legislative Session Expected for June

The governor's office tells The Associated Press that supplemental budget measures and possible funding for the proposed teacher pension transfer are on the table for a special session expected to coincide with June's interim legislative meetings.

Supco Appeal Refusals, Revisited

The Associated Press explores the implications from the state Supreme Court's unanimous decisions last month rejecting appeals requests. One stemmed from a high profile coal-contract dispute involving Massey Energy, the other from a fight over natural gas royalties that resulted in a record-high jury award.

"Parties on both sides of those debates question whether either case fits neatly into the narrative that casts the Mountain State as hostile to business and prone to award 'jackpot' jury awards," AP reports. "So does the author of an upcoming West Virginia Law Review article that examines the continuing push to label the state a 'judicial hellhole.'"

But AP also relays views that "what the court's decisions may instead reveal is a potential gap in the state's judicial system, created by the absence of an intermediate appeals court and the absolute discretion wielded by its Supreme Court when considering which cases to hear."

Update: An official from Chesapeake Energy, hit by the record verdict, echoes calls for a mid-level appeals court to MetroNews. With audio.

W.Va. Groans Under Gas Prices

The Associated Press' Tom Breen highlights efforts by one industry group, West Virginians for Better Transportation, to aid the state's main roadbuilding and repair fund amid rising fuel costs.

"West Virginia drivers can now log onto http://www.keepwvmoving.org to calculate their daily, weekly, monthly and yearly state gasoline tax bill," Breen writes. "The group worries that high prices are keeping people off the road, which means lower tax revenues. The problem is that the state Road Fund, which pays for maintenance, paving and repairs on state roads and bridges, relies on gas taxes for about 60 percent of its revenue."

AP reported earlier that "county school systems need an extra $5 million to keep their 3,000 buses rolling in the wake of record diesel prices, and Gov. Joe Manchin might ask lawmakers for the money this summer during a special session."

And the Charleston Daily Mail noted previously that "overall fuel tax revenues for West Virginia have been growing at a steady pace since the early 1970s, but so has the tax rate. That trend could change if the cost of fuel remains as high as it's been in recent months."

The Williamson Daily News, meanwhile, cites sources in reporting that Senate Majority Leader H. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, "is expected to present a letter to Gov. Joe Manchin Monday asking to help the trucking industry." The newspaper expects Chafin to request a freeze on at least some fuel taxes.

DaughterGate Update

Forces remain arrayed against West Virginia University President Mike Garrison, in the wake of Friday's Board of Governors meeting.

The main opposition group, "Mountaineers for Integrity and Responsibility," has collected signatures from "576 alumni, 263 faculty members, 186 students, 50 staff members and 165 others" for a petition seeking Garrison's ouster, The Associated Press reports.

AP also follows up with faculty who have twice voted no confidence in Garrison. Update: so does the Charleston Daily Mail.

AP's Vicki Smith was among those was among those reporting Friday that the board "believes President Mike Garrison did nothing to influence the improper awarding of a master’s degree to the governor’s daughter last fall."

MIR has planned a 1 p.m. Monday rally at WVU's Mountainlair. "Students, faculty members, local leaders, WVU Administrators and University President Mike Garrison have all been invited to be part of the rally," MetroNews reports.

Update: AP reports that the rally drew "about 100 students and faculty members," but that WVU's Faculty Senate also demanded that Garrison's administration "provide details on alleged irregularities in some 70 degrees awarded through its executive master's of business administration program."

MetroNews, The Charleston Gazette, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Public Broadcasting are among those with coverage of the "action plan" presented by Garrison at Friday's meeting.

The board has posted Garrison's interim reports in two parts, here and here.

The Charleston and Pittsburgh newspapers delve into allegations by WVU officials that "many other students in the College of Business and Economics had similar problems" to that of Heather Bresch, daughter of Gov. Joe Manchin.

Update: Public Broadcasting examines what it calls a "key discrepancy" between Garrison's action plan and the independent report it responds to. With audio.

MetroNews highlights the personnel changes made "in connection with his response to the Heather Bresch degree controversy." It also offers an interview with Garrison and audio.

Public Broadcasting and MetroNews also offer audio from Friday's board meeting, and the latter has additional multimedia links as well.