16 August 2008

Capito Delivers Weekly GOP Address

Republicans turned the mike of their weekly radio address over to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, who said the "Democrats who control Congress are not facing up to the challenge of developing a comprehensive energy policy," The Associated Press reports.

"Republicans have refused to leave the Capitol this month and demanded a session on the energy crisis, although the House chamber microphones are off, lights are dimmed and the TV cameras are off," the article said. "Democrats, who contend Republicans have blocked numerous bills aimed at dealing with market speculators and forcing oil companies to drill in areas they have already leased, have said the GOP protest is a political stunt."

The Democrats are also expected to hit the energy topic in their weekly address, to be delivered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. When he was asked to issue a party broadcast in June, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, had also targeted energy.

14 August 2008

Glenn Thomas "Tom" Searls, 1954-2008

The Charleston Gazette has news of the death of Tom Searls, a veteran, award-winning reporter and one of its Capitol correspondents.

Searls, 54, had also covered the Tennessee statehouse. A Marshall University graduate, he had been student body president there.

"He loved politics and the factional conniving that occur behind the scenes," Gazette Editor Jim Haught said. "He was cynical but eminently likeable."

Update: The Gazette has an obituary.

Governor Speaks Out on DuPont Case (Updated)

Gov. Joe Manchin has issued a statement and appeared on MetroNews Talkline to respond to scrutiny of his decision to file a brief in the pending appeal of a nearly $400 million judgment against DuPont.

"What we did is file a brief based on the due process the court should allow. That's all," the governor told MetroNews, which also offers audio.

Reaction to Manchin's presence in the pending case has been mixed. The Charleston Daily Mail, for instance, opines in an editorial today that the governor was correct when he "asked the court to clarify what rights companies have in West Virginia. That is an important policy issue."

But with Manchin up for re-election this year, the Republican nominee for governor has weighed in against the Democratic incumbent.

"If he wants to try to influence the courts to do something, he should not do it through the venue of the case that's before them," Russ Weeks told MetroNews."He should do it before or after."

WSAZ-TV also has an item on the governor's response. Public Broadcasting has a report, with audio.

Update: A lawyer and ethicist at a Beltway firm that consults and trains on the subject tells The Associated Press that Manchin "compromised the public's trust and created the appearance of impropriety, regardless of whether he did anything underhanded."

"You don't really have to get to the question of motives and what was really going on behind the scenes," said Jack Marshall, president of ProEthics Ltd. and editor of ethicsscoreboard.com. "The plaintiffs look at this and say, 'It's not fair.' The public looks at it and says, 'Hmm.' This undermines the public trust.''

Those who think otherwise include Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

"We don't think it's inappropriate or wrong,'' Roberts told AP. "He appropriately gets high marks for hearing people out.''

Libertarians Sue for W.Va. Ballot Access

The Libertarian Party has filed a federal lawsuit after falling short of the 15,118 signatures needed to get on West Virginia's presidential ballot, The Associated Press reports.

The party alleges the state's Aug. 1 deadline for submitting petitions is arbitrary and unfair.

"The Libertarians gathered 13,171 signatures by the deadline, according to the suit, and they anticipate getting the required 15,118 by Aug. 18," AP reports. "West Virginia University law professor Bob Bastress Jr. filed the suit on behalf of former Georgia congressman Bob Barr, along with the Libertarians' candidate for vice president, Wayne Root, and two West Virginia residents."

Measuring West Virginia (Updated)

The Mountain State received an array of scores relating to education and health care this week:

  • "West Virginia’s average ACT college-entrance exam score rose slightly from 2007 to 2008 but remains below the national average, according to a report released Wednesday," The Associated Press reports. MetroNews and The Charleston Gazette also have items;

  • Nearly a quarter of the state's infants and toddlers who get some of their food from a federal welfare program "lived in homes where parents or caregivers smoked last year," The Gazette reports. "The national average for WIC (Women, Infants and Children) children - ages 4 and under - was 10.6 percent."

  • Forbes cites Kaiser Family Foundation data and a national-level prescription and patient tracking service to find that "West Virginians use the most retail prescription drugs per capita," making it the most medicated state in the nation, The Gazette reports. AP had noted the ranking earlier.

  • (Update) The Charleston Daily Mail reports that West Virginians filed about a fourth of the black lung claims lodged last year, according to federal figures. "About 13 percent of West Virginia coal miners who have had chest X-ray screenings are found to have black lung, as compared to a national average of 9 percent," the article said.

13 August 2008

Manchin Scrutinized for DuPont Brief (Updated)

The New York Times cites e-mails and other records to question Gov. Joe Manchin's decision to weigh in on the pending appeal of a nearly $400 million judgment against DuPont.

The Associated Press first reported last month that Manchin had filed a "friend of the court" brief urging West Virginia's Supreme Court to accept the chemical giant's petition.

Manchin's brief did not ask the justices to rule one way or the other, but rather urged them to ensure that such a case involving punitive damages received a full review.

"Documents from the governor’s office, however, show that Mr. Manchin had consulted with the company before filing the brief, and DuPont officials say the governor even asked them to provide him with a draft brief," The New York Times reports.

The article also quotes Professor Stephen Gillers, who teaches legal ethics at New York University School of Law. He said "it was unusual and inappropriate for the governor, instead of the attorney general, to get involved in such a case, and that after searching state court records, he could find no example of a similar intervention by a governor."

Update: AP also reports on Manchin's contacts with DuPont. Among other information, AP's Vicki Smith relays that "nine of the 24 legal citations in the state's brief are also in DuPont's. Both briefs address the question of whether punitive damage awards should be automatically appealed."

Smith covered the 2007 trial, and recently reported that plaintiffs in the case were stung that Manchin as well as the West Virginia State Medical Association had each filed briefs in the case.

The later group, a leading advocate of lawsuit and jury award limits, objected to the inclusion of CT scans in the medical monitoring aspect of the case but did not suggest an alternative.

Update II: The Charleston Gazette follows up with word that lawyers for the plaintiffs have asked the Supreme Court to reject Manchin's brief.

Reporting that Manchin's brief "did include nearly identical arguments" to ones in a draft brief provided his office by DuPont, this article also notes that DuPont had suggested in a separate draft brief that the governor stress that the company has sought to be a good corporate citizen.

But Carte Goodwin, the governor's counsel, "declined to include those arguments, or any discussion of the merits of the case, in Manchin's friend-of-the-court brief," The Gazette reported. "Also, Goodwin declined DuPont's suggestion that he defend the state Department of Environmental Protection, which during trial was accused of helping DuPont avoid a more thorough cleanup of the Spelter site."

Following The Energy Money

Environmental groups have launched searchable online databases of the campaign contributions that both the coal industry and oil & gas industry have given to members of Congress.

Searches on each site also generate interactive relationship maps to illustrate the results. While the underlying data comes from the Federal Election Commission and has been processed by the nonpartisan (and highly helpful) Center for Responsive Politics, the groups offering the sites have definite points of view about these energy sources.

Here are the search results for West Virginia's delegation, from each site:

(Click image to enlarge)

Though the member with the least seniority in the group, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, appears to be the top beneficiary of each industry.

12 August 2008

Thomas B. Miller, 1929-2008

Retired state Supreme Court Justice Thomas B. Miller has died at age 79, The Associated Press reports, citing a Wheeling funeral home.

"Miller served on the court from 1977 to 1994, retiring with six years remaining on his second 12-year term," AP reported. "He continued to serve temporary stints, standing in while the late Justice William T. Brotherton Jr. recovered from heart surgery and when Justice Richard Neely retired."

MetroNews also has an item, along with audio of former Supreme Court Clerk Ancil Ramey.

Update: The Intelligencer of Wheeling has a lengthy obituary.

11 August 2008

Election 2008: President

The Associated Press reviews several national political prognosticators to find they "appear uniformly certain that presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain can count on West Virginia's five electoral votes."

Those who paint the Mountain State as "solid red" on their Electoral College maps include:

The various analysts appear to differ as to the national outcome, however. Pollster.com, for instance, averages state-by-state polling to put Barack Obama above the needed majority of 270 electoral votes; even with all the toss-up states, the site's approach gives McCain just 254 votes.

Quote of the Day

"(I have been) the best Republican friend the incumbent governor's family ever had in West Virginia."

-- Disgraced former Gov. Arch Moore, to a GOP crowd in Logan County last month, as reported by The Lincoln Journal (and pointed out by The Charleston Gazette).