05 December 2008

Quote of the Day

"That's just not something I would ever want to drive."

-- House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., upon learning from U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito that a station wagon owned by her family while growing up had been dubbed "chick magnet."

Capito, R-2nd, took part in Friday's re-appearance by the Big Three CEOs before the House Committee.

Banking Giant Weighs in on MTR

The Charleston Gazette reports that "one of the world's largest financial institutions said this week it will phase out lending money to coal operators that use mountaintop removal mining."

"Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp. said it will stop financing companies that produce more than half of their coal from mountaintop removal," the article said. "Bank of America has provided financing for several major surface mine operators, including Massey Energy and International Coal Group, according to corporate financial disclosures."

Update: The Associated Press reviewed "annual reports for some of the largest U.S. producers" to find that "few get more than half their coal from mountaintop mines, and few borrow significant amounts of money from the North Carolina-based lender."

"The policy, buried in the company's Web site this week and barely acknowledged by its public relations department, may be little more than show," AP reports. A National Mining Association spokeswoman called it "a bit of a public relations ploy at a time when there's a lot of press attention on mountaintop removal," that article said.

04 December 2008

W.Va. Standing By Touch-Screen Voting Machines

West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland spoke to The Associated Press about how the state was " simultaneously criticized and praised for its electronic voting machine procedures" during this year's general election.

After a handful of complaints received national press and Internet attention, Ireland told AP's Tom Breen "she's convinced much of the criticism was prompted by the heat of a fiercely fought national election."

"This particular election was so highly charged, nationally, and we got bombarded by out-of-state groups," Ireland said. "Some people were looking for problems, and instead of calling us first, they called CNN."

Ireland's successor, meanwhile, told Breen she "plans to convene a forum with lawmakers, county clerks, voters and others to discuss how votes are tallied in the state, and whether changes should be made."

"There are some people who love the touch-screen machines, but in the last election, some questions came up that need to be answered," said Natalie Tennant, who won the statewide seat Nov. 4.

MTR Rule Sets Off Furor (Updated)

The Charleston Gazette reports that "Bush administration officials paved the way Tuesday to revoke parts of a key water quality rule that environmental groups say could greatly limit mountaintop removal mining if it were properly enforced."

Public Broadcasting also has coverage of the late rule change, saying it "makes it harder for environmentalists, and the incoming Obama Administration, to challenge mountaintop removal mining." Audio here.

Update: The Associated Press reports that angry environmentalists have launched an online campaign "urging President-elect Barack Obama to undo a federal rule that clarifies when coal companies can dump mining waste in streams, calling it a long-awaited 'parting gift' from the Bush administration."

Huckabee in W.Va.

The Republican presidential candidate who won West Virginia's GOP delegate convention is returning to the state to promote his new book, The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews report.

Mike Huckabee will sign copies of Do the Right Thing from noon to 1 p.m. today at Books-A-Million in Dudley Farms Plaza.

"Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, is now an analyst and host at Fox News and is considered one of the early front-runners for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012," The Gazette notes.

Choosing Judges in W.Va.

The West Virginia Judicial Association has endorsed the state's current method of voting for judges and justices along party lines, after Gov. Joe Manchin sought support for nonpartisan elections for at least circuit judges, The Associated Press reports.

Representing more than 90 active and retired judges and justices, the association has adopted a resolution that also declares its members "are always committed to participating in discussions to improve the judiciary.''

AP reported earlier that Manchin had approached the association's executive committee, which in response unanimously endorsed a resolution in favor of nonpartisan elections and agreed to present it to the full group at this week's winter conference in Morgantown.

Supporters of Tuesday's alternative resolution cited ongoing studies of the issue. The outcome "also follows a plea to the state's 55 county Democratic Party chairmen to oppose any move away from partisan elections," AP reports.

MetroNews and Public Broadcasting (with audio) also have coverage of Tuesday's resolution.

03 December 2008

Pushback on W.Va. Drug Courts

At least one of West Virginia's newly elected county prosecutors isn't interested in taking part in West Virginia's ongoing drug court experiment, The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

County and circuit court officials, with help from the Legislature, have pursued "an alternative sentencing setup aimed at getting non-violent offenders unhooked and back into society as productive citizens while sparing taxpayers money normally routed to regional jails to pay for their upkeep," the article explains.

But Raleigh County's prosecutor-elect,
Kristen Keller, told that county's commission that she opposes the concept, the newspaper reports.

“There is not a uniform belief that the therapeutic approach to criminal behavior is the appropriate approach or the approach that people who are victimized by criminals would appreciate,” Keller is quoted as saying.

She instead wants the commission to investigate the region's day reporting center for drug offenders, by auditing its books and checking the credentials of its staff.

W.Va. Reports Revenue Decline for November

Unlike most other states, West Virginia expects to ends its current budget year with more than enough general revenue to cover spending. Since the fiscal year began July 1, general revenue has exceeded estimates by $72 million.

November saw a downturn, however, with revenues missing projections by $27 million. But state officials told The Associated Press "an economic recession is not to blame."

"The state closed its books on Nov. 26, before the extended holiday weekend, but most businesses had until Sunday to pay what they owed," the article said. "As a result, those last-minute payments will show up for December."

The State Road Fund also missed its revenue mark for the month, but for the same reason, officials said.

Others reporting on the revenue figures include The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews.

Manchin on Fox News

Gov. Joe Manchin touted West Virginia's fiscal health in a Tuesday interview with Fox News while in Philadelphia for the governors' meeting with President-Elect Barack Obama. With video.

The Associated Press covered the meeting, which focused on the troubled economy.

02 December 2008

Manchin, Other Governors to Meet with Obama

Gov. Joe Manchin travels to Philadelphia on Tuesday to discuss the nation's troubled economy with President-Elect Barack Obama and the nation's other governors, MetroNews reports.

"We're not necessarily asking for more federal dollars," Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg told MetroNews. "We get a lot of federal dollars for important things, but we don't get the flexibility to use them to the best of our abilities in our individual states."

Robert J. Staker, 1925-2008

Former U.S. District Judge Robert J. Staker has died at 83, The Associated Press reports.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Staker, then a Mingo County circuit judge, to the state's southern federal court district in 1979. He stepped down from the federal bench in 2005.

The Charleston Gazette and the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington also report on Staker's passing, while the state Supreme Court has issued a release.

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses Massey Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a $260 million judgment won by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Co. in a West Virginia civil lawsuit against Massey Energy Co., The Associated Press reports.

The high court declined Massey's appeal just weeks after it agreed to hear a separate appeal arising from a West Virginia judgment against Massey. In that case, Harman Mining argues that Justice Brent Benjamin should have recused himself after winning election with a $3 million-plus boost from Massey CEO Don Blankenship.

In the appeal refused Monday, Massey wanted the U.S. high court to take the case alleging another justice, Larry Starcher, is biased against the company and Blankenship, AP reports.

MetroNews also reports on the latest appeal's denial.

01 December 2008

Underwood Remembered (Updated)

Media throughout the state have offered memorials and tributes to former Gov. Cecil Underwood since his death last week, from his native Tyler Star News to the statewide Public Broadcasting (with audio).

Such coverage will likely continue Monday. As The Associated Press reports, Charleston's Christ Church United Methodist will hold a public memorial service for the two-term Republican, with Gov. Joe Manchin among those expected to attend. Flags remain at half-staff as well.

Update: AP covered the service, as did The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail. MetroNews has text, photos and audio.

Manchin Weighing Nonpartisan Judicial Elections

Gov. Joe Manchin has asked the state's judiciary to get behind a plan to end the election of that branch, or at least for circuit judges, along party lines, The Associated Press reports.

The executive committee of the West Virginia Judicial Association has already endorsed a resolution in support of such a proposal, its new president tells AP, and has agreed to present the issue during the group's annual winter meeting that begins Tuesday.

"The push has already drawn harsh words from a legislative leader of Manchin’s own party," the article said. "Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin has called on West Virginia’s Democratic Party county chairmen to oppose such a plan."

Rockefeller Losing Longtime Aide

The Charleston Gazette has a lengthy Sunday piece on Lou Ann Johnson, who is departing this month as state director for U.S. Sen. Rockefeller after 28 years with the West Virginia Democrat.

At age 50, "retirement, she said, will allow her to unleash some of the soapbox activism she restrained in deference to his position," the article said.

Rockefeller plans to promote Deputy State Director Rochelle Goodwin to the post, The Gazette reports.