12 December 2008

Obama Raised Nearly $621,000 in W.Va.

The Associated Press rounds out its review of 2008 campaign finance by reporting that President-elect Barack Obama outraised John McCain by more than 2-to-1 among West Virginians before losing the state to the Republican nominee.

"The final round of campaign finance reports show that Obama attracted more than $139,000 from West Virginians during the final month of the campaign," AP reports. "That last burst of more than 1,200 contributions boosted Obama's in-state total to nearly $621,000."

McCain had raised around $255,000 from state residents before switching to public financing in September.

W.Va. GOP Again Picks Abernathy for Exec. Dir.

Gary Abernathy is again executive director of West Virginia's Republican Party, returning to a post "that found him in a storm of controversy four years ago with the Warner family," The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

State GOP Chairman Doug McKinney said Abernathy's duties include raising money, The Associated Press reports. AP notes that the party's latest filing shows "$20,015 in its federal account, compared to the Democratic Party's balance of $279,528."

A longtime political consultant, Abernathy's clients during the most recent election cycle included presidential candidate Fred Thompson, GOP nominee for governor Russ Weeks and state Senate hopefuls Gary Howell and Bob Adams.

But not all state Republicans appear pleased by the hiring.

Replacing DeLong

Democrats in the House of Delegates will need a new majority leader next year, as Hancock County's Joe DeLong ran (unsuccessfully) for secretary of state instead of for re-election.

The Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews each report on his possible successor.

11 December 2008

Ex-Lawmaker Busted for DUI While Leaving Gov's X-Mas Party

"The first of four Christmas parties at the Governor's Mansion turned out to be less-than-festive for a Charleston health care administrator and former state delegate," The Charleston Gazette reports.

Pat White, head of West Virginia Health Right and formerly D-Putnam, "was arrested for driving under the influence by Charleston Police after wrecking her car on Piedmont Road at the Capitol complex" late Tuesday, The Gazette reports.

White had been a guest at the first of four holiday parties scheduled for the Governor's Mansion this month. Each features free food and beverages, including beer, wine and liquor. The governor has invited about 600 people to each, the article said.

WSAZ-TV reports that White had a blood-alcohol content of 0.156 percent, nearly twice the legal limit. A Manchin spokeswoman told the station that for the rest of the parties, "we will begin to make announcements throughout the evening reminding everyone to please act responsibly and that our staff is available to assist them should they need a ride home for any reason.""

W.Va. '08 Congressional Race Spending Topped $12.5 million

West Virginia's candidates for U.S. House and Senate spent more than $12.5 million on their races this year, The Associated Press reports, continuing (edit) its post-general review of campaign finance.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., accounts for more than half the total. He plowed more than $7 million into his successful campaign against underfunded Republican Jay Wolfe.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, spent $805,493 against a GOP opponent whose lack of fundraising exempted him from Federal Election Commission filing requirements. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, was unopposed but still spent $1.03 million.

The most competitive congressional race saw Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, spend $2.3 million, or twice as much as Democratic challenger Anne Barth. About 18 percent of the $1.6 million Barth laid out during her campaign was consumed by her party's contested primary.

Capito also outraised Barth by 2-to-1, and nearly outraised her by that margin, during the final weeks of their race. She also benefited from $721,000 worth of ads supporting her from National Right to Life, the American Hospital Association and the National Association of Realtors.

Update: "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $267,712 promoting Barth and an equal amount attacking Capito," the article also notes, citing analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

They Voted For You: The Big Three

West Virginia's U.S. House members ended up divided when that body voted late Wednesday for legislation "to authorize financial assistance to eligible automobile manufacturers, and for other purposes."

Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, helped pass the "Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act" 237-170, while Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted against it. He was among 20 Democrats to oppose the measure, while Capito crossed the aisle with 31 GOP colleagues to support it.

The measure would infuse $14 billion "within days into cash-starved General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC," The Associated Press explains. "Ford Motor Co., which has said it has enough cash to make it through 2009, would also be eligible for federal aid."

"Supporters cited dire warnings from GM and Chrysler executives, who have said they could run out of cash within weeks, and concerns that a carmaker collapse would erase tens of thousands of jobs and jolt an already bleak economy," the article said.

But Senate Republicans "are challenging lame-duck President George W. Bush on the proposal, arguing that any support for the domestic auto industry should carry significant concessions from autoworkers and creditors and reject tougher environmental rules imposed by House Democrats," AP also reported.

MetroNews also reports on Wednesday's vote, while the Charleston Daily Mail queried the state's delegation beforehand.

09 December 2008

Debate Continues over W.Va. Health Care Spending Rules

West Virginia doctors have been leading a charge for most of a year against rules that mandate state approval for spending on expanded services, new facilities and related areas.

As lawmakers heard during this week's interim meetings, "some in border counties have begun sidestepping (the rules) by setting up shop right across the state line, particularly in Ohio and Pennsylvania where comparable rules are lacking," The Associated Press reports.

The West Virginia Hospital Association offered its views Monday. It favors the "certificate of need" system, but suggested ways to streamline its process and ease its burden on non-health care projects pursued by regulated providers.

The hospitals also want a chance to compete with the doctors crossing the borders, by eliminating the review requirement hospitals face when seeking to expand across the state line. That spurred questions from Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, during Monday's interim meeting.

"Executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association, which represents doctors, Jenkins has been the committee's most vocal skeptic of the certificate of need system," the article said. "Jenkins said it sounded as if the hospitals had adopted a 'if you can't beat them, join them' response to the doctors."

Manchin's Inaugural

USA Today reports that while "many of the governors who will be inaugurated next month are scaling back their celebrations," Gov. Joe Manchin has already caught flak for planning "a lavish inaugural ball."

"His 2005 ball, funded by private donations and sponsorships, had a budget of about $1.3 million," the article noted, citing Manchin's inaugural committee spokeswoman Sara Payne Scarbro.

Scarbro, who will return to the governor's press office in January, also defended plans for the 2009 ball, citing how "Manchin has created 23,000 jobs and reduced the state's debt."

"We've got our financial house in order and made some lasting changes," she told the newspaper. "That is definitely worth celebrating."

Recession Unkind to State Road Fund

The Associated Press reports that signs of an economic downturn also spell additional trouble for an already stricken West Virginia State Road Fund.

A decline in new vehicle registrations, changing driving habits and rising building materials costs all hurt the state's main source for highway needs, West Virginia University economist Tom Witt told a legislative interim committee Monday.

Witt also highlighted an ongoing update of a sweeping 2004 study that sought to chart the road fund's future.

The Charleston Gazette and The Register-Herald of Beckley also covered Monday's meeting.

Manchin on Obama

The Rothenberg Political Report quotes Gov. Joe Manchin in a lengthy piece drawn from last week's meeting between the nation's governors and President-Elect Barack Obama.

"Although the bulk of the conversation took place behind closed doors, subsequent interviews with Democratic governors revealed a high level of excitement about the next administration," the article said. "According to governors in the meeting, the conversation with Obama included talks about an upcoming stimulus package, infrastructure, energy and Medicaid, as well as an overall discussion about how the federal government can partner with the states."

The piece says Manchin, outgoing chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, spoke for several of his peers when he said “We don’t want a provider, we want a partner.”

"Other governors expressed similar sentiments, saying they weren’t looking for a block grant or a blank check, but instead the ability to shape the infrastructure into specific projects that work in their states," the article said.

W.Va. Jail Firings Explained

The Charleston Gazette reports that "Regional Jail Authority director Terry Miller told legislators Monday he fired the administrator of Southern Regional Jail and four jail officers in October because of two incidents in which inmates were mistakenly released from jail."

The Gazette explains that "Monday's meeting was the first time Miller gave an explanation for what led him to fire Tom Scott, a longtime administrator of the Southwestern and Southern regional jails," and the others.

Miller also said "there have been three other instances of erroneous releases since October, including two at the Tygart Valley Regional Jail, and one incident involving an inmate who was supposed to be transferred from Southwestern in Logan to South Central regional jail in Charleston," the article said. "Miller said officers at Tygart Valley been suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation, and said the Logan County incident is in the initial stages of investigation."

08 December 2008

Recession Puts Recycling on the Skids (Updated)

The Associated Press highlights the tough times facing West Virginia recycling programs to report that "the recycling market has tanked almost in lockstep with the global economic meltdown. As consumer demand for autos, appliances and new homes dropped, so did the steel and pulp mills’ demand for scrap, paper and other recyclables."

The state's largest program, in Kanawha County, has reduced work schedules, closed drop-off stations and asked "
residents to hoard their recyclables," AP reports. Elsewhere, "haulers in Oregon and Nevada who were once paid for recyclables are now getting nothing or in some cases are having to pay to unload their wares," while in Washington state, "what was once a multimillion-dollar revenue source for the city of Seattle may become a liability next year."

Update: The New York Times also includes West Virginia in a national story, headlined "
Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up."

The Charleston Gazette first reported on Kanawha County's quandary in November, and followed up to highlight the impact on recycling drives at area schools.

Tomblin, Thompson Headed to New Terms as Senate President, House Speaker

The majority Democrats in the House and Senate caucused (separately) Sunday before their interim session began to re-nominate Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, and President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, The Associated Press reports.

"Tomblin became the longest-serving president in 2003, and 2009 would mark his eighth term with that titler," AP notes, while "Thompson would begin his second term as speaker. Each leadership post carries a two-year term."

The article continues that "GOP lawmakers also re-nominated their leaders: Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth of Mercer County and House Minority Leader Tim Armstead of Kanawha County."

Newly elected lawmakers took part in the caucusing. The full House and Senate will each vote on their leadership choices in January. "The Democratic caucuses also each renominated the House and Senate's non-lawmaker officers," AP reports. "They are Clerk Gregory M. Gray, Doorkeeper John A. Roberts and Sergeant at Arms Oce Smith in the House, and Clerk Darrell E. Holmes, Doorkeeper William Bevino and Sergeant at Arms Howard Wellman in the Senate."

The Register-Herald of Beckley reports on the caucusing as well, with comments from legislators on the renominations.

Judicial Selection Remains a Topic in W.Va. (Updated)

The Associated Press reports that "the Legislature continues to study the way West Virginia picks its judges and justices, in the wake of a vote of confidence by most of the state's judiciary in favor of the current method of partisan elections."

A legislative interim committee heard several differing views on the topic Sunday. Speakers included the heads of the state's plaintiff's and defense bars, and former judge-turned-lawmaker-turned-judge-elect John Yoder, R-Jefferson.

The committee met after "the West Virginia Judicial Association adopted a resolution last week in support of partisan elections," AP notes. "The measure came after the group's executive committee unanimously endorsed a proposal from Gov. Joe Manchin for nonpartisan elections of circuit judges."

The legislative panel also learned from the other speakers, Allan Karlin and Thomas Hurney, of their work on "a special committee formed by the West Virginia Bar Association to study the state's judicial selection method."

The Charleston Gazette also reported on the interim session meeting, as did MetroNews.

Update: Stateline.org reports that "bare-knuckle races in states including Alabama, Mississippi, Wisconsin and West Virginia have renewed calls from advocacy groups, lawyers and others in the legal community for structural changes to the way judicial elections work."

Candidates Plow nearly $11 million into W.Va. state, legislative races

The Associated Press continued its analysis of campaign finance reports from the 2008 elections by delving into post-general filings and offers overviews of spending by candidates for the Legislative and for such statewide offices as governor and Supreme Court.

AP also compared some of the statewide spending to that seen in other states.

Among other findings:

  • Statewide candidates plunked down a combined $6.6 million, while legislative hopefuls together laid out more than $4.3 million.
  • State Supreme Court candidate spending exceeded $3 million in that two-seat race, but that's less than what was seen in other states this year or in West Virginia in 2004.
  • West Virginia's race for governor, clocking in at under $2.9 million, was among the nation's cheapest in 2008. The priciest was in Washington state, where Gov. Christine Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi spent a combined $23.6 million.
  • Republican candidate for governor Russ Weeks apparently amassed a smaller campaign chest than any other major party nominee for governor in the 11 states that voted on that office this year.
  • In the most expensive legislative race of the year, "former state Sen. Mike Ross spent nearly $440,000 before losing his rematch against state Sen. Clark Barnes."
  • Ross was among just nine losing candidates who had outspent the winners in their races. The rest had run for the House. All nine are Democrats.
  • "The priciest House contest during the general election season was in Mercer County, where about $47,100 was spent for each of two 25th District seats."
  • "The biggest spender among House candidates during both the primary and general campaigns was Sally Susman, who regained the Raleigh County seat she gave up for an unsuccessful (2006) state Senate bid."