10 January 2009

They Voted For You: Wage Discrimination

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped the House pass "two bills to help workers, particularly women, who are victims of pay discrimination," The Associated Press reports.

"The Lilly Ledbetter Act would reverse a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that a worker must file claims of wage discrimination within 180 days of the first decision to pay that worker less, even if the person was unaware of the pay disparity," AP explains. "The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes that have enabled employers to evade the 1963 law requiring equal pay for equal work."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, joined most of her fellow GOP House members in opposing both bills. The first passed 247-171, the second by 256-163.

"Republican opponents of the two measures argued that they would foster lawsuits against businesses and mainly benefit trial lawyers," AP reports. "The Ledbetter bill could reach the Senate floor as early as next week."

09 January 2009

Manchin Losing DMV Commissioner (Updated)

As Gov. Joe Manchin nears his second term with little turnover among his administration's top officials, Division of Motor Vehicles Chairman Joe Cicchirillo plans to resign at the end of the month "to pursue other interests," The Associated Press reports.

The Charleston Daily Mail also cites Friday's statement from the Department of Transportation. "Cicchirillo was appointed by Gov. Joe Manchin in 2005 to head the DMV," that article said. "Prior to that, he was ombudsman for the former West Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission and city manager for the Northern Panhandle cities of Follansbee and Weirton from 1997 to 2003."

The Charleston Gazette reported earlier that while he's announced no plans to leave, Manchin Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Martin "has asked the state Ethics Commission for a 'revolving door' exemption that would allow him to look for a new job."

Manchin Picks Ross for Proudfoot Seat

Former state Sen. Mike Ross will return to the West Virginia Legislature after Gov. Joe Manchin on Friday appointed the Randolph County Democrat to succeed the late Delegate Bill Proudfoot.

The governor said in a statement that his decision was "based upon his experience and prior service to the State of West Virginia, his ability to step into the legislative process quickly," and "his long-time friendship and knowledge of Del. Bill Proudfoot and his work."

(Update) Ross, 70, was in the state Senate until Republican Clark Barnes unseated him in 2004. Barnes won their rematch in November after Ross reported spending more than $444,000 -- more than any other 2008 legislative candidate -- on his unsuccessful comeback bid.

Proudfoot was killed in an auto accident two days before Christmas. Manchin's release said he spoke to Proudfoot's widow about Friday's appointment.

Update II: The Associated Press has an item, as does the Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews.

W.Va. GOP Chairman Seeks End to Abernathy Dispute

West Virginia's state GOP chairman has issued a press release addressing the party members who disagree with the re-hiring of Gary Abernathy as executive director.

Dr. Doug McKinney responded after Republicans, including "roughly 10 members of the State Executive Committee," met in Salem Thursday night "to discuss the state party."

“I’m disappointed that I was not invited to join them and directly answer many of their questions,” McKinney is quoted as saying in the release. “But nevertheless, I want to invite them to join me and other Republicans across the state to turn our focus toward challenging the Democrats and winning elections in 2010 and beyond.”

Attendee Bob Adams, one of Abernathy's unsuccessful candidates during the 2008 elections, told MetroNews Talkline that the underlying effort to oust McKinney over the hire was " a Judas move, against a loyal hardworking Republican."

Adams specifically referred to a letter circulated by some party members calling for McKinney's resignation. "Adams says he was told the letter will not be released unless 30% of the state Republican Executive Committee members sign it," MetroNews reports.

While against opposing that push, Adams also said that "McKinney alone is not to blame for the state of the state Republican Party:"

There's not one person, whether it's a Congresswoman, whether it's an Executive Director, whether it's a state Chairman, who's going to make the difference in this Republican Party. It takes the Party as a whole and, frankly, the Party wasn't there for its candidates in 2008.

At least one blog has been created to air the ongoing debate, while another posted about Thursday's meeting (though it appears to refer to at least one non-party member who apparently participated).

McKinney's statement appears to have been released late Thursday, perhaps some time after the meeting ended.

W.Vians Gave More to Anti-Prop 8 Forces in Calif.

"Supporters of the ballot measure that banned gay marriage in California have filed a lawsuit seeking to block their campaign finance records from public view," The Associated Press reports.

But the campaign finance filings remain public and online for now. They show just a handful of West Virginia contributors to groups for or against the measure -- but those Mountain State residents gave $850 to anti-Prop 8 forces and just $100 to those behind it.

The sole donor to the two largest pro groups is listed as an Eastern Panhandle school teacher. Those who contibuted to anti- groups include lawyers and retirees.

The two largest pro-prop groups appear to have raised around $28.4 million, while the two biggest anti- groups amassed nearly $36 million (there are a number of additional groups listed).

The lawsuit alleges public access to the reports has "led to the harassment of donors," AP reports, and "cites a series of incidents in which those who gave money to support Proposition 8 received threatening phone calls, e-mails and postcards."

It was filed by the two largest pro- groups: Protect Marriage.com , and the National Organization for Marriage California. Their lawyer, James Bopp Jr., has also represented West Virginians for Life in their pending (and thus far largely successful) legal challenge of the state's latest stab at requiring disclosure of electioneering communications.

The West Virginia lawsuit seeks to allow those behind independent, election-time political ads from having to identify their donors and spending. The California case "asks the court to relieve the two groups and 'all similarly situated persons' from having to meet the state's campaign disclosure requirements," AP reports. "That would include having to file a final report on Proposition 8 contributions at the end of January, as well as reports for any future campaigns the groups undertake."

Turnpike Officials Talking Toll Hike

"The West Virginia Turnpike needs an extra $30 million a year in revenue to pay for nearly $240 million of long-delayed repaving and renovation," and one official calls hiking its tolls "the magic bullet that makes the problem go away immediately," The Charleston Gazette reports.

The Register-Herald of Beckley, MetroNews and the Charleston Daily Mail also have news from Thursday's meeting of the board for the Turnpike's parent agency, the Parkways, Economic Development and Tourism Authority.

Noting the hurdles required for toll rates to increase, Gov. Joe Manchin's representative on the agency board "directed Parkways general manager Greg Barr to arrange media tours in each of the counties served by the Turnpike, to let the public see how deferred maintenance has resulted in substandard conditions on many sections of the roadway," The Gazette reports.

MetroNews also has audio.

Keeping Coal Afloat

The Associated Press' Tim Huber examines whether, or for how long, the U.S. coal industry can withstand the forces wreaking havoc on much of the rest of the national economy.

"Already, mine operators have scaled back production plans for 2009, namely coking coal used for steelmill blast furnaces as manufacturing grinds to a halt," Huber reports. But some producers " locked in high prices by signing contracts for much of their 2009 production last year," while "woes in the energy and steel sector may actually benefit coal producers."

he industry is typically not hit as hard as other sectors during recessions," the article also observes. "Figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show electricity demand has remained relatively flat during the last three U.S. recessions."

08 January 2009

Byrd Marks Half-Century in the Senate (Updated)

It was 50 years ago Wednesday that Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., joined the U.S. Senate, starting a tenure that has made him history's longest-serving member of that body.

MetroNews is among those reporting on the speeches from colleagues that helped highlight the 91-year-old's latest milestone.

Update: The Associated Press noted that during this week swearing-in of the 111th Congress, Byrd "celebrated with customary eloquence a half-century of service in the Senate":

He said he's loved every minute of serving in a chamber he called the "morning and evening star in the American constitutional constellation."
"I look forward — yes, I look forward — to the next 50 years," he finished. "Amen. Amen!"

A separate article from AP captured the scene more wistfully, describing the Senate as "nearly deserted," and Byrd as speaking "from a wheelchair, his hair white, his voice often faltering."

Berger, Rose Recommended for Federal Bench

West Virginia's Democratic U.S. senators have advised President-elect Obama to appoint Kanawha Circuit Judge Irene Berger and Ned Rose, a former state official and party stalwart, as U.S. district judges.

The Charleston Gazette reports that Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller have recommended the pair to vacancies in each of the state's federal court districts.

In the southern district that includes Charleston, "Berger would replace U.S. District Judge David A. Faber, who assumed senior status, a sort of semi-retirement, on Dec. 31," the article said. In the north,"Rose would replace U.S. District Judge Craig W. Broadwater, who died in December 2006."

The Charleston Daily Mail focuses on how the new Congress spells the end of bid by a GOP nominee, William J. "Bill" Powell, for the northern slot.

(Note: headline changed from "nominated to," as that may not be the correct term.)

07 January 2009

Disharmony in the Ranks

West Virginia Republicans continue to disagree over the (re-) hiring of Gary Abernathy as their party's executive director, MetroNews reports.

Melody Potter, Kanawha County's GOP chairwoman, told Talkline that her executive committee discussed the subject during a Tuesday meeting.

"She says an opinion survey among members of her Kanawha County group showed many people are not happy with the direction the state Republican Party is heading and many want (state Chairman Doug) McKinney to be replaced," MetroNews reports.

Kanawha party member Mike Stewart cited a Thursday meeting of Republicans slated for Harrison County, "focused on the future of the Republican Party in this state."

MetroNews has audio of both Stewart and Abernathy, who was asked about the ongoing controversey.

Democrats in Randolph and Pocahontas counties, meanwhile, appear at odds over the committee assigned to recommend a successor to the late Delegate Bill Proudfoot, D-Randolph.

The committe sent three names to Gov. Joe Manchin late Tuesday, The Associated Press reports: former state Sen. Mike Ross, D-Randolph; Carl "Randy" Moore; and Denise L. Campbell.

But the names were relayed only after questions were raised about the Pocahontas seats on the two-county delegate district committee.

Robert Beckwith, Randolph County's Democratic chairman, cites state law to argue that those two seats were not filled properly. He has also questioned the state party's handling of the situation.

Beckwith notes that he's raised his concerns as a party member, and not as chairman, and that his wife, Margaret, sought to make the recommendation list as a recent candidate for the 37th District seat.

The InterMountain of Elkins has covered the dispute, while also reporting on those recommended by the committee. The Charleston Daily Mail has coverage as well.

06 January 2009

Benjamin Gets it from All Sides in Massey Case

Twenty seven former state Supreme Court justices from 19 states (including West Virginia) aren't the only ones faulting Chief Justice Brent Benjamin from refusing to quit a $50 million case involving Massey Energy Co.

As The Associated Press reports, 10 (corrected from 11) other "friend of the court" briefs have been filed at the U.S. Supreme Court by a wide array of 48 different entities.

They range from such public interest groups as Common Cause and Public Citizen to several large multinational corporations including Wal-Mart and PepsiCo.

Ten of the filings argue that Benjamin created an appearance of impropriety by staying in the case, given the more than $3 million that Massey CEO Don Blankenship spent in 2004 to help get him elected.

Even Benjamin's peers, the U.S. Conference of Chief Justices, has weighed in. While not taking sides in the appeal (the other 10 briefs are in support of petitioners Harmon Mining and Hugh Caperton), its filing cites the spectre of the huge support Blankenship provided Benjamin's campaign.

Other groups targeting Benjamin in their briefs include the American Bar Association, the League of Women Voters, several defense bar groups and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

The ABA has posted several of the briefs (2/3 down the page), as has the Brennan Center on its page devoted to the pending appeal.

Redistricting Talk Starts Early

The next U.S. Census won't be taken until 2010, and the results won't likely be available for a year after that. But speculation has already started about whether or how West Virginia might use the latest population numbers to redraw its three congressional districts.

As it did in 2000, West Virginia appears likely to avoid the loss of a U.S. House seat, unlike several other states (and unlike West Virginia after the 1990 count).

Both The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail focus on the future of the home turf of Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the 18-county 2nd Congressional District that runs from the Kanawha Valley to the Eastern Panhandle.

W.Va. Still Expecting a Budget Surplus

The Associated Press reports that West Virginia's state government ended the first half of its budget year with nearly $75 million more than expected.

West Virginia continues to sport a potential budget surplus while 39 other states struggle with budget shortfalls this year that total $32 billion and counting.

"The severance tax on coal and natural resources is a big reason for the ample revenues," the article said. "The state is also seeing stronger than projected personal income tax collections."

MetroNews also has an item, with audio.

Former Justices Fault Benjamin in Massey Case

An array of individuals, businesses and interest groups have told the U.S. Supreme Court that West Virginia Justice Brent Benjamin created an appearance of impropriety by remaining on a case involving Massey Energy Co.

As The Associated Press reports, those filing "friend of the court" briefs in favor of the petitioners include "27 former justices from 19 state Supreme Courts... Retired state Justice Richard Neely is among them."

Health Care in West Virginia

Tom Breen, who writes about health care among other topics at The Associated Press, reports on several factors that could lead to West Virginia whittling down the ranks of its uninsured in 2009.

With a governor pledging to find coverage for all working residents and a legislative effort to devise a 'road map' for a restructured health care system kicking off in January, the battered national economy and an uncertain future have not intimidated planners," Breen reports.

About 248,000 of West Virginia's 1.8 million people are uninsured, "although that number fluctuates," the article said. Breen spoke to Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians For Affordable Health Care, who "believes that number can be reduced with a relatively modest expenditure of state dollars, which will be a key selling point for lawmakers watching other state budgets struggle with deficits."

05 January 2009

W.Va. Staying the Course with its Investments

The Associated Press reports that "Managers of West Virginia's main investments are hoping the worst is over after the global financial crisis erased about $2.6 billion from the state's portfolio since June."

The state Investment Management Board believes December could have actually ended on a positive note, after a string of sometimes devastating losses in prior months.

All told, IMB officials say "it's too early to revisit the 7.5 percent assumed interest rate" for the state's portfolio, the article said. "Sticking with that projected return means the state must eventually offset the multibillion-dollar losses, and then some. To reach a 7.5 percent return this budget year, for instance, would require gains exceeding $768 million by June 30, 2009."

Analysts says public pension plans may have to "avoid retroactive benefit increases, hold off on cost-of-living hikes," audit their affordability, and perhaps even "hike required contributions from enrollees, their government employers (i.e., taxpayers) or both," AP reports.

Quote of the Day

"I know Gary, and I consider him a friend. But he should not be in that position. Going back to same old approach just isn't going to cut it. We're paying him to say we need more House and Senate seats... You think?"

-- former Delegate Chris Wakim, R-Ohio, weighing in on the re-hiring of Gary Abernathy as the West Virginia GOP's executive director. The Intelligencer of Wheeling quotes Wakim and others while reporting that some state Republicans are debating the decision.

Ross to Succeed Proudfoot?

The Charleston Gazette predicts as much. Among other factors it counts as favoring former lawmaker Mike Ross, D-Randolph, is how he edged out state Republican Sen. Clark Barnes by 457 votes in their home county while losing their November rematch in the 15th District.

The InterMountain of Elkins and the Charleston Daily Mail reported earlier on Wednesday's deadline for a multi-county district committee to recommend names to Gov. Joe Manchin for a successor to Delegate Bill Proudfoot. The Randolph County Democrat was killed in an auto accident two days before Christmas.

04 January 2009

Manchin Expects Million-Dollar Inaugural

"Four years ago, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin spent $1.3 million on his inauguration," and "plans to spend more later this month for his second inauguration ceremony," The Intelligencer reports.

With private contributors footing the bill, Manchin campaign spokeswoman Sarah Payne Scarbro told the Wheeling newspaper that "we anticipate raising the same amount of money this year," though "because of price increases over the past four years, we could be spending more."

While previewing the events scheduled for Charleston, the article notes that this year's plans do not include the regional inaugural ceremonies held in 2005 in Wheeling and in the Eastern Panhandle.

"Manchin is one of 11 governors being sworn into office this month, and six of the elected governors have announced they are foregoing inaugural ceremonies as their states struggle financially," the article said. "But West Virginia remains one of several states in solid financial shape, and Manchin feels there is much to celebrate, according to Scarbro."

Ireland Exiting

Secretary of State Betty Ireland, the first woman elected to West Virginia's executive branch, is leaving office later this month and spoke to The Associated Press about her tenure.

'It's not my main deal to stand up and be the women's rights advocate,'' she said. ''I am a women's rights advocate, but that's not what pushes me forward. I am here to do the job.''

The 63-year-old "is also keeping an eye to the future," the article notes. "Besides a long-postponed vacation with her husband - ''Neither of us has had more than a week off at a time in 20 years, probably,'' she said - Ireland expects to remain involved with the state's Republican Party."

"But Ireland's first post-office task is a tough one. She must settle the affairs of her parents, whose ailing health prompted her to sit out the 2008 election cycle as she cared for them," AP reports.

Changing of the Guard

The opening weeks and months of the Obama presidency will allow for a wide array of federal appointments, including a number in West Virginia.

The new president will have the power to pick a new U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal for each of the state's two federal court districts. The northern district also has a judicial vacancy.

The Charleston Daily Mail offers possible names in play for some of these appointments.

Northern District: Bill Ihlenfeld Jr., Arch Riley Jr., Assistant U.S. Attorney John Parr, Ohio County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Smith, and former Randolph County prosecutor Earl Maxwell for U.S. Attorney; former federal law enforcement coordinator George Fahey, now-former Ohio County sheriff and ex-FBI agent Tom Burgoyne and retired state trooper Joe Trupo for U.S. Marshal.

Southern District: Assistant U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Dwane Tinsley, a former federal prosecutor, for U.S. Attorney; Deputy U.S. Marshal John Foster, state Human Rights Commissioner and former police officer Ivin Lee, and former state Sen. Billy Wayne Bailey, D-Wyoming, for U.S. Marshal.