23 January 2009

W.Va. Firm Wins Award for '08 Political Ad

Campaigns & Elections' Politics Magazine has bestowed one of its 2009 Reed Awards on West Virginia's Rainmaker Media Group.

In the running in several categories, the firm won for "Toughest Direct Mail Piece" for last year's "Forrest Gump" mailing.

Update: The mailing targeted (now-former) Putnam County Circuit Judge Ed Eagloski, as part of Democrat Phillip M. Stowers' successful bid to unseat the Republican incumbent.

FactCheck Examines "Clean Coal" Debate

FactCheck.org has analyzed the dueling ads and claims over whether "clean coal" is possible.

Our answer: Probably, though it would come with a big price tag," the nonpartisan organization concludes.

They Voted For You: Lilly Ledbetter

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., voted for the "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009."

The legislation, which prevailed 61 to 36, "reverses a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that narrowly defines the time period during which a worker can file a claim of wage discrimination, even if the worker is unaware for months or years that he or she is getting less than colleagues doing the same job," The Associated Press explains.

"The House is expected to act quickly to again approve the measure, sending it to Obama for his signature," AP reports. "The House passed a nearly identical version two weeks ago but then combined it with another bill that the Senate didn't consider."

As they had in the House, Republicans in the Senate argue the measure would "subject companies to more lawsuits and be a bonanza for trial lawyers," the article said.

Update: Byrd and Rockefeller co-sponsored the Senate version, along with 52 of their colleagues.

Study Finds Charleston Missing out on Cleaner Air

Cleaner air has allegedly extended U.S. lifespans -- but not around West Virginia's capital, The Charleston Gazette reports.

The newspaper cites a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers "found that, between 1978 and 2001, Americans' average life span increased almost three years to 77," the article said. "As much as 15 percent of that - or 4.8 months - could be attributed to cleaner air, study concluded."

"But in the Charleston area, particulate pollution levels dropped by only 4.3 microns per cubic meter, compared to the national average of 6.52 microns," the article continues. "The Charleston-area life expectancy increased by 1.9 years, compared to the national average of 2.72 years."

The article notes further that last month, "the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed the Charleston area on its list of areas that are not meeting a new EPA limit for very small particulate pollution."

Lawsuit from Ballot Petitioners Proceeds against W.Va. DNR

The Associated Press reports that "a federal judge has refused to dismiss a First Amendment lawsuit a political party filed after the Division of Natural Resources said the party couldn't distribute literature and collect signatures for a candidate petition drive at a state park."

The Constitution Party of West Virginia had brought their petition drive to National Hunting and Fishing Day at Stonewall Jackson State Park, while trying to put their candidates on the state's Nov. 4 ballot.

DNR officials cited park and agency rules and policies in halting the group. The pending lawsuit alleges the party's "civil and constitutional rights were violated. The Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville, Va.-based civil rights group, filed the suit on their behalf."

The party's presidential candidate, Charles Baldwin, did end up on the West Virginia ballot. He attracted 2,465 votes or 0.35 percent, according to the secretary of state.

A Coming W.Va. Battle in the Culture Wars

West Virginia's Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the appeal of a same-sex couple fighting to regain custody of a child they've raised since birth, and a pair of conservative Christian groups have weighed in against them.

The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, aided by the national Alliance Defense Fund, has filed a "friend of the court" brief arguing that "it is in the best interests of all children to be brought up, as natural children are, in a home with a married mother and father."

The state group has also been recruiting pastors and others to press the Legislature and Gov. Joe Manchin "to pass a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage," The Associated Press reported last year.

The Charleston Daily Mail earlier previewed the pending custody case, which arises from a Fayette County circuit judge's ruling against the couple.

MetroNews reported on this week's amicus brief, and also has audio.

Update: On a related note, The Charleston Gazette reports that a state senator plans to push this session for a West Virginia specialty license plate reading "In God We Trust."

22 January 2009

Gambling in West Virginia: Video Poker

The Associated Press looks at the panel formed by Gov. Joe Manchin to review "the state's 8-year-old system for licensing the video poker and slot machines that formerly proliferated without regulation or taxation."

"There are 9,000 under the statute," State Lottery Director John Musgrave, a member of the panel, told AP's Tom Breen. "The governor has indicated he'd like to see fewer machines, and we'll have to see how that plays out."

With the licenses up for renewal in 2011, "limited video lottery machines grossed $411 million in fiscal year 2008, or 27 percent of the $1.5 billion total gross from all gambling enterprises, including the four racetracks and lottery numbers games," the article said.

But more than a few communities have chafed under their volume of poker parlors, while experts continue to raise concerns over this form of gambling.

Gearing up for the Legislative Session

"Gov. Joe Manchin’s pledge to continue emphasizing West Virginia coal as a good energy source" prompted The Associated Press to seek out specifics from the administration and the industry.

"Manchin wasn’t referring to any specific plans for coal," a spokesman told AP Business Writer Tim Huber, but his comments instead "reflect the importance coal has played in building the country and its future."

But the governor "is likely to have a specific agenda on renewable energy, which will come out in his state of the state speech Feb. 11," Jeff Herholdt, director of West Virginia’s Division of Energy, told AP.

Industry forces, meanwhile, "expect more than historical nods from Manchin’s second term," Huber writes.

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney hinted at a measure addressing surface mine reclamation "designed to help develop the state’s economy." Other possible topics include "carbon dioxide sequestration and coal-to-liquids," AP reports.

Business groups, meanwhile, have already begun to lobby lawmakers at local forums on their pet issues. The Journal of Martinsburg previews a forum that the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce has set for early February to discuss " health care, education, transportation, tax and tort reform and water quality."

The News and Sentinel of Parkersburg report that limits on lawsuits and damage awards tops the agenda of the West Virginia Business and Industry Council, which hosted area legislators Wednesday.

Lawmakers were also told not to tinker with the state's unemployment compensation program, amid questions about its future funding levels, that newspaper reports.

21 January 2009

West Virginia and the Obama Inauguration

Plenty of West Virginians took time to watch Barack Obama take the oath and deliver his inaugural speech as the 44th president of the United States.

The Associated Press talked to several of them. So did The Charleston Gazette, the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, The Register-Herald of Beckley (here and here as well), the News and Sentinel of Parkersburg and the Charleston Daily Mail (also here).

Public Broadcasting offers a wide-ranging report, with reaction from Huntington, Charleston, a Beckley VA center, Concord University in Mercer County and elsewhere (with audio for each).

MetroNews also has several items and audio from the day.

Those interviewing West Virginians who trekked to Washington for the event include the Daily Mail, The Register-Herald, The Intelligencer of Wheeling and Public Broadcasting (with audio).

The Journal of Martinsburg was among those who sought comment from Gov. Joe Manchin after he attended Obama's inauguration.

Manchin Inaugural Rakes in $800k

More than 220 donors contributed around $800,000 for Gov. Joe Manchin's second inauguration, The Charleston Gazette reports.

"Predominant among the list of sponsors are coal, natural gas and other energy companies; health care and pharmaceutical companies and physicians; lawyers and law firms; labor unions and gaming companies - large and small," the article said.

Byrd False Alarm

When Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., suffered a seizure at a post-inauguration luncheon for President Barack Obama, some reported that Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., also had to be taken from the event.

But The Associated Press later explained that Byrd left the luncheon on his own, concerned for Kennedy after having witnessed his friend's collapse.

Kennedy, diagnosed last May with a particularly aggressive type of brain tumor, "was hospitalized Tuesday but quickly reported feeling well," AP reports.

20 January 2009

West Virginia Inauguration Recap

jMonday's inauguration ceremony and Gov. Joe Manchin's speech enjoyed statewide coverage, from The Associated Press on down.

AP also has text of Manchin's speech, and reports on the other inaugural festivities. Others with coverage include:

The News and Sentinel of Parkersburg, meanwhile, is among those reporting that after his swearing-in, Manchin headed to Washington for Tuesday's inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

AP also has an item on the sole new member of West Virginia's executive branch sworn in Monday: Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who completes the Democrats' sweep of the state Board of Public Works.

W.Va. on TV

Several West Virginia towns that figure in the history of the 20th Century coal boom appear in a new documentary airing on BBC America, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports.

The American Future: A History by Simon Schama is a four part documentary that was filmed during the presidential election of 2008," the article said. "Areas such as the Town of Bramwell, Green Valley near the City of Princeton and the Town of Pocahontas, Va. were filmed along with the community of Thurmond and the New River Gorge when Schama and his crew visited the region."

The installment featuring West Virginia, "Part 3: American Fervor," airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. "
Schama explores how faith has shaped American political life," a blurb on the channel's Web site said. "For the first time in a generation it’s the Democrats who are claiming to be the party of God. In the recent Presidential election it was Barack Obama, and not John McCain, who spoke of his faith."

The Food Network, meanwhile, continues to air the episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives that profiles Cabell-Wayne's Hillbilly Hot Dogs and includes a cameo by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd.

19 January 2009

Watching the Manchin Inauguration

Gov. Joe Manchin will be sworn in along with the other five members of West Virginia's Board of Public Works at an outdoor Monday ceremony that begins at 1 p.m. on the Capitol's north steps.

Those offering live online coverage include:

Public Broadcasting




The Manchin Record

As West Virginia waits for Gov. Joe Manchin to take the public oath for his second term, The Associated Press is among those weighing the changes wrought during his first four years in that office.

"During his first trip to the Capitol's south steps, for his 2005 inauguration, Manchin told West Virginians 'we must pursue a new and different course,'" the article notes. "Referring to the dome overhead, then undergoing repairs, the 61-year-old vowed also to 're-engineer our government, repair our schools, and revamp our economy.'"

AP has also compiled a list of measures that compare West Virginia then to now (or, by citing the latest available data):

Then: 747,500 (Workforce West Virginia, December 2004)
Now: 761,000 (Workforce West Virginia, December 2008)

UNEMPLOYMENT (Seasonally adjusted)
Then: 5.0 percent (Workforce West Virginia, December 2004)
Now: 4.9 percent (Workforce West Virginia, December 2008)

Then: 44,219 (Workforce West Virginia, 2004)
Now: 44,840 (Workforce West Virginia, 2007)

Then: 14.1 percent (American Community Survey, U.S. Census, 2004)
Now: 13.0 percent (American Community Survey, U.S. Census, 2007)

Then: $18,025 (American Community Survey, U.S. Census, 2004)
Now: $20,419 (American Community Survey, U.S. Census, 2007)

Then: 12 (U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration, 2004)
Now: 8 (U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration, 2008)

Then: 289,000 (U.S. Census estimate, 2004)
Now: 254,000 (U.S. Census estimate, 2007)

COLLEGE-GOING RATE (high school seniors)
Then: 59.3 percent (Higher Education Policy Commission, 2004)
Now: 57.5 percent (Higher Education Policy Commission, 2007)

STATE EMPLOYEES (full-time equivalent)
Then: 37,215 (2004 U.S. Census of Government Employment)
Now: 38,060 (2007 U.S. Census of Government Employment)

Then: $3.01 billion (State Budget Office, fiscal year 2004)
Now: $3.90 billion (State Budget Office, fiscal year 2009

AP observes that "a booming energy market has undoubtedly aided Manchin's efforts, as had solid investment returns until last year's meltdown," and that "income levels remain lower than that of most other states, but did grow at a larger rate than the national average."

The Charleston Daily Mail has a partial list of AP's benchmarks. MetroNews also looks back on Manchin's first inauguration, and the pledges he made then. With audio.

Manchin Begins 2nd Term

The Associated Press sets the stage for Monday's launch of Gov. Joe Manchin's second term.

AP's Tom Breen, meanwhile, was on hand for Sunday's ecumenical Mass meant to kick off the occasion. Manchin is the state's first Catholic governor, though the governor "made a point of noting the presence of Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders among the invited guests."

"Bishop Michael Bransfield, the spiritual leader of the state's Roman Catholics, reminded Gov. Joe Manchin and the hundreds of others in attendance what was happening outside the church: foreclosures, layoffs and uncertainty about the future," Breen reports.

WSAZ-TV also covered the special Mass, and has video. Those highlighting Monday's inaugural parade and swearing-in ceremony include AP, MetroNews, The Register-Herald of Beckley, and WOWK-TV. The Charleston Daily Mail focuses on the inaugural ball.

WCHS-TV will offer live streaming video of the 1 p.m. inauguration ceremony.

In advance of the inaugural events, Manchin set down with several state media to discuss his first term and his plans for the next four years. The Times-West Virginian of Fairmont and the Daily Mail (with an earlier installment here) are among those with such coverage.

Alabama AG Rallying to Massey, Benjamin

"Alabama Attorney General Troy King wants attorneys general around the country to join him in supporting West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin and Massey Energy in a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court," The Charleston Gazette reports.

After a wide-ranging array of 48 different parties raised questions about Benjamin's refusal to recuse himself from the case, Massey has until Feb. 4 for "friend of the court" briefs supporting its position to be filed.

The Gazette explains that "Dan Schweitzer, a lawyer for the National Association of Attorneys General, e-mailed a memorandum on Friday morning outlining Troy's position to other attorneys general across the country."

The article quotes from the e-mail: "The amicus brief will argue that once a state has chosen its preferred method of selecting judges - whatever that method is - states should have the ability to police judicial participation through carefully constructed state recusal policies."

"In other words," the e-mail continues, "making recusal a federal issue by 'constitutionalizing' it is unnecessary and, as a practical matter, unwise."

Massey, however, has been seeking to make recusal a federal issue by "constitutionalizing" it since 2006, when it sued West Virginia's Supreme Court over its recusal rule. The federal lawsuit is pending, and sits on the U.S. District Court's inactive docket to await the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court appeal.

Keeping Tabs on Lobbyists

The Charleston Gazette pours over the latest batch of lobbyist spending disclosures, with the latest tally including more than $25,800 spent to fete lawmakers during their September interim meetings in Harrison County.