31 January 2009

McKinney: I was with Steele All the Way

West Virginia GOP Chairman Doug McKinney notes in a press release that he supported the eventual winner of Friday's battle to lead the Republican National Committee "from the first ballot."

Michael Steele became the Republican's first black national party chairman in history. The the former lieutenant governor of neighboring Maryland prevailed on the sixth ballot, The Associated Press reports.

McKinney says he personally pledged his vote when Steele visited him "and national committee members Jim Reed and Donna Gosney in Charleston several weeks ago."

MetroNews' Talkline interviewed McKinney before Friday's vote, though only the audio indicates whom he planned to support.

30 January 2009

Mollohan Still under the Microscope

Roll Call has devoted more than 3,300 words to an wide-ranging overview of the campaign contributions, federal earmarks and nonprofit organizations linked to U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and to the past coverage of such.

Here's the intro:

On March 22, 2004, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) collected just over $300,000 for his re-election campaign, more than half the total that he spent for the two-year election cycle.

Of the donations he collected that day, at least $100,000 came from individuals tied to companies that have addresses in the office park built around the Alan B. Mollohan Innovation Center and operated by the West Virginia High Technology Cooperative, a foundation that Mollohan helped create.

The list of tenants in the office park reads like a who’s who of Mollohan campaign donors. But the connections between Mollohan and the building named after him don’t end there.

The office park is at the center of a web of relationships among a dozen or so individuals and companies that support Mollohan’s campaigns, his local booster organizations and the Robert H. Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation Inc.

Mollohan has provided many of these same companies with millions of dollars of federal earmarks, and announced millions more in grants to these companies from government agencies and larger federal contractors.

And the individuals who lead these companies also have deeply intertwined business relationships — many have overlapping memberships on the boards of organizations in the office park and of private for-profit companies.

Update: Mollohan responded to the latest article on MetroNews' Talkline.

Capito Subject of White House Charm Offensive

The Hill counts U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, among 11 House GOP members asked over to the White House by Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel the evening before Wednesday's vote on the $819 billion stimulus bill.

"The invitation was part of a full-court press the new president and his staff employed as they tried to get at least some bipartisan support for the bill," the newspaper reports. "House Republicans had high praise for Obama’s willingness to visit them, but were not swayed by the personal appeal."

The Hill also reports that U.S. Sen Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was on the guest list for the bipartisan White House cocktail reception that followed Wednesday's vote.

They Voted for You: SCHIP

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., helped pass legislation Thursday "extending government-sponsored health insurance coverage to about 4 million uninsured children," The Associated Press reports.

Approved 66-32, the measure "authorizes an additional $32.8 billion over the next 4 1/2 years for the State Children's Health Insurance Program," the article said. "The House plans to take up the same measure next week."

"The bill pays for expanding SCHIP by increasing the federal excise tax on cigarettes from 39 cents to $1 a pack," AP reported. "The Democratic majority turned back Republican amendments to limit expansion of the program."

29 January 2009

More Turnover for Team Manchin

Three senior aides plan to depart the administration of Gov. Joe Manchin, The Associated Press reports.

Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Martin is retiring at the end of the month, while General Counsel Carte Goodwin is expected to depart before the Feb. 11 start of the legislative session.

Lara Ramsburg, recently promoted to public policy director from communications director, says she will stay through the 60-day session but will leave before the June 30 end of the fiscal year.

Turnover has been limited since Manchin won his second term in November.

The Charleston Gazette also has an item.

Scarbro Promoted to W.Va. Dem Post

Derek Scarbro will succeed Tom Vogel as executive director of the state Democratic Party, its chairman announced in a press release.

Vogel earlier announced plans to step down March 31. Scarbro, his deputy, has held other posts within the party. The 28-year-old old was also president of the state's Young Democrats, the release said.

Analysis: Up to 77,000 West Virginians Out of Work by 2010

"The Mountain State’s unemployment rate will soar to between 8.7 percent and 9.5 percent by the final three months of 2009," The Associated Press reports, citing an analysis by Moody’s Economy.com.

Such rates have not been seen in West Virginia since the early1990s, and would be double what the state saw during that time period last year, AP reports.

West Virginia counted 39,000 unemployed residents last month, and a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.9 percent.

The forecast released this week predicts possible double-digit unemployment for 10 states, including neighboring Ohio and Kentucky," the article said. "It also sees the national rate nearing 9 percent, or nearly 5 million people, by the end of 2010. The U.S. rate hit 7.2 percent in December."

West Virginia: Blue, But with an Asterisk

Gallup Poll Daily surveyed more than 350,000 U.S. adults last year, including at least 1,000 West Virginians, while seeking to measure partisanship in the states.

It found that those who identified themselves as at least leaning Democratic in the Mountain State held a 19 percentage point margin over those identified as leaning Republican.

Voter registration shows a gap of 26.5 percent between Democrats and Republicans. The poll notes that "this measure adds partisan-leaning independents to the percentage who identify with either of the parties."

The results for West Virginia put it among 29 states and Washington, D.C., that "had Democratic party affiliation advantages of 10 points or greater last year... In contrast, only five states had solid or leaning Republican orientations in 2008, with Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska in the former group, and Nebraska in the latter."

But the poll found nine states and DC with larger Democratic margins than West Virginia, and three others at 19 percent. It also noted that West Virginia led a pack of four "solid" Democratic states that went for Republican John McCain in November.

The main implication of the poll results, according to Gallup: "As recently as 2002, a majority of states were Republican in orientation," but "the political landscape of the United States has clearly shifted in the Democratic direction.

"With Democratic support at the national level the highest in more than two decades and growing each of the last five years, Republican prospects for significant gains in power in the near term do not appear great," Gallup concludes. "But the recent data do show that party support can change rather dramatically in a relatively short period of time."

They Voted For You: Digital Delay

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, helped defeat a Senate-passed bill that aimed to "delay the upcoming transition from analog to digital television broadcasting to June 12," The Associated Press reports.

Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted for the motion to suspend rules and take up the measure, but the 258-168 margin was not enough.

Republicans opposed to the bill argued that "postponing the transition from the current Feb. 17 deadline would confuse consumers," the AP article said. "The defeat is a setback for President Barack Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill, who maintain that the Bush administration bungled efforts to ensure that all consumers -- particularly poor, rural and low-income Americans -- will be ready for next month's analog shut-off."

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., author of the bill, said "a delay is the only way to ensure that millions of Americans don't see their television screens go dark next month," the article continues. "The Nielsen Co. estimates more than 6.5 million U.S. households that rely on analog television sets to pick up over-the-air broadcast signals still are not prepared for the transition."

'09 Session To End Without Live Coverage

West Virginia Public Broadcasting plans to end its tradition of covering live the final hours of the 60-day session of the Legislature.

The news outfit cited the recent trend in which "legislators have engineered a drama-free ending to the session." Noting the cost of that live coverage, including renting a satellite truck and hiring additional staff members, Public Broadcasting instead plans to spend the money to "strengthen day-to-day legislative coverage."

The announcement notes that its session mainstay, The Legislature Today, "will broadcast weekdays at 6:30 and 11:30 p.m. on West Virginia PBS. And for the first time, The Legislature Today will be available anytime on You Tube."

28 January 2009

They Voted For You: Federal Stimulus

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped pass "a historically huge $819 billion stimulus bill Wednesday night, filled with new spending and tax cuts at the core of the young adminstration's revival plan for the desperately ailing economy," The Associated Press reports.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted against the legislation, as did all of her GOP colleagues who took part in the 244-188 roll call.

"The vote sent the bill to the Senate, where debate is expected to begin as early as this week on a companion measure already taking shape," the article said. "Democratic leaders have pledged to have legislation ready for Obama's signature by mid-February."

As for the partisan divide, AP reported that "With unemployment at its highest level in a quarter-century, the banking industry wobbling despite the infusion of staggering sums of bailout money and states struggling with budget crises, Democrats said the legislation was desperately needed."

Republicans "said the bill was short on tax cuts and contained too much spending, much of it wasteful and unlikely to help laid-off Americans," the article continued.

Update: West Virginia's congressional delegation shared their voting plans with MetroNews (audio here) beforehand. The Charleston Daily Mail reported on Capito's "qualms" with the bill.

W.Va. Dem Executive Director Stepping Down

West Virginia's Democratic Party is looking for a new executive director, after Tom Vogel announced he plans to step down March 31.

Vogel did double-duty in 2008, as director of the Obama campaign's West Virginia efforts.

Those with the news include WSAZ-TV, the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, and the Charleston Daily Mail.

27 January 2009

Quote of the Day

"Had he not been nominated for treasury secretary, it's doubtful that he would have ever paid these taxes."

-- U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., explaining his vote against confirming Timothy Geithner for the cabinet post, as quoted by The Associated Press.

They Voted For You: Digital Delay

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., joined the rest of their colleagues in a unanimous vote "to postpone the upcoming transition from analog to digital television broadcasting by four months to June 12," The Associated Press reports.

Democrats "have been pushing for a delay amid growing concerns that too many Americans won't be ready for the currently scheduled Feb. 17 changeover," the article said, while also quoting Rockefeller as the Senate's Commerce chairman.

"Delaying the upcoming DTV switch is the right thing to do," said Rockefeller, the author of the bill to push back the deadline. "I firmly believe that our nation is not yet ready to make this transition at this time."

Public Broadcasting (with audio) reported earlier on disagreement within the state's delegation on the issue.

26 January 2009

Byrd Votes Against Geithner

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., voted Monday to oppose the confirmation of Timothy Geithner as President Obama's Treasury secretary, The Associated Press reports.

The 60-34 vote reflects concerns over how Geithner "did not pay all of taxes until he had been tapped to the president's Cabinet," the articlel said. "Geithner called it an unintentional oversight and settled his $34,000 overdue tax bill."

W.Va. Looking at $1.4b slice of federal stimulus

The Associated Press reports that West Virginia could get $1.4 billion from the federal stimulus legislation now under debate in Congress.

The estimated share "includes $253 million to boost Medicaid funding over the next two years," the article said. "There's also $243 million for roads, $101 million for school construction and $4.3 million for dislocated workers. Other education-related funding in the proposed package tops $188 million."

The Manchin administration had presented $2.2 billion worth of projects it deemed eligible for the stimulus funds. AP notes that "the proposed bill would give West Virginia the 12th-highest amount when the funding is compared to state populations."

The Charleston Daily Mail details Manchin's roster of projects. MetroNews talks to one of the state's three U.S. House members in advance of the expected vote on the stimulus bill. The Charleston Gazette examines efforts by the coal industry, with help from the state's Capitol Hill delegation, to get in on the funding.

Update: Public Broadcasting also checks in with West Virginia's congressional delegation regarding the stimulus proposal. With audio.

Mental Health Care in W.Va.

The Associated Press offers an update on mental health care services West Virginia, and the attempts to bring them up to par with an overall system that is often found lacking.

"The treatment of people with mental illness is at the heart of a court case pitting the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources against Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom," AP's Tom Breen explains. "Based on a 1981 court order that required the state to establish a mental-health-care delivery plan, Bloom wants to look at how the state is providing services for people with traumatic brain injury, and also at persistent problems with overcrowding at the Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington."

Trimming West Virginia's Budget

The Manchin administration says it remains on track to reduce spending by at least $318 million over five years with the help of the national consulting firm Public Works LLC, The Associated Press reports.

Two years into the effort, the firm's proposals have "cut state spending or otherwise saved West Virginia $201.7 million," administration officials tell AP.

Steps taken range from cracking down on Medicaid fraud to calibrating salt spreaders on the state's fleet of snow plows, the article said.

While some of the steps reflect one-time savings, others "
could pare down annual spending by an estimated $92 million in each of the next few years," AP reports. "Such breathing space comes at a crucial time," given the national recession and the threat of future budget deficits.

Raid Targets "Illegal" W.Va. Casino

A weekend raid on a Clarksburg conference center yielded 144 video gambling machines that state tax officials deem illegal, The Charleston Gazette reports.

The conference center, Village Square, "calls these machines 'Video Raffle Ticket Dispensers,'" the article explains. "According to Village Square's lawyers, these are not video lottery machines and therefore don't need to be approved or regulated by the state Lottery Commission."

State tax officials disagree, as does Harrison County's prosecutor, who's "investigating Village Square and its owners," the article said. IRS agents assisted in the raid, along with county sheriff's deputies.

"Village Square's president is David Gross, a Clarksburg businessman, according to incorporation papers and previous newspaper articles," The Gazette reports. No one was arrested during Saturday's raids, which also hit a Clarksburg residence.

MetroNews also reported on the raids. They coincide with a simmering debate across the state over the video lottery parlors that dot the landscape, and the future of such community-based gambling.