14 August 2009

West Virginia: Moderate

...by a hair, according to a Gallup survey of 1,230 state residents conducted between January and June.

The poll found 40 percent identifying their political views as moderate, while 39 percent said conservative and 18 percent said liberal.

Gallup's overall finding from the national survey: "a significantly higher percentage of Americans in most states -- even some solidly Democratic ones -- call themselves conservative rather than liberal."

The Blame Game

The special session's failed "bonus" bill provides further evidence of differences between Gov. Joe Manchin and his fellow Democrats who control the House of Delegates, while also spurring a flurry of finger-pointing, The Associated Press and others observe.

"It showed divisions that had been hinted at during the regular session," the AP article said. "A number of education bills Manchin wanted, including changes to how the school calendar is set, were caught up in wrangling between the House and Senate and failed to pass."

But AP's Tom Breen also writes that "the apparent disorder, though, masks the fact that legislative leaders and Manchin all probably gained from the dispute in different ways. And not even the state employees caught in the middle will definitely lose out, since all sides agree the bonus could come back before the Legislature this fall."

The Charleston Gazette heard from groups who represent state workers, expressing "anger and dismay" that the measure didn't pass. They blame Manchin for concluding that the more generous House version of the "bonus" bill exceeded the scope of the special session call.

"It's a pretty universal perception that he's very arrogant and very haughty in how he deals with state employees, and this is more evidence of that," Gordon Simmons, an organizer with the state Public Employees Union UE Local 170, told the newspaper.

But both The Gazette and MetroNews note that one of these critical groups, the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, had endorsed the governor's $500-per-full-timer proposal.

"There was not an opportunity to build consensus prior to the special session," AFT-WV President Judy Hale told the latter. "So when the House wanted to, rightly so, add all state employees then they got into a mess."

MetroNews also has dueling legislative perspectives (and audio) on the failed bill. The Charleston Daily Mail also has coverage, while The Register-Herald of Beckley has dueling articles (here and here).

13 August 2009

Impasse Dooms "Bonus" for W.Va. Workers

Gov. Joe Manchin had initially proposed his $500 bonus-like payment to full-time state employees for the 2010 regular legislative session. He then decided to include it in this week's special session for extending jobless benefits.

The result: "a legislative tug-of-war over whether to give $500 payments to all state workers, some state workers or all state workers and retirees," The Associated Press reports.

"The version favored by Manchin and the Senate would have used surplus funds from the previous fiscal year to pay $500 one-time bonuses to active state employees at a total cost of roughly $34.7 million," AP's Tom Breen explains. "The House, though, amended the bill to include an additional $11.1 million for state employees in higher education and county jobs not covered under the state school aid formula," as well as "$13.3 million for one-time bonus payments of $266 for state retirees."

In the end, "Manchin and the Senate balked at these additions, saying they overstepped the bounds of the special session call, and therefore also violated the state constitution," AP reported. "After refusing to concur with the House amendments, the Senate adjourned instead of appointing a committee to try and reach a compromise."

AP also covered Manchin's response to the outcome, as did The Register-Herald of Beckley, MetroNews, Public Broadcasting (with audio), the Charleston Daily Mail and The Charleston Gazette.

12 August 2009

Special Session Starts

Gov. Joe Manchin has launched his third special legislative session of the year, The Associated Press and others report.

The state Senate passed the two key measures from the governor's agenda: a bill qualifying the state's unemployed for 20 more weeks of federally funded benefits; and a $500 bonus-type payment to each full-time state worker.

While the jobless benefits measure passed unanimously, Sen. Clark Barnes called the other "an attempt to buy West Virginia's largest voting bloc for a mere $500," AP's Tom Breen reports. "Ultimately, Barnes and Preston County Republican Sen. Dave Sypolt cast their votes against the proposal, which passed 30-2."

AP's Breen sets the scene for the House's reception to the proposals. Others with coverage include The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews.

11 August 2009

What They Did on Their Summer Vacation (Updated)

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-1st, earned a mention in the lead paragraph of a Wall Street Journal article regarding " a dozen taxpayer-funded trips by lawmakers during Congress's monthlong summer recess."

Rahall is "leading about a half-dozen lawmakers on a 10-day trip to the Pacific. They are reviewing how immigration laws are applied in the Northern Marianas, a U.S. territory," the newspaper reported. "The lawmakers plan to visit American Samoa, Hawaii, Palau, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam."

The trip so far has earned Rahall mention on Guam's KUAM as well as Pacific Daily News, the Saipan Tribune and the Pacific News Center (video; reference corrected).

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is meanwhile co-hosting a forum on health care with AARP's West Virginia chapter, Public Broadcasting reports.

"Conservative protesters are planning greet" those at the University of Charleston event, the report said. "The event is closed to the public, after already filling up the available space. The AARP and other sponsors invited people to the event, which required an RSVP and was full as of Monday morning."

The piece (audio here) also notes that "Other such events across the country have been disrupted by people opposed to overhauling the nation’s health care system. Officials at the University of Charleston say they’re prepared for any protests, and had already stepped up security because of Rockfeller’s visit."

(Update: AP has coverage from the Tuesday forum.)

The office of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, has issued a press release regarding her August recess whereabouts, "Capito Returns from Trip to Israel, Palestine."

Update II: Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, is holding a Town Hall meeting Friday at Wheeling Jesuit University to discuss health care, The Intelligencer reports.

Manchin at Odds with U.S. DoD

As co-chairman of the National Governors Association, Gov. Joe Manchin has co-written a letter to a top Pentagon official "opposing a new Defense Department proposal to handle natural and terrorism-related disasters," The Hill reports.

The bi-partisan group of governors believe "that a murky chain of command could lead to more problems than solutions," and "would hinder a state's effort to respond to a disaster," the article said.

"Current law gives governors control over National Guard forces in their own states as well as any Guard units and Defense Department personnel imported from other states," the newspaper reported. "The letter comes as the Pentagon proposes a legislative fix that would give the secretary of Defense the authority to assist in response to domestic disasters and, consequently, control over units stationed in an affected state."

10 August 2009

Security at W.Va.'s Capitol

With an armed police force, concrete barriers and myriad cameras amid its features, security at the West Virginia state Capitol has made strides within the last decade or so, The Charleston Gazette reports.

The article recalls a series of eyebrow-raising incidents from the 1990s:

  • Someone hauled away an ATM containing nearly $20,000 from the Capitol's East Wing;
  • $7,000 worth of camera equipment was stolen from the photo lab in the Capitol basement;
  • 13 personal computers "disappeared" after being delivered to Building 3's loading dock;
  • A contract security guard pleaded guilty to stealing more than $62,000 from Capitol Complex parking meters;
  • Members of a state employees' union took the Senate Judiciary Committee hostage, refusing to allow committee members to leave unless they voted for a collective-bargaining bill.
The story follows up on coverage of a proposed 6-foot-tall, 960-foot-long fence "around the Governor's Mansion, past the Holly Grove mansion and up Greenbrier Street to the mansion driveway. Four contractors have bid on the project, with bids ranging from $478,000 to $868,161."

W.Va. Tea Party Movement Attracts Attention

West Virginia's Tea Party Movement has developed a political profile as the state's most visible critic of Obama administration proposals involving cap-and-trade and health care, The Associated Press reports.

The group's members have been courted by the nascent West Virginia Conservative Foundation, while U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, spoke at its July rally targeting cap and trade.

But while the movement has raised questions about the cost and jobs impact of such proposals, allegations raised by some of its top organizers "appear to go beyond policy disagreements," the article said.

E-mails from the group "promote demonstrated untruths" about some of this legislation, and also "recycle other rumors and allegations about Obama, his family and other Democrats previously debunked by the likes of FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com."

Several of the e-mails "have raised questions about President Barack Obama's place of birth and eligibility to serve," AP reported, adding that "late last month, state officials in Hawaii said they once again checked and confirmed that Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen, and therefore meets a key constitutional requirement for being president."

The author of a number of these e-mails was asked about their content.

"I have just about come to the conclusion, because of the newspaper articles at the time of his birth, that Obama may well have been born in the US," the author told AP. "However, rumor is that he went to college as an exchange student, which would be a felony offense and thus would disqualify him for serving. All of those records are sealed."

Wrong again, according to FactCheck. It concluded in May that a "transparent April Fools' Day hoax" complete with a faked AP story to allege that Obama received a Fulbright scholarship for foreign students. "The claim is false and the story is a hoax," FactCheck found.