20 August 2009

W.Va. GOP Hires New Executive Director

As its fundraising labors continue, West Virginia's Republican Party has hired a new executive director.

The Associated Press interviewed Troy Berman, a 30-year-old Baltimore native who took the job after working on GOP campaigns in his home state as well as Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Texas.

Berman "comes to the post with Republicans at low tide, even by West Virginia standards," the article said. Besides Democratic dominance of the congressional delegation and across state government, "feuding within the Republican Party has spilled out onto blogs, newspapers and talk radio as members clash over how to reverse their sagging fortunes."

Berman tells AP that the upcoming, off-year election will allow the GOP to focus on legislative races. "We expect 2010 to be a good year for Republicans nationwide, and I have no reason to believe that will be different for West Virginia,” Berman said.

Judge Yanked from Massey Case

The state Supreme Court has disqualified a Mingo County circuit judge "from presiding over a water pollution lawsuit against Virginia-based Massey Energy because of his past attorney-client relationship with the defendant," The Associated Press reports.

Judge Michael Thornsbury's recusal had been sought last month by 550 current and former area residents who are suing Massey and a subsidiary "for injecting 1.4 billion gallons of coal slurry into worked-out underground mines between 1978 and 1987," the article said, adding that the lawsuit alleges "slurry seeped through cracks in the earth into the groundwater, poisoning drinking wells, and that decades of exposure put the plaintiffs at risk of cancers and other health problems."

Thornsbury declined to step aside in the case. Acting Chief Justice Robin Davis then rejected most of the allegations raised by lawyers for the plaintiffs, but later agreed to consider "a 1985 case in which Thornsbury — then an attorney, but not a judge — represented Rawl Sales," AP reported.

One of the plaintiffs in that case is also suing in the pending one. Davis concluded this week that the "past relationship could create the appearance of impropriety and lead to questions about his impartiality," the article said.

Both AP and The Charleston Gazette report that Davis cited the role of blasting damages claims in the 1985 lawsuit.

"Davis noted that an expert witness for the residents has reported that blasting activities by Massey may be one cause of fractured underground strata that allowed slurry injected by the company to contaminate local drinking water," the latter's article said.

17 August 2009

They Voted for You: "Death Panels" (Updated)

As Political Wire recently observed, Time magazine's Swampland noted similarities between language in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill and provisions in some of the pending health care measures described as promoting euthanasia and creating mandatory "death panels."

The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com are among those who have debunked the "death panel" claims as "wrong," "nonsense" and "pants-on-fire" false.

"The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes," AP reported.

The 2003 legislation provides coverage to terminally ill patients that includes "counseling the beneficiary with respect to end-of-life issues and care options," according to its conference report (page 663).

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, helped pass the 2003 measure. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted against it in the 220-215 roll call.

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., voted against the bill when it passed their chamber 54-44.

Update: Politifact.com weighs in, and finds the comparison half-true: "(I)t's clear to us from our interviews with experts that there's a distinct difference between the 2003 law and the 2009 bill," its analysis found. "Yes, there's the appearance of inconsistency given the similar purpose for both bills, but the 2009 bill is more far-reaching than the 2003 law, which was focused narrowly on hospice patients."

For a Few Dollars More

A Legislative audit estimates that state government has reaped more than $1 million from interest in the last decade by holding back scheduled annual pay increases for its workers by one month, The Associated Press reports.

"Every year, state employees get paid $60 for every year they’ve worked for West Virginia. By law, that lump sum is to be paid on July 1," AP's Tom Breen explains. "Going back more than 20 years, though, the state has made the so-called 'annual increment' payment on July 30."

Quote of the Day

"I don't have a question. I have the answers."

An unidentified woman who "spoke for a long stretch" during last week's Town Hall-style meeting on health care held by U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, as reported by The Intelligencer of Wheeling.

Protests A-Go-Go (Updated)

West Virginia's congressional delegation has attracted protesters of one stripe of another during their August break, The Associated Press and others report.

Last week's forum on health care co-hosted by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., got the ball rolling, with AP, Public Broadcasting (with video and audio) and others noting demonstrators from various sides turning out for the event.

WSAZ-TV reported that "all the questions were pre-screened by the organizers of the event." AP reported that "Rockefeller did field a variety of challenging questions from the crowd, though, with some of the more pointed inquiries coming from audience members in an overflow room who couldn’t fit into the Erma Byrd Art Gallery with the main audience."

The handling of the forum helped spur a demonstration later in the week. "A dozen protesters lined up on a street corner next to AARP's Charleston office Friday angry over what they feel is the group's stance on health care reform," MetroNews reported.

(The item quotes Fred Joseph, a repeat GOP political candidate who has previously shown up in "Tea Party" coverage here and here.)

Then there was the Town Hall-style meeting held by U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, in Wheeling on health care. Those with coverage of that include Public Broadcasting, The Intelligencer, MetroNews (with audio) and WTRF-TV.

And The Journal of Martinsburg, reports that U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, was at a Berkeley County ribbon-cutting ceremony when "a small crowd gathered to protest health care reform, but they quickly dispersed."

"One man, later identified as Russell Mokhiber, was walking along side of a group of people, including Capito, with a small video recorder," that article said. "Mokhiber said he asked to speak to her about health care and the congresswoman responded 'not now.'"

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, told the Bluefield Daily-Telegraph that "he will kick-off a series of town-hall style meetings on health care reform Monday morning in Mercer County. The town hall meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the Princeton Health and Fitness Center in Princeton."

Update: Coverage of Rahall's meeting comes from The Register-Herald of Beckley and Public Broadcasting (with audio).