19 September 2009

They Voted For You: ACORN

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, helped the House amend a student aid bill to "deny all federal funds for ACORN," the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, The Associated Press reports.

Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted against the move in the 345-75 roll call, joined by other Democrats. Two House Democrats voted "present."

AP called the vote "
a GOP-led strike against the scandal-tainted community organizing group that comes just three days after the Senate took similar action."

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., helped pass the Senate measure, an amendment "to deny housing and community grant funding to ACORN," AP reported. It prevailed 83-7. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., did not vote.

The Intelligencer of Wheeling has articles here and here scrutinizing Mollohan's vote. The latter also reports that Capito has requested congressional hearings "on the current and past allegations against ACORN to ensure that the taxpayer's money is not being used improperly or illegally."

Update: The Wheeling newspaper has shared the latter article with The Weirton Daily Times and the Herald-Star of Steubenville, Ohio.

18 September 2009

Manchin Pulls Plug on "Bonus" Proposal

Recession-fueled fears have prompted Gov. Joe Manchin to shelve plans to give some 20,000 state employees a $500 bonus-like payment, The Associated Press reports.

"The administration earmarked $34.7 million for the payments from an unexpected surplus that totals around $168 million," the article said. "But officials may now need that money to avoid any deficit threats."

Manchin also told AP "he does not regret calling last month's special session to attempt the payments, but would not have done so had he seen the latest figures."

17 September 2009

Quote of the Day

"I mean, I got so many amendments that it’s really quite impressive."

-- U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., reacting to the Senate Finance Committee's health care bill, as quoted by Politico.

(Rockefeller was one of several senators to meet with President Obama in the Oval Office on the health care issue Wednesday, according to a White House statement. "These meetings underscore the President's continued commitment to working with senators on both sides of the aisle to pass health insurance reform this year," it said.)

16 September 2009

They Voted For You: Joe Wilson

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted for a resolution (Political Wire has also posted text) that "disapproves of the behavior" of colleague Joe Wilson, R-S.C., "during the joint session of Congress held on September 9, 2009."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted against the resolution, as did all but seven GOP members present for the 240-179 roll call.

A dozen Democrats voted against the resolution, while five voted "present."

Capito has issued a press release explaining her vote, while also pointing out a YouTube video of her Fox Business Channel appearance in which she "criticized Rep. Wilson for his outburst, calling it 'very inappropriate'" (and is referred to as "Congressman Capeeto" at least twice; the Wilson comment is 5:21 into the interview).

15 September 2009

Kennedy: Byrd Invoked Rome to Argue Vs. Gays in the Military

Monday's posthumous publication of True Compass: A Memoir, by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., has revealed an anecdote about Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and one his favorite scholarly subjects.

Several have picked up on the passage, including Politico. Kennedy was recounting a meeting at the Clinton White House, where the then-president asked Democratic members of the Armed Services Committee for their opinions about gays in the military.

The last senator to speak was Robert Byrd, and he came up with a new one on all of us. ... He informed us, with many ornate flourishes, that there had been a terrible problem in ancient Rome with young military boys turned into sex slaves. I don’t remember the exact details, but I think the story involved Tiberius Julius Caesar being captured and abused and used as a sex slave. He escaped and then years later he sought vengeance and killed his captors.

Anyway, it was something like that. The room fell silent. The senator continued. Then President Clinton stood up. His response was short and sweet. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘Moses went up to the mountain, and he came back with the tablets and there were ten commandments on those tablets. I’ve read those commandments. I know what they say, just like I know you do. And nowhere in those ten commandments will you find anything about homosexuality. Thank y’all for coming.’ He ended the meeting and walked out of the room.”
(Nerdy footnote: Kennedy's recollection may be at fault, but the incident more likely involved Gaius Julius Caesar, of crossing the Rubicon fame (and not Augustus' successor as emperor).

The anecdote appears to confuse/conflate Caesar's alleged affair with the king of a potential Roman ally with his brief capture at the hands of Cilician pirates, both from early in his career.

Presumably, invoking the Sacred Band of Thebes would not have supported the argument. Pederasty, on the other hand, does appear to have been a recurring issue in ancient military life for both Rome and the Greek city-states. )

The Riveting World of Unfunded Liabilities

This month's legislative interim session featured at least two of West Virginia's more pressing unfunded liability problems -- serious gaps between on-hand assets and promised benefits.

Led by Huntington, a number of West Virginia's largest cities and town have been struggling beneath swelling liabilities in their police and fire pension funds. Interested parties have crafted the so-called "Huntington Plan" as a possible solution, but it requires legislative action.

Gov. Joe Manchin has said he will call the special session that plan supporters seek only if enough lawmakers appear to support it. Otherwise, the plan must wait until next year's regular session.

As The Associated Press and others report, a Monday meeting of the Legislature's majority Democrats revealed lingering concerns about the plan, particularly from those representing rural areas.

"Those areas rely on volunteer fire departments, which have sought retirement-like benefits to recruit and keep members," the article said. "The Huntington Plan does not address such benefits, but does dedicate a sliver of revenue from insurance policy surcharges toward ailing municipal pension funds."

The volunteer departments want that money instead, AP reports.

Sam Love, a lobbyist for volunteer fire departments, reminded a Monday interim committee that his clients provide the bulk of fire protection in the state. ‘‘If that one-tenth of one percent goes any where, it should go to the volunteer departments,’’ Love was quoted as saying.

Plan advocates remain hopeful that they can sway enough lawmakers. Others with coverage include The Charleston Gazette and The Register-Herald of Beckley.


AP and The Gazette are also among those reporting on an update to lawmakers regarding West Virginia's "other-post employment benefits," or OPEB liability.

These benefits are mostly health care promised to state employees, teachers and school workers once they retire. A consultant for the state told lawmakers Monday that "the Mountain State’s per-capita liability exceeds $4,000 — ranking it fifth nationwide — and the figure is projected to double within 10 years," AP reports.

"Rising medical costs — the same culprit fueling the ongoing push for federal health care legislation — have caused these unfunded liabilities to mushroom," AP explains. "The recession, meanwhile, has hampered government employers from paying the annual required contributions to reduce their funding gaps."

Others with coverage include the Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews.

14 September 2009

Water, Coal and Politics in West Virginia

West Virginia helps provide a human face to a massive investigative report by The New York Times published Sunday.

The "extensive review of water pollution records" found that "in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation," but that "the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment" as state officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene."

The article highlights a Charleston-area family that contends with painful rashes, rotting teeth and other harms blamed on the water piped into their home. The Times also interviewed Matthew Crum, a former state regulator who blames coal operations for at least some of the pollution.

Crum further alleges that "everyone was terrified of doing their job" because of pressure from mining companies and "their friends in the state’s legislature." In this regard, the article includes this passage:

In 2003, a new director, Stephanie Timmermeyer, was nominated to run the Department of Environmental Protection. One of West Virginia’s most powerful state lawmakers, Eustace Frederick, said she would be confirmed, but only if she agreed to fire Mr. Crum, according to several people who said they witnessed the conversation.
Crum was indeed dismissed after Timmermeyer took the cabinet post, the article said, adding that "Timmermeyer, who resigned in 2008, did not return calls," while "Mr. Frederick died last year."

Before his death last year, the Mercer County Democrat was known as an outspoken advocate of the coal industry. But whether others would characterize the political sway held by the late mining engineer as the article has remains uncertain. And as a member of the House of Delegates, Frederick did not vote on gubernatorial appointees.