06 November 2009

W.Va. and Obama

A French television news channel recently visited the Parkersburg area for a report on how "anti-Obama sentiments run high in the Mountain State," Public Broadcasting reports.

Those interviewed included Ron Lott, who described himself as a Vietnam veteran and who espoused the widely, thoroughly and exhaustively discredited allegation that the president is not a "natural born citizen."

“He’s a Kenyan born nationalist, and I believe that any man that wants to hold the highest office in this country who can’t produce a birth certificate is a fake,” Lott is quoted as telling France 24.

Public Broadcasting also offers audio.

Report: Feds Issue Subpoenas after MU/Perdue Episode

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Marshall University's provost and the professor at the center of a grade-changing controversy involving the daughter of state Treasurer John Perdue, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

The professor, Laura Wyant, told the newspaper that "she had been asked to bring before the grand jury all records in her possession related to Emily Perdue," the treasurer's daughter whose grades are at issue in the matter.

"(Wyant) said the FBI also interviewed her recently," the article said. "Nelson Sorah, a spokesman for Treasurer Perdue, said the office had received 'not a word' from federal investigators."

Marshall's student newspaper, The Parthenon, also reports on Wyant's subpoena.

Wyant earlier told that newspaper that the FBI had contacted her "and expressed concern that she was asked to falsify grades for the daughter of an elected state official."

Wyant said the FBI told her they were investigating whether records were falsified -- "and that’s a felony," she told the newspaper -- and "whether John Perdue violated the state ethics law" that says that "hose in public service should use their positions for the public benefit and not for their own private gain or the private gain of another.”

05 November 2009

W.Va. Still Looking At Cell Phone Ban for Motorists

Citing deaths blamed on distracted drivers, West Virginia lawmakers haven't given up on banning hands-on devices for those behind the wheel and now may get some federal help, The Associated Press reports.

"Two efforts may converge if millions of federal dollars are set aside for states that adopt such restrictions," AP's Tom Breen writes. "The money could help speed along the passage of a bill that only failed in this year's legislative session because of a last-minute amendment."

Delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie sponsored the legislation this year and plans to introduce it during the 2010 session, the article said, while the federal money would come from a bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

The article also notes that the 2009 attempt "passed by a wide margin in the House of Delegates and Senate passage seemed likely, except for the addition of an amendment relating to the placement of cell phone towers in the state. With time running out on the session's last night, the House and Senate couldn't come to an agreement on the amendment and the bill died."

And while an interim study committee is crafting a 2010 version, it "currently focuses mostly on texting while driving," the article said.

04 November 2009

W.Va. Now Fears Budget Deficit

Guarded optimism marked the opening months of the budget year, but now West Virginia officials believe recession-rocked revenues will not match expectations, The Associated Press reports.

Even though October beat its estimate, state government remains $16 million below projections for the year that began July 1, figures show, and officials expect that gap to grow.

Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow offered a ballpark estimate of $100 million for the shortfall he expects by the June 30 end of the budget year.

But while other states are laying off workers, shuttering services, cutting programs and even talking tax hikes, Manchin administration officials maintain that such options aren't on the table in West Virginia.

"We are vigorously looking for additional efficiencies in state government," spokesman Matt Turner told AP. "(Gov. Joe Manchin) believes there is much more that can be done to improve efficiency and save money."

AP also observes that West Virginia has an ace in the hole: "$168 million in revenues left unspent from the two previous budget years," the article said. "That surplus is in addition to the state's emergency reserves, which exceed $537 million. The state also has yet to tap the bulk of its estimated $1.8 billion share of federal stimulus funding. "

Muchow noted that West Virginia's "rainy day fund" exceeds the national average in size relative to the state budget, and called tapping it a last resort. Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, echoed that sentiment to MetroNews (with audio).

Another Competitor to the W.Va. Lottery (Updated)

Ohio voters on Tuesday approved a ballot issue allowing casinos in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo, The Associated Press reports.

The Buckeye State joins Pennsylvania and Maryland, each of which recently legalized slot machine casinos, as neighbors of West Virginia with advanced gambling options.

The outcome follows a pricey and barbed advertising campaigns, with evidence that West Virginia was dragged into the fray at one point.

MetroNews also has an item.

Update: West Virginia officials tell The Charleston Gazette they "know Ohio casinos won't be good for the Mountain State's budget, but they say it's too soon to put a dollar amount on the damage."

While the impact won't be immediate, "the move is expected to hit West Virginia's Northern Panhandle casinos -- Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in Chester and Wheeling Island -- especially hard," that article said. "Ohioans make up about 45 percent of Mountaineer's and Wheeling Island's patrons combined, lottery officials said."

03 November 2009

November Special Session Still Possible

Gov. Joe Manchin tells The Register-Herald of Beckley that "chances are strong that West Virginia lawmakers will spend part of this month’s interims sessions taking up a plan to resolve a municipal police and fire pension crisis."

About that Guy in the Chicken Suit... (Updated)

With Ohio voting today on whether to legalize casinos, The Associated Press questions whether a recent stunt staged in front of West Virginia's Capitol was meant to sway Buckeye voters.

As the article explains, several media outlets had reported on a man in a chicken costume near the Capitol's south steps "waving to morning commuters and passing out flyers that advocated 'Cockfighting at West Virginia Casinos!'

Within days, foes of the pending gambling measure seized on the episode and "invoked the specter of cockfight wagering at West Virginia casinos to urge the Ohio measure's defeat. They argue that a provision of the referendum would allow the casinos proposed for Ohio to host any form of gambling found in other states," AP reports.

And while the man in the costume had refused to give his name to reporters, "a Democratic political activist, John Bradford "J.B." Parker, later presented himself as a spokesman for the West Virginia Association for Gamecock Sports," the article said. "No group by that name is on file with the Ethics Commission, which regulates all lobbyists, or on the register kept by the secretary of state of organizations doing business in West Virginia. The group has a Web site, which consists of a single page that online records show was created five days before the chicken costume appearance."

National gamefowl groups say they've never heard of such an organization, nor have lawmakers from West Virginia's gamecock-breeding areas.

Parker told AP last week that he "would not rule out that the whole thing is a hoax, perhaps meant to influence Ohio voters."

Those who reported on the chicken man include MetroNews, the Williamson Daily News, WKKX radio and The Charleston Gazette. The latter has followed up on the episode.

Update: A reader invokes Roger Stone. AP reported -- before the chicken suit episode -- that Stone is one of "two notoriously aggressive tacticians" pitted against each other in the battle over Ohio's casino ballot issue.

Stone was a cohort of "legendary GOP tactician Lee Atwater," and "ran Ronald Reagan's Ohio campaign in 1984," that article said. "One of Stone's first forays into campaigning was as a volunteer at CREEP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President, whose misdeeds were at the center of the Watergate scandal."

Stone is aiding the anti-casino TruthPAC. The earlier AP article quotes Democratic strategist Gerald Austin, who said the "constant barrage" deployed by that group "is classic Stone and intended to confuse voters. Confused voters generally vote no."

"One of Roger Stone's rules to live by is 'Hit from every angle, open multiple fronts on your enemy,'" Austin told AP. "'He must be confused, and feel besieged, on every side.'"

02 November 2009

W.Va.'s Stimulus Job Count at 2,409

The Associated Press reports that "more than 2,400 jobs have been saved or created in West Virginia because of federal stimulus funding, according to those who have been spending the money.

The figure comes from hundreds of reports filed in early October. After a review by state and federal officials, they were posted online by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.

West Virginia's stimulus site should also have details from the first quarterly update of stimulus spending and effects.

State government spending of stimulus dollars accounts for two-thirds of West Virginia's total figure, according to numbers provided to AP.

"The largest share of those 1,554 jobs created or retained, about 20 percent, were in education," the article said. "The next-largest share resulted from spending on Workforce Investment Act programs, which offer training and other employment services. Another 16 percent came from road and bridge projects fueled by stimulus dollars."

AP reported earlier that by the Sept. 30 end of the reporting period, state government agencies had spent $250 million of West Virginia's share of stimulus funding.

Montana Governor Headlines W.Va. Dem Event

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer topped the billing at this year's Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, the annual gathering of West Virginia's Democratic Party.

The Charleston Gazette casts the dinner and Schweitzer's appearance against the percolating issues that "Republican leaders predict...will lead them to victory in 2010."

Others with coverage include WSAZ-TV and WOWK-TV (with video).