11 December 2009

They Voted for You: Wall Street

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped pass legislation Friday that The Associated Press calls "the most ambitious restructuring of financial regulation since the New Deal."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted against the measure along with the other House GOP members present for the 223-202 roll call.

"The sprawling legislation gives the government new powers to break up companies that threaten the economy, creates a new agency to oversee consumer banking transactions and shines a light into shadow financial markets that have escaped the oversight of regulators," AP reports. "Republicans argued that the regulations would overreach and would institutionalize bailouts for the financial industry."

The article said a Senate version of the legislation is expected early next year.

"Democratic leaders had to fend off a last-minute attempt to kill a proposed consumer agency, a central element of the legislation and one the features pushed by President Barack Obama," it continued. "While a victory for the Obama administration, the legislation dilutes some of the president's recommendations, carving out exceptions to some of its toughest provisions."

The Return of the House of Warner

By mid-2004, the Warners had become one of the leading political families in West Virginia. Kris Warner was chair of the state GOP. One brother, Monty, was the party's nominee for governor. Another brother, Kasey, was the U.S. Attorney for the state's southern federal court district.

The family's political roots extend back at least to its patriarch, former legislator George "Brud" Warner. But following the May 2004 primary, the family appeared at a pinnacle of political prominence.

The subsequent downfall was quick and thorough.

Monty Warner was beaten badly by Gov. Joe Manchin that November, carrying only three counties and garnering around one-third of the vote.

The campaign spawned a tell-all book that helped illustrate a situation within the state GOP that led to Kris Warner's forced resignation as chairman the following year. Bad feelings about his tenure persist within the party.

The final blow came with Monty Warner's apparent firing by the U.S. Justice Department in August 2005.

Four years later, the family name has resurfaced in West Virginia politics with brother Andrew M. "Mac" Warner gearing up for a 2010 challenge of U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st.

The Mac Warner for Congress committee is holding a Monday fundraiser in Charleston. The Intelligencer of Wheeling offered a partial profile of Warner earlier this month. He also told the Charleston Daily Mail last month that he planned to "spend Thanksgiving finalizing a decision about whether to run."

But Mac Warner is not without his challenges. He was sued last year along with three of his brothers and their real estate development company, McCoy 6 LLC, by a creditor. That and the recession helped prompt McCoy 6 to file for bankruptcy in February.

The Warners' ambitious plans for their Morgantown properties was the subject of a 2008 Public Broadcasting piece (with audio), as was a vow by McCoy 6 to sue the city over its repeated condemnation of a key parcel within those holdings.

McCoy 6 followed through on its threat but has also since surrendered the property at issue, Mountaineer Court, to creditor Fifth Third Bank. It proposed a reorganization plan last month under Chapter 11 that would involve the sale of at least three other key holdings.

10 December 2009

Capito on Short List for Copenhagen (Additional Update)

The Hill includes U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, as a potential member of a congressional delegation that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., plans to take to the climate change conference now underway in Copenhagen.

One of six Republicans on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Capito is also listed as a contributor on the blog created by the National Journal devoted to the United Nations summit.

U.S. participants have also set up their own blog.

Capito told The Charleston Gazette in April that "she's 'not convinced' that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide are leading to global warming that will alter the planet's climate in ways that could be dangerous."

"I'm looking at the studies, and trying to understand it," Capito was quoted as saying. "But I'm not convinced that the urgencies or the doomsday predictions are factual."

Capito made similar comments that month to Public Broadcasting, which reported that "she believes climate change exists, but she doesn’t think it’s as eminent as many make it out to be." With audio.

Along with the rest of West Virginia's House delegation (who do not appear on The Hill's list), Capito later voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The Associated Press described it as a "complex" bill that "would require the U.S. to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 percent by midcentury." Capito also opined on the "cap and trade" measure in a press release.

More recently, Capito co-signed a letter to Obama administration officials that seizes on e-mails that AP reports were "stolen from the climate unit at the University of East Anglia."

"Those who deny the influence of man-made climate change have seized on the correspondence to argue that scientists have been conspiring to hide evidence about global warming," that article said. "Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have grilled government scientists on the leaked e-mails in a hearing Wednesday in Washington, but the scientists countered that the e-mails don't change the fact that the Earth is warming."

Update: Capito's office tells AP and others that she plans to attend with the delegation.

Factcheck.org, meanwhile, has assessed the situation involving the stolen East Anglia e-mails.

"Climate skeptics are claiming that they show scientific misconduct that amounts to the complete fabrication of man-made global warming, its article said. "We find that to be unfounded."

2nd Update: After an "exhaustive review" of the 1,073 hacked e-mails, AP reports that the climate scientists involved "harbored private doubts, however slight and fleeting, even as they told the world they were certain about climate change. However, the exchanges don't undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions."

Politifact, meanwhile, rates as "false" the statement by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., that the e-mails "debunk" the science behind climate change.

09 December 2009

W.Va. Pre-Candidates Lavished with Attention (2nd Update)

With West Virginia's official candidate filing period not starting until Jan. 11, media coverage has turned to the scores of state residents who have filed pre-candidacy papers.

As the secretary of state's office explains, such filings are free and non-committal, allowing "prospective candidates to 'test the waters' to see if seeking office is the right decision."

The reports include one item from The Charleston Gazette on Charleston lawyer Meshea Poore filing for the House of Delegates seat vacated by soon-to-be Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster. While losing to Webster in the 2008 Democratic primary for the 31st District, Poore was one of only a handful of candidates that May to enjoy an "Obama bounce" in West Virginia.

Gov. Joe Manchin will appoint Webster's successor, from names submitted by the district's Democratic committee.

Both The Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail reported on the pre-candidacy of Richie Robb, the former longtime mayor of South Charleston and Republican-turned-Democrat who is courting the teacher union vote in advance of a possible challenge to state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha.

The Associated Press earlier noted the filing from sophomore Delegate Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan, for a potential primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd.

Rodighiero told AP he expected to file officially if he proved able to raise at least $400,000 for a primary battle he expects will cost $1 million.

"The 46-year-old legislator says coal industry figures approached him several months ago, encouraging him to run," that article said. "They are upset with the Obama administration's handling of mining permits. The 17-term Rahall has come under fire as well. Rodighiero says environmentalists and federal regulators would have no influence over him."

(Corrected) former delegate and unsuccessful 2008 GOP attorney general candidate Dan Greear got ink last week after vowing to challenge Webster for the Kanawha Circuit Court seat. The Daily Mail had an item.

(Update: Greear has not filed precandidacy with the Secretary of State, but a reader points out that those interested in single-county seats file with the county. Kanawha County's clerk notes Greear's filing on its web site.)

(2nd Update) Former nun Virginia Lynch Graf made a splash late last month by filing early to signal a possible challenge to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, with a report from AP. And while he -- apparently -- hasn't filed precandidacy, former Charleston councilman Archie Chestnut won mention in the Daily Mail for saying he may run for Webster's vacated House seat.

W.Va. Lawmakers Eyeing Cigarette Tax Hike

West Virginia's Legislature could debate increasing the cigarette tax during the 2010 regular session that begins next month, with lawmakers arguing that could help curb smoking and ease a threatened revenue shortfall, The Associated Press reports.

"Before the 2009 legislative session, Manchin said he wouldn't pursue any general revenue tax increases, including a cigarette tax hike — a promise he kept," writes AP's Tom Breen. "With the changed budget picture, the governor is now open to hearing lawmakers out on the idea, according to spokesman Matt Turner."

But when quizzed about it during interim meetings, recently confirmed Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Patsy Hardy "demurred, saying she's awaiting research looking into effective ways to encourage healthy behavior among residents," the article said.

AP cites the latest figures from West Virginia's Division of Tobacco Prevention that count nearly 27 percent of state adults smoking cigarettes, "the third highest rate in the country. In addition, nearly 3,800 residents die every year from smoking-related illness, the second highest rate nationally," the article said.

The Charleston Gazette also reported on the cigarette tax proposal, noting that "at 55 cents a pack, West Virginia's tax ranks 43rd in the nation, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids." With the average state tax at $1.34, advocates seek to increase West Virginia's to $1.55, that article said.

GOP Targeting Mollohan for Retirement

The National Republican Congressional Committee has included U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, on an "an informal list of 17 members the NRCC believes can be convinced to step down" rather than seek re-election next year, Hotline On Call reports.

"Two Dem retirements in competitive districts have given GOPers new hopes that a wave of open seats can hand them new opportunities," the article explains. "The pressure has largely come from press releases hammering the incumbents, but the NRCC has signaled it will put at least a little money behind the effort."

Hotline reported that the spending totaled just $6,300 last month, for ad buys in three districts. Mollohan's was not among them.

Last week, the Cook Political Report added Mollohan's seat to its chart of 2010 races. While the only West Virginia race to make the chart, it was rated "likely Democratic," meaning that the seat is "not considered competitive at this point but have the potential to become engaged."

Thanks to Political Wire for relaying the item.

He Voted For You: Abortion

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockfeller, D-W.Va., voted to idle an amendment that aimed to "inject tougher restrictions into sweeping Senate health care legislation," The Associated Press reports.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd did not take part in the 54-45 roll call that tabled the change proposed by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and others.

"The current legislation would ban the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services under insurance plans expected to be offered in a new health care system, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother was in jeopardy," AP reports. "Individuals who receive federal subsidies to purchase insurance under the plans would be permitted to use personal funds to pay for abortion services _ the point on which the two sides in the dispute part company."

A version of the Senate health care bill is here, while the Nelson amendment SA 2962, is about one-fourth down this page.

08 December 2009

Miley Elevated to House Judiciary Chair

House Judiciary Vice Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, will now take over that committee, The Associated Press reports.

House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, promoted the 43-year-old lawyer on Tuesday. Thompson also chose multi-term Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha and a lawyer, as vice chair.

Miley succeeds Carrie Webster, who stepped down Friday after Gov. Joe Manchin appointed her to the Kanawha Circuit bench to replace newly minted U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger. AP reported earlier on the Webster pick.

The War over Coal in West Virginia

The Associated Press was among those on hand for Monday's appearance by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at the latest flashpoint in the debate over coal, a rally outside the state Department of Environmental Protection's Kanawha City headquarters.

"Kennedy spoke as some 300 environmental activists cheered," writes AP's Vicki Smith. "At the same time, 200 coal miners jeered. The groups were kept apart by a line of state troopers and metal barricades."

Smith set the stage for the scene: "Massey plans to blast and mine thousands of acres atop the mountain, which has enough coal reserves to feed power plants for 14 years. Organizations including Coal River Mountain Watch and Climate Ground Zero want Massey to stick with underground mining and allow the ridges to be turned into a 200-turbine wind farm."

The AP report also said that "Before taking the stage, Kennedy waded into the crowd of shouting miners and spent a half-hour debating Massey Vice President of Surface Operations Mike Snelling and others."

The Charleston Gazette also covered the event. So did MetroNews, which also has a separate item on Kennedy accepting Snelling's offer to tour a reclaimed mine site.

Health Care in West Virginia

A new study presented to the Legislature on Monday concludes that "West Virginia's health care system could save over $1.1 billion by going digital and centralizing patient care," The Associated Press reports.

CCRC Actuaries prepared the report for the state Health Care Authority, aided by an array the system's public and private players.

The touted savings "would be seen not just by government agencies, but by private insurers and policyholders, who could benefit directly in the form of lower premiums," AP's Tom Breen writes. "The report should lend urgency to some initiatives that have already begun, like electronic medical records and prescriptions, according to the groups behind its creation."

The Charleston Gazette puts the study's offer of yearly savings at $2.2 billion by citing its discussion of an"aggressive expansion of Medicaid and other health reforms," beginning in 2014.

The Charleston Daily Mail focuses on the projected rise of health care costs "from $13 billion this year to $24 billion in 2019," adding that "the federal government will pay about 30 percent of those costs, policy holders will pay 26 percent and insurers 27 percent. The state and charity care together nearly split the remaining 15 percent."

The latter article offers an estimated annual savings figure of $3 billion, starting in 2019.

07 December 2009

Gambling in West Virginia: Jefferson County OKs Table Games

All four of West Virginia's racetracks can now host casino-style table games after holdout track host Jefferson County approved their use over the weekend, The Associated Press and others report.

"With all of Jefferson County's 32 precincts reporting, the unofficial vote was 6,279-4,343," the AP article said. "Both sides had hoped for strong turnout, mobilizing many of the county's 33,000 registered voters throughout the day with full-page newspaper ads, Facebook pleas and personal phone calls."

While, Hancock, Kanawha and Ohio counties had all voted for adding such games at their tracks in 2007, Jefferson had rejected them that year.

"Total turnout was slightly higher, at 11,072, compared with the 2007 vote," writes AP's Vicki Smith, who notes the changes in voter attitudes but also observes that "the arguments against the games were the same as two years ago: Charles Town will become the next Atlantic City. Gamblers will get addicted faster. The new jobs won't be that great."

Others covering the weekend vote include The Journal of Martinsburg and MetroNews.

West Virginia's Vexing State Road Fund

It seems that the Legislature was just at the Capitol, but lawmakers return this week for December's series of interim meetings.

The Associated Press
reports on one topic slated for discussion that also spurred debate during last month's special session: the State Road Fund.

According to Tom Witt, an associate dean at West Virginia University and head of its Bureau of Business and Economic Research, "the traditional ways to pay for road building and repairs no longer keep pace with needs," the AP article said. "Rising costs of such basic materials as concrete and asphalt are, meanwhile, blunting the buying power of available revenues."