04 June 2010

It's Sure Been Swell

Forty-two months and 2,489 posts later, I am migrating completely to Twitter. I encourage all to continue following me there for a just-the-facts approach to West Virginia government and politics. I remain grateful to this blog's readers for their years of support and encouragement.

01 June 2010

After Cuts, Slight Surplus Expected for W.Va.

Despite revenues falling short of estimates for the fiscal year, West Virginia expects to collect more in general revenue taxes that it will spend because of midyear budget cuts, The Associated Press reports.

The cuts "reduced spending by more than necessary to keep the state budget balanced," the article said.

Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow tells AP that "a rebounding economy has helped the state avoid a more serious shortfall," and "has also prompted the administration to project revenues of $3.74 billion for the budget year that begins July 1," the article said. "That would represent the first year-to-year growth since 2008."

They Voted for You: Unemployment & Recovery

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped pass the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act of 2010.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted against the measure along with all but one GOP House member present for the 215-204 roll call.

The legislation would provide "unemployment checks to people out of work more than six months and revive tax breaks popular with families and businesses," The Associated Press reports. "But spending cuts demanded by Democratic moderates unhappy about voting to increase the deficit will mean layoffs next year by state governments and no health insurance subsidies for people laid off after Memorial Day."

Health Care and West Virginia

The Associated Press looks at the daunting task facing the state agency assigned to help West Virginia carry out the relevant provisions of the federal health care overhaul.

Martha Walker, acting director of the Governor's Office of Health Enhancement and Lifestyle Planning, outlined her initial game plan to lawmakers during legislative interim meetings. She later elaborated on some of the approaching deadlines, costs, benefits and changes to AP.

"Everybody wants (the overhaul) to be instantaneous, but you really have to proceed a step at a time. You've got the build the framework," Walker told AP. "As we wade through this, there will be things that work and there will be things that don't. But the concept, what they're trying to accomplish, is a good thing."

West Virginia's Mine Safety Crackdown

The emergency mine inspections ordered by Gov. Joe Manchin in the wake of April's Upper Big Branch disaster yielded 128 citations for alleged violations, The Associated Press reports.

Two mines were also closed temporarily in the course of the blitz, AP's Tim Huber writes.

"Inspectors targeted 51 problem mines immediately after Manchin ordered the inspections April 14," the article said. "The remainder of the state's approximately 200 underground coal mines were examined within a week."

28 May 2010

Manchin Forming Federal PAC

Gov. Joe Manchin soon hopes to launch Country Roads, a federal political action committee that "would operate under federal rules and raise funds that Manchin could spend to support candidates and attend political events around the country," The Associated Press reports.

The governor tells AP that he sees the leadership PAC as a vehicle "for me to continue to tell the story of what we do in West Virginia... It gives me a chance to talk about all the contributions we have made to make this country great, and hopefully to set the record straight."

The article observes that "forming a leadership committee is a typical step for people who aspire to higher office." When asked about his election plans for 2012, when he is barred from running again for governor, Manchin told AP "I'm going to put myself in the best position possible to serve, and this gives me the vehicle to do that."

"At least two other sitting governors have leadership PACs, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics," the article said. "Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty started his Freedom First PAC in late 2009, while Haley's PAC was formed after Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour began his first term in 2004. Both are considered possible GOP presidential candidates."

MetroNews may have had first word of Manchin's PAC. The Charleston Daily Mail has an article as well.

Obama Makes Another W.Va. Pick

President Obama has nominated a Wheeling lawyer, William J. Ihlenfeld, for U.S. Attorney for West Virginia's northern federal court district, The Associated Press reports.

Ihlenfeld, 38, has been a prosecutor in both Brooke and Ohio counties, and is a graduate of West Virginia University's law school, the article said.

They Voted for You: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, voted for a measure that The Associated Press explains would "repeal the 1993 law that allows gay people to serve in the armed services only if they hide their sexual orientation."

Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted against the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. It prevailed 234-194.

Earlier, Sen. Robert C. Byrd helped the Senate Armed Services Committee endorse a similar repeal in a 16-12 vote, AP reports. "The full Senate is expected to take up the defense bill next month, and Republicans are threatening a filibuster if the change in policy toward gays remains in the legislation," the article said.

House opponents "cited the letters of four military service chiefs urging Congress to hold off on legislation until the military gains a full assessment of the effects the repeal might have on military life and readiness," AP reports. "The House and Senate amendments stipulate that the repeal would not become law until after the study is completed and until the president, the defense secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that it will not have negative effects on the military's fighting ability."

27 May 2010

Election 2010: Congress

Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball is the latest of the national political handicappers to recast or keep West Virginia's 1st Congressional District race as a "toss-up" in the wake of state Sen. Mike Oliverio's defeat of incumbent Rep. Alan Mollohan in the May 11 Democratic primary.

Congressional Quarterly's CQ Politics opines that "though Democrats are now fielding a more electable candidate, the general election between Oliverio and Republican nominee David McKinley, a former state legislator and West Virginia GOP chairman, should still be very competitive."

Others ranking the seat as a toss-up include the Rothenberg Political Report and the Cook Political Report.

Sabato and Cook, meanwhile consider the outcome for Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, as "likely Democratic." Rothenberg and CQ Politics consider his seat "safe."

The seat of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-3rd, is either unranked or deemed "safe Republican" by these observers.

Quote of the Day

"That was perhaps too much information."

-- U.S. House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., after Obama Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told his committee that "he sent his deputy, David Hayes, to the Gulf Coast 'without a change of underwear' the day after the deadly blast" that preceded the Gulf oil spill. The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire reported on Rahall's comment.

Rahall in Thick of Gulf Oil Spill Fray (Updated)

With The Associated Press reporting on the apparent forced resignation of S. Elizabeth Birnbaum as director of the U.S. Minerals Management Service, those reacting (updated) include U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

Rahall is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. It quizzed Birnbaum and her immediate boss, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, among other witnesses at a Wednesday hearing. C-SPAN has video.

(Update: Rahall told AP that "the departure of Elizabeth Birnbaum from MMS does not address the root problem. She has only been the public face of MMS for 11 months and the most serious allegations occurred prior to her tenure... This might on the surface be a good start but must not be the end game.)

Rahall's committee is conducting a series of hearings as it reviews a spill that AP reports has "has already surpassed the Exxon Valdez as the worst in U.S. history."

The committee was scheduled to hear from the heads of both BP America and Transocean Ltd. during a Thursday session.

USA Today reported earlier that Rahall had welcomed the announced departure of the MMS' administrator for offshore drilling programs. It quoted Rahall as saying he hoped it "signaled an understanding that wholesale changes 'will be necessary to fundamentally reform MMS.'"

AP also reported that Rahall had offered initial praise for Salazar's proposal to abolish the MMS as "a bold initiative to shake up a badly troubled agency by separating its three basic missions."

And USA Today is among those quoting Rahall as he and "other members of Congress have voiced concern about the government's response to the spill."

Rahall also appeared on the MSNBC program Hardball with Chris Matthews.

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire recently caught a decidedly different response from Rahall to a Salazar comment regarding the spill.

26 May 2010

Senate Confirms New U.S. Attorney for Southern W.Va.

President Obama has won his pick for top prosecutor for West Virginia's southern federal court district, The Associated Press reports.

The Senate has confirmed the appointment of Booth Goodwin as U.S. Attorney for the district, the article said.

"Goodwin has been an assistant federal prosecutor for eight years," AP reports. "He won praise for his role in an investigation of widespread political corruption in southern West Virginia."

25 May 2010

The Cost of Dropping Out

As West Virginia wrestles to craft improvements to its public schools, new research puts a price tag on the drain to metropolitan area economies caused by dropouts, The Associated Press reports.

"The Washington, D.C. based Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that keeping half those children in school would increase annual incomes by a combined $17.3 million for the Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Weirton and Wheeling metro areas," the article said.

The research suggests other multimillion-dollar boosts to consumer spending and gross regional products, AP reports.

The alliance's president, former Gov. Bob Wise shared its research at a Culture Center event sponsored by the West Virginia Education Alliance. Besides AP, coverage comes from
Public Broadcasting (with audio), The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews.

24 May 2010

Education in West Virginia

With efforts underway to salvage education proposals from the abruptly halted special session, The Associated Press highlights statistics that "point to a need for changes to the state's public schools."

"The latest test scores and other figures from the National Center for Education Statistics suggest a struggling system," the article said.

The article notes that Gov. Joe Manchin's school-related proposals bogged down during the session amid objections by lawmakers to its pursuit of federal funds. "But Manchin's predecessor says the Legislature should focus on the changes promoted by the Obama administration through its offer of aid," the article said.

Now president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, former Gov. Bob Wise also told AP that "West Virginia is poised to wield unprecedented influence in this national debate."

"Manchin will become chairman of the National Governors Association in July," the article said. "State schools Superintendent Steve Paine is already president of the Council of Chief State School Officers. State school board member Lowell Johnson, meanwhile, presides over the National Association of State Boards of Education."

"The three groups leading the effort to bring change will be chaired by West Virginians," Wise told AP.

Congress Bringing Mine Disaster Review to West Virginia

Family members of miners killed in the Upper Big Branch disaster are among those expected to testify starting his hour at a congressional public hearing in Beckley, The Associated Press reports.

The House's Committee on Education and Labor is conducting the morning hearing.

"Among those scheduled to speak at the hearing are Gov. Joe Manchin, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, and relatives of fallen miners Dean Jones, Adam Morgan, Rex Mullins and Gary Quarles," the article said.

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee heard from Don Blankenship, chief executive of mine owner Massey Energy, and others during a Capitol Hill session last week.

22 May 2010

Quote of the Day

"You know he's in there... And sometimes he'll have an expression that you're used to seeing. But then sometimes it's just blank."

-- Sherry Lilly, daughter of coal miner James Woods, to The Associated Press about his slow, uncertain rehabilitation after suffering brain trauma in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

21 May 2010

He Voted for You: Wall Street Overhaul

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., helped pass that chamber's version of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was one of two members absent for the 59-39 roll call.

The Associated Press describes the legislation as "the most far-reaching restraints on big banks since the Great Depression. In its broad sweep, the massive bill would touch Wall Street CEOs and first-time homebuyers, high-flying traders and small town lenders."

"While Republicans succeeded in amending the bill, they still objected to its sweep, claiming it represented an expansion of government power that would have unintended consequences," the article said. "Democrats argued it was a potent response to the financial abuses, regulatory weaknesses and consumer misjudgments that plunged the nation deep into recession."

20 May 2010

Congress to Hear from Blankenship (Updated)

Massey Energy CEO and Chairman Don Blankenship is scheduled to appear before a U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee this afternoon for a hearing called in response to Massey's Upper Big Branch disaster.

The topic at the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies is "Investing in Mine Safety: Preventing Another Disaster."

Blankenship is slated to appear on the same panel of witnesses as Cecil Roberts, a longtime adversary and president of the United Mine Workers union.

Update: The Associated Press is covering the hearing. The subcommittee's site is hosting a live webcast of the hearing, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

2nd Update: The subcommittee has posted video of the hearing as well as prepared testimony of Blankenship, Roberts and other witnesses. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., has posted his opening statement from the hearing.

Old Habits, er, Die Hard?

A Lincoln County commissioner tells The Charleston Gazette that he suspects that "some of the absentee ballots cast in last week's primary election may have come from dead people."

Commissioner Charles Vance, a physician, said he recognized the names of several deceased residents on a roster of people listed as having voted early or absentee, including former patients, the newspaper reports.

Allegations surfaced
shortly before the primary that an unusual number of absentee ballots had been requested in Lincoln County, the scene of a federal election fraud investigation within the last several years.

The Gazette reported earlier this week that absentee ballots helped flip the results in at least two county races, and that the "totals show that absentee voting was far more one-sided than some originally thought."

19 May 2010

Taking a Break

With the House and Senate increasingly at odds over Gov. Joe Manchin's education proposals, the Legislature has halted its special session with plans to try again June 7, The Associated Press reports.

Seven days into the session, lawmakers had passed 15 other bills from the governor's agenda but none of its eight school-related measures, the article said.

"Hours before the announced pause, senators voted 9-18 to defeat that chamber's version of Manchin's proposed merit-pay boosts for educators," AP reported. "The House Education Committee had previously scuttled a separate measure addressing low-performing schools."

As a consequence of the delay, "West Virginia is dropping its bid for up to $75 million in federal Race to the Top funds," the article said. The application was due June 1.

Shott to Succeed Caruth in Senate

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, will fill the Senate seat of the late Minority Leader Don Caruth until at least the November election, The Associated Press reports.

Gov. Joe Manchin appointed Shott, a Bluefield lawyer, on Wednesday. Manchin said he had offered the seat to Caruth's widow, but that she declined and later said her late husband would have approved of the choice of Shott, the article said.

Shott was running unopposed for his House seat. A GOP committee will submit names to the governor for his replacement there.

AP notes that both the House and Senate honored Caruth with memorial resolutions Wednesday as part of the ongoing special session.

Senate Sinks Merit Pay Bill for Educators

While the Senate has largely embraced Gov. Joe Manchin's education agenda, it voted down proposed pay boost "for teachers and principals in West Virginia's high-poverty and minority public schools," The Associated Press reports.

Senators rejected the measure 9-18 after the Senate Education Committee both enhanced its key incentives and tinkered with provisions addressing the state's commitment to fund them, the article said.

The defeat comes as the two chambers grow increasingly divided over Manchin's school-focused agenda items, AP reports.

Legislative Loggerheads

With the Senate and House each taking Gov. Joe Manchin's education proposals in a different direction, their fate "remains uncertain," The Associated Press reports.

While 15 other bills have passed during the special session, scrutiny continues for the eight measures aimed at public schools.

The Senate has passed versions of nearly all of them that either embrace Manchin's intent or take it one or more steps further. The House has killed one of the measures through its Education Committee, and has gutted or scaled back several others.

"The two chambers have passed dueling versions of one measure that would reconfigure in-school oversight teams," the article said. "Similar conflicts are shaping up over bills to increase student health screenings, require annual teacher evaluations and allow alternative paths to certify educators."

18 May 2010

W.Va. Press Corps Alum Withstands Fire

The Associated Press statehouse correspondent in Nashville whose press credentials were threatened after an incident last week will keep them, Romenesko reports.

The item relays an article from the Tennessee Report that says the House speaker -- the subject of the attempted photograph at issue -- believes AP's Erik Schelzig "in fact did nothing wrong." It has also posted video of the remarks.

Schelzig, who previously helped cover the West Virginia Legislature for AP, had tried to take pictures after House Speaker Kent Williams collapsed at his desk in the chamber.

Those defending Schelzig included The Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors.

Hiring, School Committee Bills Pass Senate

West Virginia schools would revise the process for interviewing and hiring teachers and principals, under legislation unanimously passed from the Senate to the House, The Associated Press reports.

A unanimous Senate also amended and advanced a House-passed bill revamping the system of in-school, decision-making committee teams, the article said. Delegates must now decide whether to concur with that version.

But as AP reports, that chamber has taken a different stance toward Gov. Joe Manchin's school-related special session proposals.

It "had scaled back that collaborative teams legislation," while "its Education Committee has already shot down the bill, addressing low-performing schools," the article said. "That committee is poised to remove mandates from a measure proposing increased student health screenings."

Results Mixed for Manchin's Education Agenda

The House and Senate hold sharply different views of the school-related measures proposed by Gov. Joe Manchin as part of the ongoing special legislative session, The Associated Press reports.

The Senate has approved the governor's call for more frequent educator evaluations; Manchin proposed annual reviews, while the Senate amended that to make at least that often.

Senators also passed a version of the bill that would step up efforts to address low-performing schools. But the House scuttled its bill on the topic in its Education Committee, which has also gutted the House version of the evaluation bill, AP reports.

The article also observes that lawmakers in both chambers share some of the same concerns about the value, cost and effect of some of these measures.

AP follows up by focusing on the mixed results. "The Senate Education Committee has so far endorsed all but one of the eight school measures," that article said, and plans to take up the final item Tuesday.

Those advancing measures include Manchin's proposed merit pay increases for educators. "The committee on Monday doubled to $2,000 the salary boosts for teachers and principals assigned to high-poverty and high-minority schools," AP reports. "It increased tenfold, to $5,000, the pay raises for educators in those schools teaching math and science."

17 May 2010

Senate OKs Increased Education Evaluations

West Virginia's public schools would evaluate their teachers and other professional staff at least annually under legislation passed 28-4 by the state Senate to the House of Delegates, The Associated Press reports.

With educators now reviewed mostly when they start out, "supporters say evaluations would encourage good teachers while helping struggling ones improve," the article said. "Opponents question the added burden on principals and teachers."

Bad Teachers in West Virginia

The ongoing battle between West Virginia's teacher groups and their opponents has become part of the debate over Gov. Joe Manchin's special session agenda, The Associated Press reports.

The West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia "question whether the governor is blaming teachers for the state's poor showing in several education categories," the article said. "They also argue he's pursuing federal funds at the expense of hiring protections and other rights."

WVEA President Dale Lee broached the topic of bad teachers during his group's pre-session press conference, meant to raise objections to the overall focus of Manchin's agenda.

"Most teachers out there are doing an exemplary job," he is quoted as saying. "But let's be clear: teachers out there and the WVEA want the best in our profession. We don't protect bad teachers, as is portrayed out there. All we protect is due process rights."

State schools Superintendent Steve Paine sought to address notion of protecting "bad" teachers during a recent appearance before the House Education Committee, the article said.

While calling it "the part that we all don't want to talk about, that I need to talk about," Paine then added, "I need to use a term other than 'bad.' Let's say, 'not as successful,'" AP reported.

School, Health Care Bills Moving in Special Session

The House of Delegates has passed the first of the education-related bills from Gov. Joe Manchin's special session agenda, The Associated Press reports.

That amended proposal, which goes to the Senate, would allow schools to replace at least some of their mandatory decision making committees.

The House also sent the governor another of the measures meant to correct and revive bills vetoed during this year's regular session, AP reports.

Senators, meanwhile, advanced to an agenda item to the House "extending coverage to uninsured West Virginians with pre-existing medical conditions," the article said. That bill has become a focus of partisan debate, as it arises from the new federal health care law.

16 May 2010

Special Session: Workin' on the Weekend

While lawmakers continue to scrutinize Gov. Joe Manchin's education proposals, they've advanced most of the other items on his special session agenda, The Associated Press reports.

The Senate has passed all 11 supplemental spending measures, which would add an estimated $133 million to this year's budget or the one that starts July 1, the article said.

"Beneficiaries would include the State Police, highways, work force programs, public libraries and in-home care for seniors," AP reports. "The Senate amended one bill to add $350,000 for English as a second language programs."

The article also notes that "Manchin added a road bond resolution to the agenda Saturday."

14 May 2010

He Voted for You: Debit Card Fees

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., voted for an amendment to the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 meant to "force credit card companies to reduce fees for debit card transactions and permit merchants to offer customer discounts based on their payment method," The Associated Press reports.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd did not vote in the 64-33 roll call that adopted the amendment.

The measure's summary title says it aims "to ensure that the fees that small businesses and other entities are charged for accepting debit cards are reasonable and proportional to the costs incurred, and to limit payment card networks from imposing anti-competitive restrictions on small businesses and other entities that accept payment cards."

AP reports that "the vote was a major defeat for banks, which lobbied hard against it. But the measure attracted heavy bipartisan support and surpassed a 60-vote threshold for passage."

The article also notes that the House-passed version of the bill "does not contain the debit card provision."

W.Va. Press Corps Alum under Fire in Tennessee

Erik Schelzig, a statehouse correspondent for The Associated Press in Nashville, is being threatened with the loss of his press credentials there after attempting to take photos when "House Speaker Kent Williams collapsed from low blood sugar during Thursday's floor session," Romenesko and others report.

Schelzig previously covered the West Virginia Legislature. WSMV-TV has posted raw video of the episode. Lawmakers react to Schelzig's attempt to photograph the scene around 1:50 into the footage.

Romenesko reports that "capitol security threatened to carry him out," and links to a resolution calling for the loss of his press pass.

Viewers of the video may be able to judge whether Schelzig "acted without thought and good judgment in attempting to take photographs and thereby needlessly hindering emergency medical personnel from providing necessary medical care," as the resolution alleges.

KnoxNews.com
reports that the state's AP bureau chief is defending Schelzig's actions, while some lawmakers denounced them. A column on that site calls the backlash against him "more arrogance in government."

Special Session Continues

Lawmakers continue to delve into the eight-education-related bills proposed by Gov. Joe Manchin as part of the ongoing special session, The Associated Press reports.

Those measures include one offering $1,000 salary boosts to classroom teachers, principals and assistant principals who work in high-poverty or high-minority schools.

"Those teachers would get an additional $500 if they ease a shortage of math and science instruction," the article said. The bill also offers $1,000 payments to teachers and administrators who meet "student growth goals."

Amid the reviews of those bills, AP reports separately that the Senate has sent the House four other items from Manchin's agenda. Each fixes a measure passed during the regular session but vetoed.

13 May 2010

Why Mollohan Lost

The Associated Press hears from both the state legislator who felled 14-term U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, in the West Virginia primary election and the GOP nominee for that seat.

Sen. Mike Oliverio, "a conservative Democrat, had run an aggressive campaign, portraying Mollohan as corrupt and out of touch," writes AP's Vicki Smith. "Conservative media rallied around the 46-year-old financial adviser from Morgantown, as did anti-abortion groups angry over Mollohan's support of health care legislation."

Republican Dave McKinley, himself a former legislator, meanwhile said "the outcome is a referendum on Obama's policies, from bailouts of banks and takeovers of car companies to health care reform."

The article also reports that "the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List said it spent $78,000 on the 1st District race and made 80,000 prerecorded calls on Oliverio's behalf Monday and Tuesday. The results, it said, should serve as warning to other incumbents."

The Charleston Daily Mail, meanwhile, talks to political scientists and an editor at Sabato's Crystal Ball for their assessments of the outcome. The article identifies seven factors that potentially contributed to Mollohan's loss.

Special Session: Legislature Gavels in (Updated)

The West Virginia Legislature has begun the special session called for by Gov. Joe Manchin, mostly to tackle education issues, The Associated Press reports.

Manchin's proclamation also proposes a new, federally funded high-risk health insurance pool, a health-related funding measure and three bills that he vetoed from the regular session because of technical flaws.

The governor has also posted summaries of his proposed legislation.

AP had reported earlier that the state's two main teachers' groups have raised objections either to the key education bills or the concepts behind them. Manchin responded both to AP and the Charleston Daily Mail about their expected resistance to his proposals.

MetroNews also reports on the stance taken by one of those groups, the West Virginia Education Association, as does The Charleston Gazette.

MetroNews and the The Gazette also offer previews of the special session's agenda.

12 May 2010

Rahall to Face Maynard in November

Democrat-turned-Republican Elliott "Spike" Maynard eked out a win Tuesday to challenge U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, in the fall, The Associated Press reports.

Maynard received barely more than 30% of the vote in a four-way GOP primary race, sporting a 433-vote margin of victory. Rahall advanced after garnering more than 67% of the vote over Bruce Barilla.

11 May 2010

W.Va. Primary: Legislative Races Update (Updated)

The Associated Press reports that:

  • Sen. Frank Deem, R-Wood whose legislative career stretches back to the 1950s, fell to current (corrected from former) Vienna Mayor David Nohe.
  • Sen. Randy White, D-Webster, lost a rematch with former Nicholas County prosecutor Greg Tucker.
  • Ron Justice had dropped out of the race for an open Senate seat with health problems last month. But with his name still on the ballot, the former Morgantown mayor attracted slightly more votes than Delegate Bob Beach, D-Monongalia. Update: State election officials point out that Justice can't actually win because's no longer a candidate, leaving Beach as the nominee. (Post edited to correct/clarify)
  • Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, held off two challengers and a six-figure attack ad campaign by labor groups.
  • Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, (updated) fended off Mingo County Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith in a rematch.
  • (2nd Update) Delegate Tom Louisos, D-Fayette, was displaced in that district's primary by John Pino. Louisos had done the same to Pino in 2008.

McKinley Wins GOP Nod (Updated)

Dave McKinley has prevailed in a field of six Republican hopefuls to run in November for West Virginia's 1st Congressional District, The Associated Press reports.

Update: With all precincts reporting, McKinley received nearly 35% of the GOP vote. Andrew "Mac" Warner followed with nearly 27%.

Oliverio Beats Mollohan (Updated)

U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, lost West Virginia's Democratic primary to state Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, The Associated Press reports.

With 75 percent of precincts reporting, Oliverio had 56.2 percent to Mollohan's 43.7 percent.

Update: AP pegged Oliverio's final tally at nearly 56 percent of the vote. He did nearly that well in Mollohan's home turf of Marion County, while attracting 62 percent in Monongalia.

W.Va. Primary: The Returns

The Associated Press will be reporting on results throughout the evening.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is posting unofficial returns online.

So is MetroNews and (updated) The Charleston Gazette.

Various counties are also posting returns, including:

W.Va. Primary: Congress

The Democratic and Republican primaries in West Virginia's 1st Congressional District have easily enjoyed the highest national profile of any races in the state this year.

The Associated Press focuses on those races and those in the other two districts:

  • Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, is battling state Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, for their party's nomination. Political Wire noted the article by AP's Vicki Smith along with other coverage in a post, "Another Incumbent Fights for His Political Life."
  • The six Republicans jockeying to take on Mollohan (or Oliverio) have also gotten attention beyond the state's borders.
  • Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, faces a political novice who planned to spend no more than $5,000.
  • Four Republicans seek to challenge Rahall in November, in a primary contest marked by anemic fundraising.
  • Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, is unopposed in her primary as is the district's Democratic candidate, Virginia Lynch Graf.
The polls close at 7:30 p.m.

W.Va. Primary: Legislature

More than one-third of West Virginia's legislative candidates have no primary opponents and are assured their party's nomination. But Tuesday's ballots do include close-appearing contests in both the House and Senate, The Associated Press reports.

AP offers a rundown of races of note, including several of the 13 open seats up for grabs.

Polls close at 7:30 p.m.

W.Va. Primary: Early Voting

With the polls still open this hour, The Associated Press reports that nearly 40,500 West Virginians cast in-person early ballots for the primary.

That's higher than the early voting during the previous mid-term primary, in 2006.

Democrats outnumber Republicans by just under 2-to-1, came out to vote early by a slightly higher margin when compared to the GOP.

"Turnout was slightly greater in the 20-county 1st Congressional District than in the state's other two House districts," the article said. "Incumbent Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., faces state Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, in their party's primary. Six Republicans seek the GOP's nod to take on the winner in November."

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant issued a press release on the early voting figures.

Tennant's office also told AP that primary day voting started "without a hitch."

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington reports that in Cabell County, "it’s been a slow but steady voter turnout so far on this rainy Tuesday morning."

Election 2010: W.Va. Senate

More than one-third of West Virginia's 2010 legislative candidates are assured their party's nomination Tuesday, because they have no primary opponents.

But campaign finance reports suggest a handful of contested races across the state, The Associated Press reports.

"The most expensive contest has been the Democratic primary rematch between Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin and Mingo County Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith," the article said. "Chafin, who is seeking an 8th term, had loaned his campaign $197,000 as of April 25. He raised another $60,545, nearly three times as much as Smith. But Smith had also self-financed, to the tune of $140,000, and had spent $170,428 to Chafin’s $193,267."

That race is a re-match from 2006, as is the contest between Sen. Randy White, D-Webster, and Nicholas County prosecutor Greg Tucker, who had outspent the incumbent as of April 25, AP reports.

The article also cites figures from candidates seeking the Democratic nod in Cabell, Hancock, Kanawha and Lincoln counties.

"These few races have also attracted nearly all of the $179,000 spent by third parties on independent ads for or against candidates and reported to the secretary of state so far this election season," AP notes. "Ninety percent of that money has come from labor unions."

Election 2010: 1st Congressional District - Democrats

Following up on its earlier overview of the race, The Associated Press sets the stage for the primary contest between U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and state Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia.

"The congressman has campaigned on his ability to deliver federal funds to the 20-county district that borders Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania and includes West Virginia University in Morgantown," the article said. But he also "voted for Obama's health care law, which he considers a landmark achievement. That vote cost him long-standing support from the National Right to Life and its West Virginia division, which fear the law will allow federal dollars for abortion. Both have endorsed Oliverio."

Oliverio, meanwhile, "continues to criticize Mollohan over past ethics allegations," and "while Mollohan ultimately opposed the proposed limits on such greenhouse gases a carbon released by burning coal, Oliverio says it was too little, too late," AP reports.

Other factors that did not make it into the final version:

  • AP estimates that Mollohan can't spend $120,000 in his campaign fund until the general election - if he gets there - because it came from donors who have already maxed out their primary election contribution limit."
  • Mollohan siphoned out another $115,000 over the course of the election cycle to repay previous loans to his campaign.
  • While Mollohan's internal poll of April 21-22 showed him up by 9 percentage points, it also showed a 19 percent undecided despite a 94% name recognition rate.
  • Only a slight majority of those undecideds were favorable toward the incumbent, 51% to 28%.
  • Mollohan has raised $121,000 in last-minute contributions, while Oliverio has attracted $103,900.
  • At least a dozen people who gave $500 or more to Mollohan in 2006 have contributed to Oliverio instead this year.
  • Oliverio has received more than $30,000 from people who have also contributed to one (or more) of the Republicans running for the 1st District nomination.

10 May 2010

They Voted for You: Cash for Caulkers

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted for legislation that would create a "Home Star Retrofit Rebate" program.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, opposed the bill along with all but a dozen of the other House GOP members present for the 246-161 roll call.

The two-year, $5.7 billion program would offer homeowners "rebates for renovating their homes with better insulation and energy-saving windows and doors," The Associated Press reports.

"Supporters estimate that 3 million households would make use of the new program, saving $9.2 billion in energy costs over a 10-year period. They said it would create 168,000 jobs, mainly in the recession-hit construction industry," the article said. "Republicans were more skeptical, saying the cost was too high amid rising federal debts."

07 May 2010

GOP Slugfest Continues in 1st Congressional District

The gloves came off several weeks ago as the six Republicans seeking to challenge U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, sought to distinguish themselves in the minds of their primary voters.

Residents of the district have witnessed the TV, radio and other ads that several of the GOP hopefuls have launched against each other.

The rancor has spilled over into candidate forums, The Hill reports. "Republicans Mac Warner and David McKinley got into a fierce exchange during a GOP candidates debate in Wheeling Wednesday night," the article said. "Warner accused McKinley of 'feigning concern' for his son who was injured serving in Afghanistan, then calling his opponent 'unfit to serve' in Congress in a mailer the next day."

The Intelligencer of Wheeling covered the forum, but that report does not appear to include the exchange.

Warner later told the News and Sentinel of Parkersburg that "he can support any winner except Dave McKinley in November."

McKinley said he would support the party's nominee "although I am concerned about our chances if one or more of the other candidates were to become the nominee," the article said.

The McKinley campaign has also taken heart in a CQ Politics article that opines that "Democrats would prefer to face Warner, whom they think has baggage from his business dealings that Warner’s GOP detractors also are trying to exploit, than either McKinley or (Sarah) Minear."

Candidate Cries Foul in Lincoln County

A contested primary for state Senate has revived the specter of voter fraud in Lincoln County.

The Lincoln Journal reported that the clerk's office there had already received applications for 825 absentee ballots, while just 265 had been cast in the 2008 primary. That led "a state senator seeking re-election this cycle" to express concern to that newspaper, the article said.

"I have heard tape recorded depositions from several Lincoln County voters who have reported that unnamed persons have visited their homes with envelopes containing absentee ballots that were already marked with my opponents name," the lawmaker, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, told the Boone Examiner.

Stollings is facing a primary challenge from Delegate Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln, in the Senate district that covers both their counties as well as Logan and part of Wayne.

Stollings also shared his concerns with the Lincoln newspaper as well as The Charleston Gazette, Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews (audio here) , advising them that he's hired a lawyer and plans to file a complaint.

U.S. Attorney Chuck Miller has since told the Daily Mail and MetroNews (with audio) that his office will review the absentee ballot requests.

The Lincoln Journal also reports on Eldridge's response to the situation.

06 May 2010

Legislature Headed for Special Session

The Associated Press reports on details from the special session that Gov. Joe Manchin plans to call starting May 13, with education expected to dominate the agenda.

The bulk of lawmakers' time will likely be spent on proposals meant to improve West Virginia schools while also boosting its shot at federal Race to the Top grant funding. State education officials, responding to a challenge from Manchin, drafted the proposals last month.

The state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety has recommended that "Manchin include a measure setting up special inspection teams that would focus on dangerous coal mines," the article said. AP reported separately on that proposal.

AP had also reported earlier that the session would feature legislation allowing for the sort of temporary, high-risk health insurance pool envisioned by the new federal health care law. The governor had cited the planned measure in a letter last week to U.S. Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius.

Lawmakers may also revisit bills vetoed from this year's regular session because of technical flaws. Administration officials tell The Register-Herald of Beckley that "off the table for now" is the nixed bill that would have given extra coal severance tax revenues to the state's 30 mining counties.

04 May 2010

Quote of the Day

"In education, we blame educators for everything. You name an educator that's had to take a business course, that's had to take a management course, had to take a financial course. They don't have that. ... None of them have any expertise in those areas and we wonder why we're not successful.''

-- Gov. Joe Manchin, quoted by The Associated Press at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce round-table discussion on education in Washington, D.C.

Election 2010: Upper Big Branch

The Associated Press observes signs of the April 5 underground mine disaster at Upper Big Branch becoming "fodder in the state's ongoing election races."

The re-election bid of state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, is the most conspicuous example. A union-funded television ad invokes the mine tragedy while attacking Wells over his committee vote against a 2008 bill that proposed "providing whistle-blower protection for reporting unsafe mine conditions."

Wells and his his supporters have denounced the ad as "shameful," and he launched his own spot in response. One union leader said the sponsors stand behind the ad, plan to continue to air it and may follow up with a new one.

AP reported during the 2008 session "that committee members debated whether the bill would improve the state's existing whistleblower provisions, which Wells also refers to in responding to the attack," the article said. "A divided committee ultimately rejected the bill."

The Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail have also reported on the attack ad.

The AP article also reports that "the political spending of Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship has also come under renewed scrutiny," since the disaster, along with the company's handling of the mine and its safety record.

John Cummings, the former Cabell Circuit judge challenging state Sen. Evan Jenkins in next week's primary, cites a prior Blankenship contribution to his Democratic opponent in a TV ad.

Blankenship is also hovering over the tight primary contest between Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, and county Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith, and the 3rd congressional district bid of Democrat-turned-Republican Elliott "Spike" Maynard, the article said.

Manchin to Stump in Race for Murtha Seat

Gov. Joe Manchin is slated to appear in Washington, Pa., to campaign for Mark Critz as the fellow Democrat seeks the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. John Murtha, The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown reports.

CQ Politics also has an item on Manchin stumping for the former Murtha aide, who is running in the May 18 special election against Republican Tim Burns.

"Several public polls show the race to succeed the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) as too close to call, even though Democrats have a more than a 2-1 voter registration advantage in the southwestern Pennsylvania House district," the latter reports, adding that "it's the bragging rights for winning the seat that could be most valuable for either party."

Update:
The Associated Press has an item.

Election 2010: 1st U.S. House - Republicans (Updated)

Republicans running to challenge U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan have been courting Tea Party groups in the state's 1st District, where the movement may have its best shot at influencing an election this year in West Virginia, The Associated Press reports.

While neither group has endorsed a GOP candidate, leaders of the Parkersburg and North Central tea parties say a number of their members appear to favor Andrew "Mac" Warner. Tom Stark also enjoys support among the latter group, as does Sarah Minear and Dave McKinley, co-founder Ryan Kennedy said.

"Kennedy added that his group has endorsed state Sen. Mike Oliverio, Mollohan's challenger in the May 11 Democratic primary," the article said.

"He said a lot of things that probably would be very welcome at a Tea Party rally," Kennedy told AP, citing a recent Oliverio radio appearance.

Update: The Hill reports that " internal GOP polling shows Warner has surpassed former state Sen. Sarah Minear in polling and is running first in the key Clarksburg and Parkersburg media markets."

The North Central tea party is based around Clarksburg. The bulk of The Hill report focuses on $24,000 worth of tax liens filed against the Warner brothers beleaguered rental housing business. The article notes AP's earlier report on the Warners' financial and legal woes.

McKinley seized on those liens when responding to AP regarding criticisms of his candidacy from members of the Parkersburg tea party, and the support of its members of Warner's campaign.

As AP had, The Hill cites McKinley's national GOP backing while reporting that "the underfunded Warner is threatening to play spoiler." It concludes the business and financial situation "hasn't kept Warner from running an increasingly successful campaign for Congress."

01 May 2010

Don Caruth, 1950 - 2010


Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth, R-Mercer, who quickly ascended to the ranks of leadership after entering the Legislature, has died, The Associated Press reports.

The 59-year-old lawyer "had been battling a recurrence of a form of brain cancer," the article said. "Last month, state lawmakers paid tribute to Caruth, who had been absent for much of the 2010 session. Gov. Joe Manchin honored him with the Distinguished West Virginian award, singling out Caruth's dedication and attention to detail during his legislative service."

28 April 2010

Mine Safety on Capitol Hill

A U.S. Senate committee fielded testimony about mine safety rules and industry compliance in the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch disaster, The Associated Press and others report.

The Obama administration's mine safety chief said his agency "will start going directly to federal court to shut down mines that make a habit of ignoring safety," the article said. Joe Main of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration "also called for a slew of other legal and regulatory reforms to beef up safety enforcement."

But a National Mining Association official said "there is no need for new regulations because MSHA already has the enforcement tools it needs," and instead "called for a new, cooperative emphasis on safety programs," AP reported.

And one day after a Massey Energy board member denounced such allegations as a "big lie," the article said that committee Chairman Tom Harkin described the April 5 disaster as a "tragic example" of what happens when companies "prioritize profits over safety and knowingly and repeatedly violate the law."

"The mine, owned by Massey Energy Co., was repeatedly cited for problems with its methane ventilation system and other issues in the months leading up to the accident," AP noted. "One category of serious violations was nearly 19 times higher than average."

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has posted video of the entire hearing, along with the prepared statements of 10 witnesses.

Update: Massey responded to some of MSHA's testimony and allegations.

27 April 2010

Massey Speaks

The Associated Press was among those covering the news conference held by Massey Energy to address several issues related to the nation's worst coal mining disaster in 40 years.

Chairman and Chief Executive Don Blankenship spoke to reporters and fielded questions along with three Massey board members. Among other topics, the officials detailed conditions at Upper Big Branch before the explosion, responded to regulatory actions that preceded the blast and criticisms leveled since, outlined compensation packages to the killed miners' families and continued to relay condolences to them.

More specifically:

  • Massey has yet to identify what caused the explosion, and its internal investigation continues.
  • Safety checks and gas readings taken "tens of minutes" before the blast offered no signs of the impending disaster, and instead indicated "everything was OK."
  • Massey disagreed with a push by federal regulators to change the mine's ventilation plan, and said it made that system more complicated and reduced air flow.
  • Regulators respond that "adverse mining conditions" preceded Massey's decision to adopt the changes, replacing a system that "could not be effectively maintained by the operator to ventilate the mine," one official told AP.
  • Director Bobby Inman labeled as a "big lie" the allegation that Massey put profits ahead of safety.
  • Union officials blamed by Inman for such allegations rejected his comments as spin. "The big truth is, 52 people have been killed on Massey property since 2000. No other coal company has had even half that," a union spokesman told AP.
  • The board repeated its support for Blankenship, and credit him for much of the company's success as well as safety innovations they believe make Massey a trend-setter within the industry. They attribute calls for his firing to a slight minority of company shareholders.
  • The compensation includes life insurance payouts, health coverage and four years' worth of in-state college or vocational schooling for dependent children.
  • A lawyer for the first family to sue Massey alleging wrongful death called the offer "grotesque," and said at least some of it is not generosity but rather proceeds from policies paid for by the killed miners. Other families told AP "they wanted more details or a chance to speak with attorneys" before commenting on that offer.
  • "I feel like they owe us more than that. I really do," the adult daughter of a killed miner told AP. "I hope Don Blankenship loses everything he has."
The company has also posted video from the news conference, the speakers' prepared remarks and a statement outlining the compensation packages and other topics from the hour-long session.

26 April 2010

Race to the Top and The Big Picture

The 28 proposed changes to West Virginia education policy sent to Gov. Joe Manchin should do more than improve the state's shot at federal Race to the Top funding, The Associated Press reports.

"State educators have also shaped their recommendations to reflect their belief that Race to the Top is setting the stage for major changes to key federal education policies," the article said.

State schools Superintendent Steve Paine told AP that ""we've been told clearly that the Race to the Top program is the forerunner to what will be contained in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act."

Election 2010: 1st U.S. House - Democrats

The Associated Press offers an overview of the primary battle between U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and challenger Mike Oliverio, a state senator from Monongalia County.

"Mollohan hopes voters in the May 11 primary will look at what he's done for them during his 28 years in Congress and ignore a 'smear campaign' he says began four years ago with Republicans," writes AP's Vicki Smith.

Oliverio wants them to "look at lingering questions about Mollohan's ethics and personal finances," the article said, adding that Oliverio also said he decided to oppose the incumbent "after seeing Mollohan support health care reform and take too long to publicly oppose proposed cap-and-trade legislation."

The New York Times, meanwhile, is the latest national media outlet to cast the race for Mollohan's seat as a toss-up. It included the district in a graphic of several seats deemed vulnerable, though slighting half the GOP field in the process.

Remembering the Miners of Upper Big Branch

President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy and Vice President Joe Biden spoke as well during Sunday afternoon's memorial for the 29 miners killed at Upper Big Branch, The Associated Press and others report.

C-SPAN offers video of the ceremony, while the White House has posted Obama's remarks and photos.

AP reported separately on remarks by Gov. Joe Manchin and others at the memorial, and also spoke to a miner's family member, a survivor, a rescue team member and others who attended.

21 April 2010

After Upper Big Branch (Updated)

The West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety is expected to propose several regulatory changes in the wake of the nation's worst coal mining disaster in 40 years, The Associated Press reports.

"Panel members say they hope to release proposed changes for mine rescue and ventilation of coal conveyer belts for public comment Wednesday," the article said. "They're also considering requiring mines to do more to control explosive levels of coal dust and to maintain methane detectors more often."

Update: The board sent out several proposed rules for public comment, including one that would require barometers at mine sites and another calling for regular checks of methane gas monitors. AP has details.

Racing to the Top

The state Board of Education has responded to Gov. Joe Manchin's challenge to improve West Virginia's shot at federal Race to the Top funding.

But Manchin is seeking more details about the board's proposals before he decides what to include in the upcoming special session on the topic, The Associated Press reports.

"He's pleased with what he's hearing," spokesman Matt Turner told AP. "But he wants more on what they're prepared to move forward with. What came out this morning didn't offer enough in the way of details."

Superintendent Steve Paine noted that four of the board's five high-priority proposals were considered in some form by lawmakers during the recent regular session, but did not pass.

"Paine said the board's overall goal is to bolster the state's second bid at the federal funding, while also advancing its recently launched Global 21 learning plan," the article said. "Paine also noted that the proposals came after focus groups, online surveys and interviews with every group involved in West Virginia schools: from students, teachers and principals to parents, legislators and the business community."

The Charleston Gazette
reported earlier on the proposals, as did the Charleston Daily Mail.

19 April 2010

Obama, Biden Coming to West Virginia

The Associated Press reports that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden plan to attend Sunday's memorial for the coal miners killed in April 5's explosion at Upper Big Branch.

Gov. Joe Manchin had earlier announced the Beckley event, and said both he and first lady Gayle Manchin would be at the afternoon public ceremony.

"President Obama will deliver a eulogy honoring the lives of those who perished and offering his deepest condolences to the loved ones they left behind," the White House said in a release.

16 April 2010

Election 2010: U.S. House 01 - Democrats

U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, ended April with $280,800 while his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Mike Oliverio, had $138,000 as their May 11 showdown approaches, The Associated Press reports.

Oliverio, D-Monongalia, had raised nearly as much from individual contributors as Mollohan, attracting about half his amount from Morgantown, the article said. But the incumbent, seeking a 15th term, gathered another $150,000 from political action committees, AP reported.

The Rothenberg Political Report, meanwhile, has elevated its rating of the race for Mollohan's seat from "Lean Democratic" to "Toss-Up/Tilt Democratic."

And ABC News is among those reporting that the Tea Party Express PAC has included Mollohan among nine House members it is targeting for defeat this year.

Tax Day Tea Parties in West Virginia

Tea Party activists marked April 15 by gathering in several West Virginia communities to denounce "taxes, the lack of term limits on congressmen and government programs they consider socialism," The Associated Press reports.

AP offers an overview, while also focusing on the event in Morgantown.

The Intelligencer reports that the rally in Wheeling appeared to exceed last year's turnout of 1,200 people. "Among those attending were Republican candidates for West Virginia's 1st District congressional seat, who worked the crowd," that article said. "We The People-Ohio Valley organizers have stressed the organization is non-partisan, containing members of all political parties."

The Journal covered events both in Martinsburg and nearby Jefferson County.

The News and Sentinel reported on rallies in Parkersburg and Marietta, Ohio.

MetroNews has an item from one of the final events of the day, held outside the state Capitol.

AP also reports separately on the rally held in Washington, D.C., as well as on a reaction from President Barack Obama.

14 April 2010

Manchin Orders Mine Inspection Blitz

Gov. Joe Manchin has ordered the immediate inspection of all underground coal mines, with those sporting a history of "combustion risk" issues getting priority within the next two weeks, The Associated Press reports.

Manchin has also ordered a day of mourning for those killed in the Upper Big Branch disaster for Friday. He's asked the state's underground industry and its miners not to produce coal that day, but instead focus on the safety of their workplaces.

Quote of the Day

"Right now, we need to make sure that the rules are being complied with. I can't sit back and assume anymore."

-- Gov. Joe Manchin to The Associated Press as he ponders responses to last week's coal mine disaster that killed 29 West Virginians and injured another two.

(Manchin also told AP, "If there's any comfort at all with this horrific explosion, it was that the rescuers told me that not one miner suffered. It was so instantaneous... If that's the only comfort you can get out of something, that's pretty pathetic.")

13 April 2010

Manchin Picks McAteer to Investigate Mine Explosion

Gov. Joe Manchin tells The Associated Press that he has enlisted J. Davitt McAteer to conduct an independent investigation into last week's explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch mine.

McAteer's review would parallel probes by federal and state mine safety officials, and he would also serve as a special adviser to the governor, Manchin told AP.

(Update) McAteer "headed the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration," AP explains. Now an official at Wheeling Jesuit University, he "also conducted similar independent probes of the Sago Mine disaster that left 12 dead as well as the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine fire that killed two miners," AP reports.

The governor "also called for more scrutiny of mines with a history of safety violations," the article said. "Manchin said he wanted state regulators to target problems involving methane gas and coal dust levels, poor ventilation and electrical issues," and " wanted to review state law to make sure West Virginia officials are able to shut down unsafe mines and order immediate fixes without any delays."

Bill Clinton Coming to West Virginia

Former President Bill Clinton will address one of the commencements that West Virginia University plans to hold May 16, The Associated Press reports.

Clinton will speak to graduates of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and will also receive an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters, the article said.

"Clinton will be the first sitting or former president to speak at a WVU commencement," AP reports. "WVU is holding 14 this year."

Remembering the Fallen

One week has passed since the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, but not without a brief ceremony marking the hour of the blast that killed 29 miners and injured two more, The Associated Press and others report.

AP also described the memorial while reporting on the arrival of federal investigators "to begin piecing together what caused the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since 1970." Several hundred people held hands, prayed and offered a moment of silence as they thronged around a statue honoring West Virginia's coal miners outside the state Capitol.

"Four black-ribboned wreaths were placed at the memorial, as more than a dozen family members of those killed looked on," that article said. "A bell rang 29 times for each of the fallen miners. During a moment of silence that followed, sobs could be heard both from the family and the crowd."

Joining the family in mourning were Gov. Joe Manchin; U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis; U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd; and a number of state legislators and Manchin administration officials.

Earlier in the day, Manchin told AP that "West Virginia can respond to last week's deadly mine explosion by targeting other mines that may harbor similar dangers." Manchin singled out violations involving methane, coal dust, ventilation and rock dusting as deserving greater scrutiny.

"But Manchin said he also wants the state to target the most serious violations without hitting delays caused by legal proceedings," that article said. "The governor said his administration is reviewing what additional measures may be needed to ensure that."

AP also reports that New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, "trustee of a retirement fund holding more than 300,000 shares of Massey stock worth $14 million, on Monday called for CEO Don Blankenship to resign immediately." That call was echoed by "William Patterson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based CtW Investment Group, which works with union pension funds," AP reported. "Blankenship didn't immediately return a call seeking comment."

10 April 2010

Worst Fears Realized

Rescue workers have found the bodies of the four miners missing since Monday's underground blast after days of hoping to find them alive, The Associated Press reports.

With 29 killed, "it is the worst coal mine disaster in the U.S. since 1970 when 38 were killed at Finley Coal Co. in Hyden, Ky.," the article said.

09 April 2010

Once More Unto the Breach

Officials estimate that rescue crew have re-entered the Upper Big Branch mine after pumping in five truckloads of nitrogen to flush out toxic gas and starve any fire of oxygen in the section where they hope to find four missing miners, The Associated Press reports.

(Headline corrected. Sorry, Shakespeare fans.)

Quote of the Day

"I just knew that Josh in his heart knew that something was going to happen."

-- Pam Napper, the mother of one of at least 25 miners killed in Monday's explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine. She told The Associated Press that he left a conditional farewell note with family over the weekend, and expressed concerns about the mine's ventilation.

A Long, Difficult Night (2nd Update)

Rescuers are down to one refuge chamber in their search for the missing miners, but signs of fire have forced them yet again to withdraw to the surface, The Associated Press reports.

Gov. Joe Manchin said crews continue to drill a hole near that final chamber, with plans to lower in a camera to check it out. Rescuers have also poured nitrogen into the mine to combat the toxic gas levels there.

Update: AP is covering the ongoing story on several additional fronts:

  • Manchin tells AP that six of the dead were found on a second mantrip vehicle, deeper inside the mine from where rescuers recovered six dead and three injured in another mantrip. One of those injured died soon afterward.
Update: One family tells AP that miner killed left farewell note, fears about mine's ventilation.

08 April 2010

Quote of the Day

"The miners that they found, it doesn't look like anyone was alarmed or warned that something as this horrific was going to happen... When you find people just sitting in the mantrip, as if they're just waiting to go out and they're still there? That tells me there was no panic."

-- Gov. Joe Manchin to The Associated Press, on early indications from the deadly mine explosion in Raleigh County.

Another Setback (Updated)

The Associated Press reports that poisonous gas and the threat of another explosion has again forced back rescue teams seeking to find four missing men in the Upper Big Branch mine.

One officials said "he hoped crews would be able to get back in within a few hours after a bigger hole was drilled to allow fresh air into the mine," the article said. "They were leaving their equipment behind so they did not have to lug it back in with them when they returned."

Update: A company official provides details from the frustrating turn, but also offered a silver lining, AP reports.

J. Christopher Adkins, chief operating officer of Massey Energy Co., said the teams spotted an alternate pathway for the next attempt as they withdrew.

"When they came out, they found a route where we think we can take a permissable ride, which is basically like a small four-wheeler," Adkins said. "We think we found a route that can get us up there quicker."

Rescuers Re-Enter the Mine

Gov. Joe Manchin told reporters this morning that four rescue teams totaling 32 men re-entered the Upper Big Branch Mine at 4:55 a.m. to resume the search for hoped-for survivors, The Associated Press reports.

"They are advancing," Manchin said. "They'll move as rapidly as they possibly can."

07 April 2010

Rescue Efforts Continue (Updated)

The Associated Press updates on efforts to vent toxic gas from the Raleigh County coal mine where four men remain missing following Monday's explosion.

AP also talked to a miner who was working in a separate section of the Upper Big Branch Mine and so escaped the blast. His brother is among the dead, but a nephew survived.

Update: The miners' families get an in-person morale boost from WVU men's basketball coach Bobby Huggins, AP reports.