Saturday, August 27, 2005

Weeks Does the Right Thing, Calls for Rescission of Grant, While Bailey Continues Shilling for Bob Graham

William Stewart has a good column on the controversy surrounding $55,000 in Budget Digest funds that went to Bob Graham's controversial Wyoming County Council on Aging.

Both 9th District state senators, Russ Weeks, R-Raleigh, and Billy Wayne Bailey, D-Wyoming, obtained funds for a new roof for the Elk Lick Senior Center. Weeks has requested that the portion of the grant he requested be rescinded because he did not know that the center was part of the Council on Aging.

Bailey, however, has continued to defend the grant and is employed by the Council on Aging. West Virginia Wants to Know filed an ethics complaint against Bailey yesterday for his actions. Bailey narrowly won reelection last year over challenger Jack Fincham, 74.

The Wyoming County Council on Aging became controversial last year after revelations that it was paying its executive director, Bob Graham, approximately $460,000 per year, was employing his relatives, and had a board of directors comprised mostly of very old people who rubber stamped Graham's requests.

The state's six constitutional officers, including the governor, sued Graham in April 2004, seeking to take over operations of his agency.

He had been under investigation for months by the Bureau of Senior Services, which found that in addition to his salary and agency-paid trips to exotic destinations, Graham kept a personal apartment on the upper floor of his Itmann senior center. He also drove a $50,000 car paid for by the agency, took more than two months each year of paid vacation and sick days, and got free health insurance.

Since the investigations began, Graham's salary has been reduced to $99,000 and he has been forced to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses and vacation pay.

Today's Morgantown Dominion-Post Publishes Teacher Pay Raise, Food Tax Letter

The letter to the editor posted on this site on Thursday appears in today's Morgantown Dominion-Post.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Ohio County Sheriff calls I-70 'artery of illegal aliens'

Interstate 70I don't know whether we need to start posting these signs, which are common near the Mexican border, just yet.From the Associated Press:

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) -- Ohio County Sheriff Tom Burgoyne is calling Interstate 70 the "artery of illegal aliens'' after 18 illegals were taken into custody following a traffic stop early Thursday.

The detainees were among 64 illegal immigrants who have been taken into custody by the Ohio County Sheriff's Department since May, Burgoyne said.

"We have caught them east to west and west to east,'' Burgoyne said. "I (give) credit to deputies for being alert.''

Unfortunately, this sign prevails upon most of I-70 between the Ohio River and the PA-MD state lineU.S. Border Patrol and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials were called to the scene at about 1:45 a.m. Thursday near exit four of Interstate 70 after the driver of a van was stopped for traveling 12 mph over the speed limit. The federal agency took 13 of the illegal immigrants into custody immediately and the remaining five were picked up later from the Northern Regional Jail.Even though this sign would be more appropriate

The deputy spoke to the driver, who could not speak English. The deputy then found the remaining passengers in the back, including a 17-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy. All were traveling to New York, the sheriff said.

A large number of construction projects in the area has increased the potential for a number of illegal immigrants in Ohio County, Burgoyne said.

"If we learn of them working we are going to pay the construction site a visit and talk with the contractor involved and remove them from the site,'' he said.

Information from: The Intelligencer,

Shelley Says Byrd Can be Defeated, Still Mum on Whether She Will be the One Who Does It

This logo appeared on guests' nametags at a 'friendraiser' Shelley held last Saturday, along with the usual 'Shelley Moore Capito U.S. Congress' signsWhile she says her decision is still four weeks away, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito is continuing to look more serious about running for the U.S. Senate next year against Senator Byrd, who next summer will become the longest-serving senator in U.S. history. My prediction is that Shelley will run and she will win.

From MetroNews:

West Virginia Second District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito is being more outspoken about a possible run against U.S. Senator Robert Byrd next year. Capito made her comments during a Friday appearance on MetroNews Talkline.

Capito says she believes Senator Byrd could be defeated next year because the voting patterns of West Virginians have changed in the last three elections. "We're becoming more Republican or more independent in our voting patterns and the same old same old is not holding."

The three-term congresswoman says if she decides to run against Byrd it would be because it's time for a change in West Virginia. During Friday's Talkline Capito was critical about several votes Byrd has taken. "Some of the votes he has made I don't think go with what West Virginians believe we want in our future." Capito criticized Byrd's votes on medical malpractice, energy and tax relief.

Capito says she hasn't made a decision on whether she will run against Byrd. She says that decision will be made and announced in four weeks. Talkline Host Hoppy Kercheval asked Capito if she could defeat Byrd. "I don't know. It would be interesting to find out."

Congresswoman Capito says she is concerned about the possibility a race against the veteran senator would turn negative due to outside groups getting involved. "I don't think it would be in anyone's best interest to do a slash and burn type of campaign." Capito says she would run against Byrd with "deep respect of his service and acknowledgement of all the great things he has done." But she is quick to point out. "Elections really aren't about the past, they are about the future."

Capito calls a possible run against Byrd, "A personal decision and I'm going to be fine with whatever I decide to do."

Is this a sight we will see repeated many times across West Virginia next year? Though I have no insider info, I predict we will.

By Overwhelming Margins, West Virginians Say Cut Taxes, Curb Lawsuit Abuse, Pass Right to Work Law

This week's State Journal reports on an issue-oriented poll of West Virginians conducted by Charleston-based RMS Strategies. This poll focused on the state's economy and economic policies. For conservatives, the poll's results are no real surprise.

I'll let you read the whole article if you are so inclined, but the following issues received the following levels of public support:

  • 59% say taxes are too high and should be cut.
  • Over 90% said the best way for the government to improve the state's economy was by passing laws to make the state more business friendly.
  • 73% say the state needed to pass laws that would make it harder for individuals to sue companies.
  • 75% support passing a right-to-work law.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lincoln Journal in the Tank with Corrupt Politicians, Deserves Prosecution for Witness Intimidation

The Lincoln Journal, the weekly newspaper serving Lincoln County, has as its motto, "Discussed by many, cussed by a few...Read by all." After reading this, I'm sure you will agree with that second part.

Depending on how charitable you want to be regarding this rag, it is either taking a "Hear no evil, see no evil" approach to the political corruption that runs to the core of Lincoln County politics or it is a complicit party to the corruption and is engaging in very thinly-veiled campaign to hinder the federal investigation of political corruption and other crimes committed by those with the right political connections. I agree with the latter and believe this sorry excuse for a newspaper rightly deserves to be prosecuted.

For years, the Lincoln Journal has maintained a decided tilt toward the Stowers Democratic faction in Lincoln County politics, lavishing free publicity upon the chosen candidates and officeholders while shunning Republicans and unfavored Democrats. During the current federal corruption probe, however, the Journal's conduct has crossed from being a partisan political organ to obstructer of justice and intimidator of potential witnesses. The former is the right of every American; the latter is not and for that, the Journal must be held to account.

Week after week, the Lincoln Journal has run front page stories claiming that the FBI has coerced its witnesses, manufactured evidence, intimidated voters during the elections last year, and is bent on framing the Lincoln County political establishment for partisan political purposes. They've run stories about elderly people who claim to have never missed voting in an election who say they new feel too intimidated to vote in the future because of the supposedly "abusive" tactics the FBI has employed in its investigation. This campaign has been orchestrated to cause its readers in Lincoln County to lose trust in the feds and become more reluctant to talk.

Here are the facts that are already known with absolute certainty: Lincoln County is the only county in West Virginia with more registered voters than adult residents, having 110% voter registration based on the 2000 Census. Lincoln County has had a stable population for many years and is not merely lagging in purging voters who have moved away. There are numerous post office boxes in Lincoln County that have numerous voters of different surnames claiming such boxes as their mailing addresses. Most of Lincoln County still lacks city-style street addresses--although this is changing--and thus it's impossible to determine whether most voters are claiming a legitimate place of residence.

In neighboring Logan County, several prominent political figures, including a former sheriff and ex-husband of a current state legislator, have already pleaded guilty to various election fraud-related charges. Another current legislator, Delegate Joe C. Ferrell, has previously confessed to vote-buying in a 1992 federal plea bargain that let him off with a misdemeanor in exchange for a promise to never seek elected office; Ferrell is now under investigation for both election fraud and potentially other crimes related to his video poker machine business. The Logan Banner, by contrast, is not softpedaling this case and has said on several occasions it is maintaining the secrecy of certain information in its possession to avoid harming the government's case.

The activities of the Lincoln Journal are particularly egregious because it is the only source of local news in Lincoln County, a county with a very insular culture and a lack of the kind of free flow of news, information, and commentary that would be found in a more populous area. An ordinary person of average intelligence who regularly reads that paper and does not consult multiple news sources would easily be led to believe that the federal government's investigation and prosecutions will be unsuccessful. This perception is key to the hopes of the corrupt politicians down there who want people who know incriminating things to not talk. Indeed, several people who have come forward to testify have already been intimidated and threatened. In one case, a confidential informant was assaulted in a remote area and told, "People who rat for the feds need killed."

The political corruption that has permeated Lincoln and Logan counties extends far beyond election fraud. Many politicos are running an elaborate racketeering scheme that offers property tax breaks to the well-connected, protection for drug dealers (one of the co-defendants in the Greg Stowers case is a convicted drug dealer who is alleged to be receiving protection), and a general disintegration of the rule of law that has turned these counties into little more than a Third World banana republic.

Letter to the Editor Regarding Teacher Pay Raises

Today I submitted a letter to the editor of several newspapers across the state addressing proposed teacher pay raises, offering a condensed version of some of my earlier comments on this site. The text of my letter follows.


Next month, the West Virginia Legislature will convene in special session and will face seemingly incompatible demands for the abolition of the food tax and significant pay raises for public school employees.

These two priorities are both worthy of enactment and need not be mutually exclusive. While West Virginia’s ranking of 47th in teacher salaries is well-known, few people know that we are 12th in education spending per student.

According to the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, West Virginia’s taxpayers spend almost $10,000 per year per student for education. Since 1994, annual education spending has grown by 77%, from $1.3 billion to $2.3 billion, even though enrollment has declined by 11%. These trends do not change if a longer period is considered.

We cannot afford to continue the lethargic, tax-and-spend ways of the past that have ravaged our great state. Many proponents of teacher pay raises simply advocate spending more money for education although the pay raises they seek could be adequately funded with current spending levels.

While I do not believe the “quick fixes” commonly touted could provide all the required funds, the inefficiencies in our schools are aplenty. The $210 million cost estimate that has been estimated for the WVEA pay raise plan is just for the first three years; additional spending will be required indefinitely unless additional reforms are undertaken to more efficiently spend the very generous sums of taxpayers’ money appropriated to the public schools.

Several county school systems in the southern part of this state have been identified as spending millions of dollars in excessive Worker’s Compensation premiums because of their tolerance of rampant fraud. Logan County Schools alone have spent over $4 million for 237 cases over the last four years. A large number of the Logan County cases are employees who are “mysteriously” injured immediately before the school year ends and are able to return to work almost immediately after the start of the next school year, thereby drawing Worker’s Compensation during a period when most would have not been paid otherwise.

Next month’s special session should be special for all West Virginians. Let’s ax the food tax and also deliver a more efficient education system that better compensates its employees without requiring additional overall spending.

Susman, Wooton Vie for Opportunity to Lose to Russ Weeks

Today's Beckley Register-Herald reports that Delegate Sally Susman and former state Senator Bill Wooton, both D-Raleigh, will face off in next year's Democratic primary for the state Senate in the 9th District, which includes all of Raleigh County and most of Wyoming County. The winner of that contest will then lose to state Senator Russ Weeks, R-Raleigh, one of the stars of the Class of '02.

Susman has been a member of the House of Delegates for the last seven years. Her husband, Alan, is a former state senator and Raleigh County Democratic Chairman. Wooton served in the Legislature for almost 30 years before being upset by Weeks in 2002. In that contest, Wooton had a 10-1 money advantage over the first-time candidate who proudly proclaimed his Republicanism. As Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman for the decade of his legislative service, Wooton was an unapologetic obstructionist of pro-life legislation. Wooton's defeat broke a legislative logjam that has resulted in the enactment of an informed consent law requiring a 24-hour waiting period and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, both sponsored by Weeks.

In 2004, President Bush won 62 percent of the vote in Raleigh County and 58 percent in Wyoming County. Raleigh County also voted for Secretary of State Betty Ireland, state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin, and congressional candidate Rick Snuffer, who challenged Congressman Nick Rahall.

In the state Senate, Russ Weeks has fought for the right to life, lower taxes, comprehensive reform of the state's tax code, civil justice reform, and Worker's Compensation privatization. Weeks has been an active advocate for Republican and conservative principles and has worked to build the GOP in Southern West Virginia. I am confident the people of Wyoming and Raleigh counties will decide that Senator Weeks deserves another four years to work toward building a better, more prosperous West Virginia.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Republican State Committee Poll Shows Overwhelming Opposition to GOP Participation in Gambling Compromise

West Virginians for a Republican Majority has a good post on a recent poll of the Republican state committee showing, unsurprisingly, that grassroots Republicans absolutely oppose any expansion of gambling in West Virginia, even if proposed as part of a deal curtailing the mini-casinos that have spread throughout this state like kudzu.

During the regular legislative session earlier this year, a table games bill passed the Senate 19-14, with 5 Republicans voting in favor. A switch of 3 votes would guarantee the defeat of any such bill in the future unless Democrat Walt Helmick (who voted for the bill in committee and against it on the floor) switches his vote and thereby signs his political death warrant. As I wrote earlier, two of the Republican senators deserve a pass since their districts include tracks but we must give no tolerance to the three Republicans whose districts include no tracks.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

WVEA Backpedals on Strike Threat

UPDATE: WVEA President Charles Delauder now says that his organization isn't issuing a strike threat as has been reported by the Associated Press and the Charleston Gazette. The strike threat story was the top story on today's Gazette front page. Delauder announced the apparent change in his stance on Talkline today.

WVEA Threatens Statewide Teacher Strike, Demands 15% Across-the-Board Pay Raise

This morning, members of the Ruling Party's legislative leadership awoke to find themselves pinned down by heavy fire from all directions. This past weekend, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship launched a $500,000, 2-week TV ad campaign to pressure the Ruling Party to make the special legislative session scheduled to commence September 7, special for the people of West Virginia by repealing the food tax. The West Virginia Education Association yesterday reissued its demand for a 15% across-the-board pay raise for all public school teachers and threatened a statewide teacher strike.

One thing is certain: the Ruling Party faces a train wreck in its immediate future. The people of West Virginia, who are dead last in per capita income, are demanding that the Legislature relive the onerous tax burden we face, beginning with a complete repeal of the food tax. Public school teachers, whose average salary is about $38,000 despite this state spending nearly $10,000 per student annually for public education, want a 15% raise. Most Republicans do not object to a responsible pay raise--and this includes everyone from myself to most legislators and even Mr. Blankenship, who said so in his speech to the Republican state committee last Saturday.

The major obstacle the Ruling Party faces to satisfying these seemingly incompatible demands is their lack of ingenuity and new ideas. If history is any guide, a likely pay raise package will involve an across-the-board raise based on the current pay structure, which is a statewide salary schedule based solely on seniority and the teacher's education, that will require increased spending indefinitely even though we have already increased education spending in this state 77% since 1993 while enrollment has declined by 11%.

The key to a responsible pay raise package for our teachers is to use existing education funds more efficiently. We cannot stick to the failed ways of the past and simply add yet another round of new spending to the equation. We also cannot continue basing salaries solely on the union scale of education and experience. Salaries should offer additional pay to teachers in specialties such as advanced math & science where severe teacher shortages exist and additional pay in high cost-of-living areas such as the Eastern Panhandle and Morgantown (for example, the average price of a home bought in Jefferson County now exceeds $300,000 while nice homes can usually be bought in the $100,000 range in most parts of this state). Dare I mention merit pay, which the teachers' unions seem to find particularly radioactive?

Another crucial consideration to teacher pay raises is the effect any plan would have on the state's pension liabilities. The Legislature must immediately repeal HB 2984, a seriously misguided and likely unconstitutional plan to force participants in the Teachers Defined Contribution Plan to convert to the old Teachers Retirement (defined benefit) System. The old system was closed to new participants in 1991 specifically because it had incurred a multibillion-dollar unfunded liability and a defined contribution plan offered participants more flexibility, security, and portability. We cannot afford a reversion to the TRS.

The most important part of a responsible teacher pay raise package is to use existing funds to pay for the raises. These pay raises will be recurring items in the state budget indefinitely. The WVEA's 3-year plan will have higher costs in each year beyond the first three years than in the first three because of the phased-in nature of the plan. At $9,757 per pupil per year (as of 2003), West Virginia ranks 12th in education spending per student. Yet, we rank 47th in teacher pay. The money we are spending now needs to be used more efficiently. I'm not speaking of consolidating school boards or the other seemingly easy fixes that come to mind. Whether we have 34 or 55 local boards of education means little in a state where education spending has gone from $1.3 billion to $2.3 billion in a decade when enrollment declined by 11%. Several counties in the southern part of this state are wasting millions of dollars in excessive Worker's Compensation premiums because of their tolerance of rampant fraud by some of their employees.

The Ruling Party faces a very difficult time of choosing in the next couple of weeks. An irresponsible pay raise package that simply adds new spending and possibly a new unfunded pension liability will earn the wrath of the voters. Rejecting a teacher pay raise will likely precipitate another statewide teacher strike, which will then earn the wrath of the voters. In either case, Democrats could see themselves occupying in 2007 a position they have never known in their lifetimes: the minority party in both houses of the West Virginia Legislature.

To access the state's Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, click here.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

WVGOP Summer Conference a Huge Success

This weekend, the West Virginia Republican party held a 2-day Summer Conference at the Embassy Suites in Charleston. The conference featured various speakers and panel discussions about the state Republican Party, where we have been, and where we are going. This was in addition to Saturday's meeting of the Republican State Executive Committee, which had previously been a stand-alone event.

The highlights of the conference were the speeches delivered on Friday by Secretary of State Betty Ireland and former Governor Cecil Underwood, who was in attendance for the entire conference, and on Saturday by retired WVU basketball coach Gale Catlett and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. Of those four, the clear winner for newsworthiness and inspiration was the speech by Mr. Blankenship.

Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, native West Virginian, only Fortune 1000 company CEO who lives in West VirginiaIn his address to the state committee, Don Blankenship announced that he would spend approximately $500,000 of his own money on TV ads over the next two weeks calling for the governor and the Legislature to repeal the food tax during the special legislative session that convenes September 7. This is an issue with which 82% of West Virginians, all Republican legislators, and enough Democratic legislators to give the Republicans a majority, agree. The only impediment is the Democratic leadership, which is so covetous of our money that they will not entertain any tax cut of any kind, regardless of what provisions we propose to ensure that the "loss of revenue" resulting from the cuts would come only from future revenue growth rather than actually reduce revenues from what they currently are. Click here and here for previous articles in which I outline the array of tax cut proposals the Ruling Party's leadership has obstructed because of their greed.

Also contained in Blankenship's speech was news that has been totally unreported in this state and also, sadly, not a surprise. Tony Arbaugh, the convicted serial child molester who was the focus on last year's bitterly-contested state Supreme Court race, is back in jail for reoffending. This time, the victims were underage girls. As I have written before, West Virginia needs to strengthen its sex offender laws to ensure that child molesters go to prison and don't get probation.

Attendees of the state committee meeting also learned that the party's finances are improving considerably. The party's debt, once estimated at over $200,000, has now been reduced by over $40,000 with settlements between the party and many of its creditors to settle the debts for reduced sums. Additionally, many creditors have not responded to letters of inquiry sent by the party's Debt Reconciliation Committee to each creditor requesting proof of their claims. In addition, the state party raised over $40,000 last week at a reception in Wheeling in conjunction with RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman's visit to speak to the Ohio County GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner. This amount is greater than any single-event fundraiser held by the party in several years.

West Virginia Republicans are unified, optimistic, and have the winning plan. The divisions and rancor that erupted earlier this year during the attempts to remove our former chairman are now ancient history. Already, we are well on our way to recruiting the candidates for the state Senate necessary to win the battle for control of the upper chamber next year. Control of the House of Delegates is not out of the question, although we face longer odds there since we are currently 19 seats short of a majority. The vast majority of Southern states whose legislatures have been overtaken by Republicans usually began with a takeover of the state Senate followed by the House--usually in the next election or two.

Based in the success of this conference, state Republican Chairman Rob Capehart plans to make the conference a semi-annual event to coincide with the state committee meetings. If you missed the 2005 Summer Conference, plan to attend the Winter Conference, dates to be announced.