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West Virginia politics wears out veteran lawmakers

Four veteran members of the West Virginia Legislature have announced, just in the last few weeks, that they are not running for re-election next year.

(Read more here, here and here.)

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, Senate Minority Whip Corey Palumbo, House Minority Leader Tim Miley and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott have all decided to get out of politics.

Prezioso, Palumbo and Miley are Democrats. Shott is a Republican. Collectively, they have almost three-quarters of a century in the state Legislature. Prezioso is the senior man, with 30 years.

Each has his own personal reasons for stepping away from politics—spending more time with family is a common theme—but they all mention the increasing tribalism of politics today.

Shott said on Talkline yesterday that, after a decade in Charleston, he’s over it. “I’ve certainly enjoyed the challenge, but I’m sick and tired of the game and the posturing and the political ambushes that go on. It just wears down on you,” he said.

Miley added in his concern about the increasing role of money in elections and the growing political divide. “We cannot continue playing politics in a state this small and one that has so many inherent obstacles to overcome,” he said. “All we risk is further alienating people from coming here.”

Prezioso told me earlier this month that, after three decades in the Legislature and at age 70, he’s ready to hang it up. But like his cohorts, he has seen a change in the atmosphere. “People now think the art of compromise is showing weakness. It was a pleasure to work with both sides and try to come up with a reasonable piece of legislation, but that’s not the way it is, and I’m not sure it’s going to change for a while,” he said.

Palumbo said the deterioration of politics in Washington has now filtered down to West Virginia. “It used to be, the Senate in particular was a place where we would come and solve problems and have respectful disagreements, but that has all really changed. It’s just what’s come of politics in general.”

For long-time Democrats like Palumbo, Prezioso and Miley, it has also been difficult adjusting to being in the minority. The considerable clout of the majority has rested with Republicans since the 2014 election and it is not likely to change anytime soon.

The frustration of the four is understandable. The politics of making and implementing public policy in West Virginia have become more contentious, and that grates on people. With all four of the political retirees, I sense a weariness that they cannot get out from under.

In politics, the story is always “next person up,” and some will see the retirement of these Capitol veterans as an opportunity for younger, enthusiastic politicians who want their turn in the Legislature.

However, newcomers to the House and the Senate, especially those who will assume leadership positions, should carefully consider what the departing members are saying; politics is becoming more partisan all the time.

The stoic marble of the Capitol rotunda belies the rough and tumble reality under the dome.

 

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2 Huntington men sentenced for marijuana distribution scheme

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Two Huntington men have been sentenced for their roles in a scheme to mail marijuana from California to Huntington.

James Waylon Molinaro, 44, and Chris Crookshanks, 43, previously admitted to conspiring to distribute marijuana as part of a scheme between 2013 and March 2018. Molinaro paid multiple postal employees once packages arrived in Huntington, including Crookshanks.

Molinaro admitted to the shipment and distribution of at least 100 kilograms of marijuana, and Crookshanks admitted he delivered at least 40 kilograms during the scheme.

Molinaro was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison; he previously pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana and prohibited possession of a firearm by a felon from an unrelated investigation.

Crookshanks was sentenced to three years of supervised release and must spend 12 weeks in jail. He previously entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

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LGBTQ leader talks about cancellation of Drag Queen Story Time

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Two days after the Morgantown Public Library System canceled its Drag Queen Story Time, reactions to the cancellation continues.

A group not affiliated with the library scheduled a volunteer reading event for last Saturday, which was met with violent threats targeting the LGBTQ community.

Ash Cutright, the president of the Morgantown Pride, said participants had their information doxed and lives threatened.

“The queer community here in Morgantown is very resilient, but also very tired,” they said. “As a trans person in the Morgantown community and the president of Morgantown Pride, I see this tiredness and hurt almost every day now.”

A rally was held Saturday in support of the LGBTQ community. More than 100 people attended the event.

But Cutright said more needs to be done to protect people.

“While I am upset with what has happened over the last week, I think we can use these as steps to move forward,” they added.

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Struggles continue for Herd with loss to College of Charleston

By David Walsh

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — College of Charleston used a big second half to knock off Marshall, 76-66, in men’s college basketball Tuesday night at Cam Henderson Center.

It was the first meeting between the two teams and the first road game of the year for the Cougars, who are in the Colonial Athletic Association.

The Thundering Herd (1-3) suffered its third straight defeat in front of 6,384.

“I’m proud of my players coming into a hostile environment,” Cougars coach Earl Grant said. “We knew it would be a tough game. I’ve followed Marshall the last 20 years, so I know about this program and its tradition. They play a very unique style. I give my players credit for following the game plan and showing great toughness. They found a way to win against a really good team.”

Grant Riller, top scorer for the Cougars with a 21.7 average, led College of Charleston (3-1) with 22 points. He made 9-of-12 shots with a trio of three-pointers. The league’s preseason pick for player of the year has reached double figures in 32 straight games. 

Sam Miller came off the bench and hit for a season-high 13 by sinking 6-of-7 attempts.

Jaylen McManus and Brevin Galloway each scored 12 and Zep Jaster contributed 10. The Cougars, who shot 41.6 percent from the field entered the game, hit 48.4 percent (30-of-62).

Marshall’s shooters again struggled from the floor even though four players reached double figures.

Sophomore guard Taevion Kinsey led the way with 13 points. Jarrod West and Mikel Beyers had 12 each and Jannson Williams 11 each. The four were a combined 16-of-44 from the floor.

The teams went back and forth in the first half and left the court tied 35-35 at intermission. Galloway made a layup with 13:48 left to put College of Charleston ahead to stay, 51-49.

Trevon Reddish sank two free throws with 12:40 to play to extend the lead for the Cougars to 56-49. Goran Miladinovic netted two on a layup with 9:35 on the clock to get the Thundering Herd with three at 59-56. A Zasper jumper with 8:50 to play started the pullaway by the Cougars.

“They have a lot of length. I thought they were longer than us,” Grant said. “Obviously, taller than us. I thought we were quicker. You have to use what you got. We had speed and quickness. We used it and we came up with some steals and deflections. We were concerned about the game with their style of play and how they move the ball.

“Coach (D’Antoni) does a great job of getting his guys playing with speed and pace. You have to be very focused when guarding them. I thought our players did a good job of that tonight.”

College of Charleston is now 37-14 all-time against Conference USA members. This was the team’s second visit to the Mountain State. The Cougars lost at West Virginia in 2014.

Marshall’s next game is Thursday at home against Howard as part of the Men Against Breast Cancer Invitational. Start time is 8 p.m. ESPN3 has the game live.

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Brown not worried about bowl game quarterback situation with Doege

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Had anyone asked Neal Brown about a bowl game over the course of the past month, it likely would have evoked a response similar to former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora’s legendary “playoffs?!?” rant.

Now it doesn’t seem quite as silly.

After upsetting Kansas State this weekend, West Virginia will make a bowl game if it wins its final two games against Oklahoma State and TCU. Though it’s not be a likelihood on paper, the Mountaineers are certainly motivated to close out strong.

“Think about it, we have a lot to play for,” said senior defensive end Reese Donahue. “Chance at a bowl game. Sending out the seniors right. The way things went down last year against Oklahoma State.

“Why would you not want to play as hard as you can and prepare as well as you can? We have what, 10 days guaranteed? After that we’re not guaranteed anything. Why would you not lay it on the line?”

If the Mountaineers do win out, though, it would bring up a postseason dilemma. Quarterback Jarret Doege would have already played in his full allotment of four games, meaning he’d have to be benched for the actual bowl game.

Would Austin Kendall be willing to start after being soured by his benching in favor of Doege? Would it be similar to last year’s bowl game with the inexperienced Trey Lowe playing the role of Jack Allison?

These are questions that Brown admits he has not put any thought into.

“Let’s worry about that when it happens, how about that?” Brown said during his Tuesday press conference before relenting with a more detailed reply.

“I haven’t mentioned the word ‘bowl’ in this building until just now. It’s not something I really talk about. My message since that debacle in the first half at Missouri is ‘just get better.’ That’s been our singular focus. I just want to improve as we go.

“Saturday was the best we’ve played as a football team. I just want to make sure we put a much better product on the field for our fans this Saturday than we did the last time we were in this stadium. We’re really not focusing on end-of-season goals or anything like that.”

WVU-Oklahoma State video preview

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State officials examine how to encourage more bidders on flood relief

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State officials are trying to find ways to diversify the number of contractors who are working on new homes for the victims of the major flood that hit West Virginia more than three years ago.

State auditors told members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding that one company has dominated the bidding for hundreds of homes and contracts worth millions of dollars.

The auditors did not indicate anything illegal or improper has occurred. But bidding has resulted in very little competition.

Thompson Construction of North Carolina has won 10 of 12 active construction projects, testified Adam Fridley, a manager in the Legislature’s Post Audit Division.

That has amounted to 309 homes with a total contracted value of $46 million.

“Based on our limited review it does appear each of these contracts were competitively bid, awarded to the low bidder and we have seen nothing at this point that present any issues to the contracts themselves,” Fridley told lawmakers.

Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer, the state’s point man on flood relief, clarified that there are two additional contracts beyond the ones Fridley had summarized.

State officials have been talking about ways to entice additional contractors to bid on the work, either in the form of outreach efforts to local contractor organizations or through potential tweaks to purchasing laws aimed.

Dean Jeffries

“It is obvious that we have the dominance of one contractor in this process,” Delegate Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, said after Tuesday evening’s meeting. “Is that what we want? No. We’d like to see more people involved. We’d like to see more local contractors involved.

“We’re working on getting more local contractors involved whether it be lowering or do away with the bond. There’s different things we’ve got to look at to figure it out. We are making progress on some legislation that will hopefully bring more contractors into this process.”

Another member of the flood committee, Senator Glenn Jeffries, agreed that more needs to be done to promote competition.

Glenn Jeffries

“Lots of us have concerns that being one contractor — that’s a problem that we’re having as far as getting homes completed,” said Jeffries, D-Kanawha. “So we’re hopefully addressing this with new legislation we’re going to be looking at.”

Those leading the flood relief effort said they have reviewed 1,400 cases with another 150 to examine for eligibility.

Right now, there are 394 cases under RISE West Virginia.

Of those, 331 have been awarded to a construction contractor or subrecipient. There are 64 homes in active construction, which officials often describe as “hammers and nails.”

There are 81 homes complete.

“We’d like to see the pace even quicker. We’d like to see more foundations being put in,” Senator Jeffries said.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, W.Va. adjutant general

Hoyer told members of the flood committee that a top priority right now is laying foundations before winter weather hits. With foundations in place, construction on other aspects of housing can continue through the frost, he said.

“What we’re looking at is trying to get as many foundations as close to December 31 as possible,” he said.



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With no changes to health care coverage imminent, attention already focused on future PEIA proposals

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While premiums and benefits will not change for state employees in the next fiscal year, eyes are already on the future.

The Public Employees Insurance Agency will need to spend $100 million over the next two years to prevent individual costs increases as the state continues to face growing health care insurance expenses.

Members of the PEIA Finance Board have held three public hearings so far regarding their proposal for fiscal year 2021; more than 20 people took part in Tuesday’s event at the state Culture Center in Charleston.

The public hearings are scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., but Tuesday’s event ended shortly after 6:30 p.m. because of a lack of speakers.

While many of the attendees of the Finance Board’s public hearings this month have been satisfied with what will go into effect, Fred Albert, the president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, noted there is uneasiness about the future.

“The following year, we know that there’s probably going to be some increases,” Albert said. “Our legislators need to do their job and find a permanent, long-term funding source to fix this PEIA situation for a long, long time.”

Albert said members of his union are happy with the upcoming plan, which will go into effect in July.

File

Fred Albert, AFT-West Virginia President

“This is a very unusual year,” he joked to MetroNews. “I’ve been coming to PEIA hearings with the Finance Board for many, many years as a leader with AFT, and this year, it’s good. We came actually thanking the board for their work as being good stewards of managing the public funds that take care of PEIA.”

The state Legislature approved $105 million earlier this year to keep hikes or cuts from happening.

PEIA Director Ted Cheatham said reactions at the public hearings so far have been positive.

“We have made no changes. There is nothing to be concerned about yet, so people are pretty pleased things have moved along,” he said.

Yet in his public comments, Albert stressed the need for a permanent funding solution for PEIA before the state cannot cover a rise in health care costs.

“That’s what we asked for in 2018, and that’s what we’re asking again,” he said.

Cheatham agreed, saying health care costs will increase between 7% and 10% annually.

“On a plan of our size, that’s around $50 million. Could be more, could be a little bit less,” he said.

“It’s an escalating amount of money. Finding a sustainable source by saying, ‘Let’s take this tax revenue source that generates $20 million a year” … that’s not a growing rate of money. It needs to grow to cover this escalating cost.”

Albert challenged lawmakers to come up with a solution; he noted AFT-West Virginia is not endorsing a specific plan.

“It’s their job. It’s not our job to find a source for them. That’s our legislator’s jobs. That’s why we elect them,” he said.

The Finance Board will hold forums at the Beckley Raleigh County Convention Center on Wednesday at the Martinsburg Holiday Inn on Thursday. Both events are scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

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Kanawha Valley Report: Week 13

GAMES TO WATCH

CLASS AAA

No. 7 George Washington (8-3) at No. 2 Cabell Midland (11-0)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last week: The Patriots earned a hard-fought 17-10 win over Huntington. The Knights remained unbeaten by taking care of Riverside, 42-6.

Why it’s important: Although both schools are in the Mountain State Athletic Conference, they did not face each other in the regular season. Since starting 0-2, GW’s only loss is to Spring Valley, and two months ago, not many thought the Patriots would be in this position. Cabell Midland has passed every test this season, but would be disappointed to not at least reach a semifinal.

Who to watch for George Washington: Quarterback R.T. Alexander keys the offense and is capable of extending plays. Alexander threw a pair of touchdowns against the Highlanders in the opening round. The Patriots’ defense has somewhat quietly been stout and allowed a total of 92 points over the team’s current six-game win streak, including 44 points over the last four games.

Who to watch for Cabell Midland: Wake Forest commit J.J. Roberts gives the offense another dimension with his ability to breakaway in the open field and find targets in the passing game. Roberts rushed for a touchdown last week and threw a 58-yard TD to Hayden Hass, who also scored on the ground.

No. 11 Capital (6-5) at No. 3 Spring Valley (10-1)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last week: The Cougars were the highest seed to win an opening-round game after handling Wheeling Park, 45-21. The Timberwolves used a strong second half to eliminate Hurricane, 34-6.

Why it’s important: A rematch of a Class AAA semifinal from last season, this matchup pits two of the premier programs in Class AAA. Capital is one of the more dangerous double digit seeds in recent memory and proved why last week. Spring Valley has been to the Super Six each of the last three seasons and had its way with Capital back on Oct. 4 in a 41-0 win.

Who to watch for Capital: The Cougars had more success through the air than on the ground in the regular season. Although Evan Landers threw for 244 yards in the win over the Patriots, it was the Cougars’ ground game that made a major difference. Chance Knox and Tay Calloway combined for 291 rushing yards and five scores. Capital likely won’t be able to duplicate the same success on the ground against Spring Valley, but establishing the run to keep the Timberwolves’ defense honest is crucial.

Who to watch for Spring Valley: Quarterback Nate Ellis is pivotal to the offense, as are David Livingston and Luke Christopher. As always for the Timberwolves, success starts up front and lineman Wyatt Milum is the driving force of that group.

CLASS AA

No. 6 Oak Glen (11-0) at No. 3 Poca (11-0)

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Last week: The Golden Bears had their way with Wyoming East, 55-13. The Dots outscored North Marion, 42-27.

Why it’s important: A quarterfinal clash between a pair of unbeaten teams is something you almost never see. Although the two schools are separated by more than 200 miles, each is enjoying a historic season. Unfortunately the run will come to an end for one team Saturday, but whoever moves on will be just one win away from getting to Wheeling.

Who to watch for Oak Glen: The Golden Bears have used a balanced offense to their advantage all season. A week ago, quarterback Nick Chaney threw four touchdown passes. Hunter Patterson and Paxton Shuman are key to the ground game, while Gage Patterson and Michael Lemley scored defensive touchdowns against the Warriors.

Who to watch for Poca: For anybody opposing the Dots, the game plan starts with trying to limit tailback Ethan Payne. Payne is one of the top Kennedy Award candidates this season and accounted for 294 rushing yards and five scores a week ago. Payne’s younger brother, Toby Payne, is a major factor on defense and a key to the Dots’ passing attack.

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How calm prevented snowball from growing on WVU at Kansas State

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In the course of a week, West Virginia was able to change its attitude from “here we go again” to “let’s go” after dealing with a catastrophic play.

The Mountaineers allowed touchdowns on the first five possessions of their 38-17 loss to Texas Tech, including an 81-yard pass that marked the moment where the wheels officially blew off in that game.

Four plays into the Kansas State game, West Virginia’s defense appeared to be living the nightmare all over again. The most consistent player in WVU’s secondary, cornerback Keith Washington, was burned for a 68-yard touchdown pass. Coming on the heels of a three-and-out for the West Virginia offense, it somehow felt even more damaging than it was on the scoreboard.

“With that three-and-out where we didn’t do our job, and then they come out and throw a bomb, you’re like ‘Here we go. Another rough game,’” said left tackle Colton McKivitz.

Things were precarious, at best, for a team already mired in a five-game losing streak. But then something very different happened from the Texas Tech fiasco.

It began with the player who made the mistake, Washington.

“We didn’t go and lose our mind like we did the week before,” said defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, noting that the player who gave up the 81-yard score the previous week did not handle it as well. “The [person who] gave it up went over and made things a big drama. Keith did a good job of handling it.”

Washington was calm because he knew there was a lot of football left to play, and that West Virginia’s gameplan of challenging the run-heavy Wildcats to throw the ball was going to pay off if there were no more mistakes.

“It was a communication error on my part,” Washington said. “But I play corner. I realize people are going to catch touchdowns. There are still a full four quarters left to play. I can’t put my head down. I just sucked it up and played the rest of the game.”

It was not just the defense that responded in a positive fashion. By the next time it hit the field, it was with a clean slate thanks to a response from the Mountaineer offense.

“Complimentary football is key,” noted senior defensive lineman Reese Donahue.

Neal Brown pregame press conference

The drive was Jarret Doege’s first true test as West Virginia’s quarterback. A turnover or even another three-and-out might have put the Mountaineers on the path to another blowout, but he proved unflappable on the drive.

Doege stood out in particular in the red zone as West Virginia looked destined to settle for a field goal attempt.

Mike Brown was called for a false start, pushing a manageable second-and-2 into an annoying second-and-7. Doege wasn’t fazed, though, finding an open Sean Ryan for a first down – that is, until Ryan let the pass tumble to the ground for an incompletion.

On third down, Doege found George Campbell in the end zone against the top third-down defense in the Big 12.

“He got hit a couple times early, and just the way he responded on the sideline – we asked if he was good, and he was like ‘Yeah, I’ve got it,’” McKivitz said. “The way he responded to adversity, that extra fight he had and the playmaking ability he has is pretty good.”

With that crucial scoring drive, Washington said that he was able to put his mistake firmly in the rearview mirror, allowing himself and the rest of the defense to play the remainder of the game with full confidence.

“It made me feel better. We were back to 0-0, a fresh start,” Washington said. “Teammates are always going to have your back. If one of us goes down, the other side has to pick us back up.”

Saturday’s performance was West Virginia’s best example of living up to that premise in Neal Brown’s opening season.

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American Heart Association launches campaign aimed at “Big Vape”

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In West Virginia, 14.3 percent of high school students have self-reported e-cigarette use to the Truth Initiative. Nationally, that rate is 25 percent.

In the past two years alone, the number of teens who vape has doubled, all numbers according to those with the American Heart Association (AHA).

That is why the AHA and other health organizations have launched a national campaign targeting “Big Vape companies” to address youth use of e-cigarettes.

“I want people to understand that this is an epidemic. We have rarely seen such a significant, rapid uptick in the usage of products. It’s really quite startling,” Bob Pepper, board member of the AHA’s Metro Board told MetroNews.

Pepper, who is also a member of the Charleston board, was recently in Philadelphia for the launch of the campaign.

There are three components to the campaign: investments of $20 million in research focused on the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use on young people; efforts to change public policy at all levels of government to prevent youth vaping and nicotine addiction and launches of a nationwide youth, school and community engagement and awareness campaign, dubbed #QuitLying.

Pepper said the big vape companies have lied to children about vaping by using popular flavors such as mango and mint to attract them.

“They denied it but frankly it’s a lie. Hence our hashtag quit lying,” he said. “They have used it remarkably successfully to market this product to kids.”

Vaping industry faces a triple threat – science, advocacy and community action
American Heart Association announces sweeping research investment, policy advocacy fund and youth activation campaign demanding “Big Vape” to #QuitLying https://t.co/OyN4qCfnCx pic.twitter.com/zpmoHa42sn

— Philadelphia AHA (@AHAPhilly) November 15, 2019

Pepper added that funding is desperately needed at the state level to address tobacco education and cessation programs. He said it will be the association’s top priority come next legislative sessions to address the issues of lack of funding compared to previous years.

There was a $1 million allocation for this year.

“That money was removed,” Pepper said. “We were one of only two or three states in the nation that had no funding at the state level for cessation and education. That is ironic given the fact that we have the highest per capita smoking rates in the country.”

Digital and social media tools will be utilized to reach young people in the campaign. More information is available at www.QuitLying.org.

“E-cigarette companies lie to our kids when they falsely claim their products are safe and they deceive parents by marketing devices that look like USB drives, pens, and eyeliner,” Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, said in a statement.

“The industry’s lies don’t just sound like Big Tobacco — the industry is Big Tobacco.”

She and others have started referring to the vaping industry as “Big Vape.”

The new steps supplement past and ongoing AHA work to restrict tobacco sales to adults 21 and older, prohibit marketing to kids, including e-cigarettes in comprehensive smoke-free laws and tax e-cigarettes at the same rates as traditional tobacco.

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