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The die is cast on impeachment hearings

So, the much-anticipated House impeachment inquiry goes public today.  The country will be able to watch and listen as diplomats testify in open hearings and answer questions from Democrats and Republicans.

Each side has developed a strategy.  Democrats want to show that President Trump broke the law by trying to force Ukraine to gather dirt on Joe Biden that could impact the 2020 election.  Republicans argue that Trump had genuine concern about Ukrainian corruption and that his interest in withholding military aid was reasonable.

It’s live television and there are likely to be newsworthy moments, especially as congressional questioners try to generate sound bites, which they are wont to do. However, barring a smoking gun, it is unlikely public opinion is going to shift dramatically.

Americans are divided on impeachment.  FiveThirtyEight’s impeachment polling tracker shows that 47 percent believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 45 percent are against.  The poll also shows that Democrats have “picked off most of the persuadable voters when it comes to impeachment support,” so there’s not much room for movement toward removal.

Investigative hearings can damage a president. FiveThirtyEight cites research by Douglas Kriner and Eric Schickler showing that Richard Nixon’s approval rating fell significantly during the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973.  But America was captivated by those hearings—three out of four Americans watched—and it’s unclear if the Trump impeachment hearings will have the same appeal.

Trump’s overall approval rating ranges from the low to mid forties and it doesn’t move much.  “Trump has proven surprisingly resilient in the face of House Democrats’ investigations so far,” FiveThirtyEight reports.  “Although his approval rating is hovering around… 41.3 percent, it hasn’t dipped below 40 percent.”

So, Trump’s core support, although below fifty percent, is virtually unshakable. It is doubtful Democrats will be able to cut into that core support during hearings that Trump has repeatedly labeled as a “witch hunt.”

Kriner told FiveThirtyEight that much is already known about the Ukraine phone call, so the hearings could be short on the kind of drama that would change public opinion.

“There are advantages to having dramatic moments where unexpected things are said,” Kriner said.  Frankly, it’s just hard to know what would change the minds of the people who are still on Trump’s side.”

Meanwhile, another poll shows many Americans don’t even trust the process.  “About four-in-ten (43 percent) expect the Republicans in Congress will be fair in handling the inquiry, while slightly more (47 percent) say the same about Democrats in Congress,” Pew Research reports.

All this suggests an exercise that will push Americans of differing political views even farther apart, rather than reveal facts that would build consensus about whether Trump should be impeached.  It seems people have already made up their minds.

The Latin phrase most often associated with the impeachment inquiry is quid pro quo, but a more appropriate one is alea iacta est—the die is cast.



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West Virginia Network names Carl Powell as next director

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia Network has selected Carl Powell to serve as its next director, the organization announced on Tuesday.

Powell will oversee a staff of technology and higher education professionals, as well as a statewide communications network, internet services, databases and information to various public institutions and offices.

Powell previously served as vice president and chief information officer at universities in Colorado, Michigan and Ohio. Powell most recently was an independent technology and management consultant and chief information officer for the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio.

Sarah Tucker, the interim chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, said adding someone with this level of experience will be an asset for customers and students in addition to helping with the expansion of high-speed broadband.

“We are delighted to welcome Dr. Powell to West Virginia and look forward to his leadership in this critical need area of our state,” Tucker said. “From saving money through shared technology services, to increasing access to online classes to helping our state improve rural broadband internet access, I’m confident Carl will be a tremendous asset for all of our schools and communities.”

The West Virginia Network also operates the West Virginia Remote Online Collaborative Knowledge System, an online portal for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. The program allows college students in West Virginia to enroll in courses at their home institution but may be taught by shared faculty from multiple campuses.

“I am honored to be joining the team at WVNET. They are an exceptional group of talented individuals focused on the future vitality of West Virginia,” Powell said. “I look forward to working with this dedicated team to provide the technology services and support that our universities, colleges, and K-12 schools need for today’s challenges and for tomorrow’s opportunities.”

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State CHIP now covers maternal services

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Children’s Health Insurance Program will now cover maternity services, the state Department of Health and Human Resources announced on Tuesday.

People eligible for coverage include current members and newly pregnant women older than 19 years old with an income between 185% and 300% of the federal poverty level and no other health insurance coverage.

Coverage includes medical, pharmacy, dental, vision, behavioral health and prenatal care, in which a mother is eligible for services for 60 days after delivery and the child is eligible for coverage for up to one year.

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4 people arrested while attempting to become licensed electricians

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Four men face charges for their alleged scheme to become licensed electricians in West Virginia.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office said the men lied during the application process, noting there was information that raised concerns about identity theft and fraudulent credentials.

Each man showed up to take the necessary exam on Tuesday; the men were among the 150 people who applied to take the test in Charleston.

The men alleged they reside in Virginia and each faces a felony charge of forgery of a public record.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the matter with the help from West Virginia State Police, state Intelligence Fusion Center, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Charleston Police Department, U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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PEIA begins hearings on next fiscal year’s insurance plans

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The series of hearings regarding public employees’ health insurance plans began with a telephone town hall on Tuesday.

Ted Cheatham, the director of the Public Employees Insurance Agency, fielded questions from participants about the proposal for fiscal year 2021, in which coverage would begin next July for active and non-Medicare retirees. For Medicare retirees. the proposed changes will go into effect in January 2021.

“There should be absolutely no premium changes for state employees, non-state employees, non-Medicare retirees or Medicare retirees,” Cheatham said. “We are anticipating getting a little money from the PEIA Rainy Day Fund that was set up for us, so there will be no changes to premiums at this time recommended.”


Ted Cheatham

Cheatham said in March the recently created Rainy Day Fund could cover increasing costs for all state workers through fiscal year 2022.

Coverage for state employees will not toward an 80/20 plan under the Finance Board’s proposal.

There is an optional life insurance premium increase depending on coverage, as well as a basic life insurance increase.

There will be additional changes for active employees and non-Medicare retirees under the proposal: two free chiropractic visits for back pain only and Plan C that will no longer allow out-of-network coverage for out-of state-care. PEIA will also be launching wellness pilot programs in January aimed at diabetes prevention and weight control.

The next public hearing will take place Wednesday at the Erickson Alumni Center at West Virginia University. The hearing is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

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Running back recruit Lamy Constant commits to West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s moribund running attack has some welcome help arriving next fall.

Running back Lamy Constant announced his commitment to West Virginia Tuesday night, choosing the Mountaineers over offers from Michigan State and top-ranked LSU. Constant, a Brooklyn native, is a four-star recruit rated as the No. 3 overall prospect in the state of New York by Rivals.

Committed!! #HailWV #Takemehome20

— Lamy S. Constant (@ConstantLamy20) November 13, 2019

Constant has been West Virginia’s top priority at running back since the current coaching staff was brought aboard in January. His primary recruiter was running backs coach Chad Scott.

“Constant was the running back that West Virginia identified early in the process and now they have their man,” said WVU recruiting analyst Keenan Cummings. “He’s a versatile back that is going to have the opportunity to do some exciting things in this offense in the future.”

Constant is the second Brooklyn native to commit to the program since the start of Neal Brown’s coaching tenure. Wide receiver Sean Ryan transferred to West Virginia from Temple in the offseason.

Constant is the 13th player to commit to West Virginia’s 2020 class, and the first to make his move since the season started. The 6-foot, 190-pound back is the third four-star player in that group, joining offensive lineman Chris Mayo and quarterback Garrett Greene.

Constant is also the third high school player from New Jersey or New York in WVU’s 2020 class. The Mountaineers took no such prospects in their three most recent signing classes.

The Mountaineers are losing senior Kennedy McKoy to graduation. Martell Pettaway is expected to return as a senior next year after redshirting this season, and will be joined by junior-to-be Alec Sinkfield and redshirt freshman Tony Mathis.

Stuck behind an inexperienced interior line, this season has been a struggle for West Virginia’s running backs. The Mountaineers are 128th in the nation with an average of 75.7 rushing yards per game.

West Virginia’s commitments for 2020:

Lamy Constant  (Brooklyn, N.Y.)              6-0, 190  RB       4 stars

Chris Mayo (Richland, N.J.)              6-5, 305 OL          4 stars

Garrett Greene (Tallahassee, Fla.)           6-0, 175 QB          4 stars

Quay Mays (NW Mississippi CC/Bradenton, Fla.)      6-2, 290 DT    3 stars

Taurus Simmons (Savannah, Ga.)              6-3, 210 OLB          3 stars

Zach Frazier (Fairmont, W.Va.)              6-2, 277 OL           3 stars

Jairo Faverus (Filton, England)             6-0, 190 CB           3 stars

David Okoli (Gaithersburg, Md.)           5-11, 176 CB           3 stars

Lanell Carr (St. Louis, Mo.)                     6-3, 230 OLB           3 stars

Jacob Gamble (Iowa Western CC)              6-7, 325 OL           3 stars

Reese Smith (Danville, Ky.)          5-11, 175              WR         3 stars

Devell Washington (Bay City, Mich.)        6-4, 215      WR         3 stars

S.L. McCall (Iowa Western CC/Lake City, Fla.)      6-3, 200 OLB        3 stars

Charles Finley (Wayne, N.J.)                       6-4, 215     TE             2 stars

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Aetna ready for new management role regarding foster care

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Working with the West Virginia government is nothing new to Aetna Better Health of West Virginia; the company has managed the benefits of people in the state Medicaid program since 1996.

Now, Aetna Better Health of West Virginia has a larger task: manage the states’ foster care system and options for thousands of children.

“A lot of those activities we are well versed in; care coordination, case management, all those really vital aspects we have a lot of really strong people that live here and really know the culture, know the situation in the state and their state partners as well,” said Todd White, the CEO of the health care group. “We’re anxious to get started and start rolling out some of our programs that kids in the foster care program now don’t have access to.”

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced last week a contract worth an estimated $200 million for managing the overloaded system. More than 7,000 children are currently in the system, and the state is facing a class-action lawsuit and allegations of failing the state’s youngest citizens.

Josh Boynton, the vice president of Aetna Better Living, said the state has been busy changing the current system as well as pushing initiatives in the name of improvement.

“We really can’t think of a better first partner than West Virginia to roll out this revolutionary new approach,” he said. “This is a collaborative one, a proactive one. It’s a holistic approach, and it’s not only focused on the child’s well-being but the family’s well-being.”

Boynton said it’s important for the organization to help children as “the foundation of lifelong health are built in childhood.”

“As a health care leader in this state for many, many years, we are excited to stand shoulder to shoulder with the state, with their families, with providers, with advocates, all of the stakeholders and the kids that we’re supporting,” he said. “This is a collaborative approach. It’s one where we firmly believe the solutions are in West Virginia and the families, the kids, the communities and the providers. Our approach is about bringing people together.”

Having Aetna Better Health of West Virginia as a managed care organization will allow for tailored services to meet the needs of the state and the foster care system, as well as coordination of care between members and transitioning children to community-based treatment in the state.

The move will result in around 20,000 new members to Aetna for services.

Aetna Better Health of West Virginia will hire around 100 new employees focused on this new task.

Some employees will be based in Charleston, but White noted employees will be based around the state.

“If someone is living in Jefferson County or Wheeling or down in McDowell (County), we’re anxious. We’re anxious for folks that are willing to get their hands dirty and get in and help us with this new project,” he said.

“It’s a local approach,” Boynton added. “That’s what we are most proud of, and I think that is what people will see.”

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Survey says Charleston small businesses struggle with a quality workforce

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A quality workforce in terms of soft skills is the biggest issue facing small businesses in Charleston, according to a survey by the Charleston Area Alliance.

Fifty Charleston businesses were surveyed in a project called “Charleston Business Snapshot” as part of a grant from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and BB&T.  Officials from the alliance went door-to-door for the in-person surveys that took weeks to complete.

Sixteen percent of business owners responded to their biggest challenge as quality workforce while 12% said the loss of population, 12% safety/vagrancy, 9% internet, 7% parking, and 5% tax law changes.

Susie Salisbury, the VP of Community Development for the Charleston Area Alliance said small businesses are the heart of Charleston and they must always look for ways to improve them.

“We don’t have that many manufacturers within our city limits so our B&O tax base is more based on these smaller businesses,” she said.

“We need to have our finger on the pulse of what their concerns are, how could we assist them more, what are the great things that we could enhance?”

Included in the survey were questions comparing 2017 to 2018. For employment, nearly 63% of businesses said it stayed the same, while both increase and decrease received 18.8% of the answer.

Just more than half of the small businesses saw an increase in revenue over the past year at 51% while 30% saw a decrease and 19% stayed the same.

Forty-five percent of surveyed businesses anticipate growth in 2020.

Salisbury said the survey also got opinionated.

“We asked them a question, in your opinion, does your Charleston location enhance, hurt, or have no impact on your business. The good news is most people said it enhanced it,” she said.

The survey showed that 54.5% of respondents said it enhanced business while 27.3% said it hurt and 18.2% said their Charleston location has no impact on business.

Of note, 30% of businesses surveyed have offices outside of Charleston and 40% of business owners surveyed live outside of city limits.

Salisbury said the alliance hopes to continue this kind of survey every few years.

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Kansas State has West Virginia’s full attention following Texas Tech dud

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Needless to say, West Virginia is not currently a good enough football team to win a game without dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s. That was the case against Texas Tech on Saturday, and it ended up costing the Mountaineers dearly in a blowout loss.

“Our margin for error is really small,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “When you aren’t emotionally or mentally locked in for every single play, if you don’t do exactly what you are coached to do and make the routine plays that are right there, you get exposed. And that’s what happened on Saturday.”

Senior defensive lineman Reese Donahue said his unit came into the game too convinced that it had turned a corner after playing its best game of the year against Baylor the previous week.

“I don’t think we handled success well,” Donahue said. “I think we’ve been handling adversity well. We have not had a good shot at handling success yet. That was our opportunity to handle success, and we didn’t do it. It was too new.”

West Virginia’s defensive front was dominant against Baylor, finishing the game with eight sacks and a memorable goal-line stand. Against Texas Tech, the Mountaineers (3-6, 1-5 Big 12) allowed touchdowns on the first five drives. On two of them, the Red Raiders converted short fourth downs.

“That’s on me as a leader. That’s on Darius and Dante [Stills] now that they’ve stepped into leadership roles,” Donahue said. “That’s on the entire defensive line.”

Neal Brown’s pregame press conference

It will take an extreme case of attentiveness this Saturday if the Mountaineers are going to upset Kansas State and maintain any hope of reaching a bowl game. The Wildcats (6-3, 3-3) start five redshirt senior offensive linemen and grind mistake-prone opponents into dust.

“They are the most complicated offense we’ve seen this year, without exception,” said WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. “The formations, personnel groupings, plays. Their blocking schemes. Most teams have 2-3 protections. There’s is exponential. It’s really impressive what they’ve been doing.”

Kansas State’s offense is a carryover from new coach Chris Klieman’s scheme at North Dakota State, where he was 69-6 as a head coach.

“When you looked at the teams that defended [North Dakota State], they had the ability to do some things that I don’t think we can do,” Koenning said.

That reality is acceptable to Donahue, because he knows it will produce better play from West Virginia.

“It’s hard when you play great to still be hungry,” Donahue said. “When you lose and get your butt kicked, if that doesn’t fuel your fire, then this game isn’t for you.”

Quarterback question

Brown reiterated his postgame point that quarterback is far from the only issue afflicting West Virginia’s offense. Relative to other positions on that side of the ball, he views Austin Kendall’s play as a strength.

“We’ve got issues on offense,” Brown said. “Our quarterback play hasn’t been tremendous, but it hasn’t been the reason we’ve struggled.”

Kendall is sixth in the Big 12 with 1,969 passing yards, but eighth with 12 touchdowns and ninth with a 122.9 efficiency rating.

That said, Brown indicated a strong probability of backup Jarret Doege potentially seeing some action before the game is well out of reach.

“We do have a plan that you will see on Saturday after kickoff,” Brown said.

Injury updates

Linebacker Josh Chandler will be back in the lineup this week. He has been out since leaving the Oklahoma game with a knee strain. Chandler attempted to come back last week, but Brown held him out because he felt “less than 100 percent.”

Offensive line coach Matt Moore indicated right guard Chase Behrndt is likely to play this week as well. Behrndt warmed up last week, but did not feel comfortable enough to play. James Gmiter slid over to right guard in his place, while Mike Brown started at left guard.

“I think Chase is going to be better this week, so we’ll have a little bit of a different lineup,” Moore said.

Receiver Sean Ryan is returning to practice this week as well. His playing status won’t be known until the end of the week. He’s been out since leaving with an injury late in the Texas game.

Fellow receiver T.J. Simmons is out of his walking boot, but remains questionable against Kansas State.

Brown said a decision will be made regarding kicker Evan Staley later this week. Staley has missed the past two games.

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Justice mining companies want UMW lawsuit over retiree benefits to be dismissed

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Coal companies owned by Gov. Jim Justice and his family are asking that a federal lawsuit filed by retired miners and their union be dismissed.

Lawyers for the Justice mine companies filed a motion to dismiss last week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

Four retired coal miners and the United Mine Workers union filed the lawsuit in August, charging that claiming coal companies owned by the Justice family failed to consistently pay health and pharmaceutical costs promised under a nationwide agreement.

Named in the lawsuit were Justice Energy Co., Keystone Service Industries, Bluestone Coal and Southern Coal Corp.

Lawyers for the companies filed a response on Nov. 5, contending the plaintiffs didn’t exhaust remedies that were available through arbitration.

“Rather,” wrote lawyers for the Justice companies, “Plaintiffs attempt an end-run around these well-known mandatory requirements.”

The Justice companies also contend the lawsuit doesn’t provide enough specifics about what health care expenses were not paid for the four miners.

“The Complaint provides almost no detail as to which expenses were allegedly not paid and merely identifies them in summary categories,” the lawyers wrote.

Asked for response to the motion to dismiss, United Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith said only, “We will be responding to their filings in court.”

The UMW claims the Justice companies violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, affecting dozens of retired miners.

The Justice companies were a part of the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 2016, which included medical and prescription benefits for retirees, their spouses and dependents. The companies’ agreements were effective through Dec. 31, 2021.

The UMW says the companies have failed to pay undisputed claims since at least late 2017, the year Justice became governor, until now.

Furthermore, the lawsuit claims the companies unilaterally canceled retiree medical and prescription drug coverage this past July 1, with partial coverage restored July 2.

One attempt to resolve the situation occurred this past June 27, the UMW states, when the union mailed two identical, certified letters to the vice president for human resources for two of the Justice companies.

“Defendants did not respond to those letters and did not resolve the unpaid bills,” the UMW’s lawsuit states.

The Justice companies counter that such letters would not meet fundamental requirements for a grievance under the national bituminous wage agreement or a claim under the companies’ health care plans.

“In other words,” the Justice lawyers wrote, “regardless of whether Defendants responded to the UMWA letter, the Plaintiffs skipped all the steps necessary to avoid an exhaustion defense. This is fatal to Plaintiffs’ claim.”

The UMW and the retired miners are asking first for an injunction to have the Justice companies resume paying for healthcare and pharmaceutical costs while the broader issues are resolved.

The lawsuit also asks for compensatory damages plus reimbursement for the medical and prescription drug bills already due.

The four retired miners who are specifically named in the UMW’s federal lawsuit say their healthcare needs have been delayed.

James Graham II, a retired miner from Monroe County who was covered under Justice Energy, underwent back surgery in June 2018.

“Defendants did not pay for that surgery. Further, because the bill for the surgery was unpaid, Mr. Graham was forced to delay necessary, post-surgery follow-up treatment.”

Dennis Adkins, a retired miner now living in North Carolina, was insured under Keystone Service Industries. He has had to pay out of pocket for medical treatment for chronic conditions.

Roger Wriston, a retired miner in Fayette County, was covered under Bluestone Coal but has been receiving “distressing and embarrassing calls for bills that should have been covered by his retiree benefits plan.”

His wife needs medical treatment for her back, “but has not received necessary injections because they have no confidence that the bills will be paid by the insurance company.”

David Polk, a retired miner in Wyoming County, was insured under Double-Bonus Coal. He needs medicine for an abnormal heartbeat and high cholesterol.

“Also, he has been forced to cancel doctor’s appointments because he does not have coverage for the appointment. Moreover, he cannot afford his prescription drugs.”

The UMW says those miners are examples of what other retirees are facing.

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