The Voice of West Virginia
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders went after West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin recently in an opinion piece published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Sanders, employing his predictable “greedy rich vs. the helpless poor” rhetoric, tried to shame Manchin into backing the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. The legislation would dramatically expand the social welfare system in this country, while using billions in taxpayer dollars to incentivize alternative energy.
As the Wall Street Journal’s conservative columnist William McGurn asked rhetorically, “If you were a Democrat appealing to the good people of West Virginia, is Bernie Sanders the guy you’d want making your pitch?”
Manchin’s first instinct is to get along, find common ground and see where there is a deal to be done. But he did not take kindly to Sanders going on the offensive in his home state newspaper.
“This isn’t the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state,” Manchin responded. (The Senator knows well our parochial nature, and clearly is not above using it when necessary.)
In fairness, Sanders is not exactly an unknown quantity here. Sanders campaigned in West Virginia during his 2016 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. He easily outdistanced eventual nominee Hillary Clinton 51 percent to 36 percent in the Primary Election.
When you come to one of the most economically depressed areas of the state—Sanders’ town hall meeting was in Kimball in McDowell County—and give an impassioned speech about income inequality, it strikes a nerve.
“When you have kids who have no hope and no opportunity, and when this takes place in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, something is fundamentally wrong,” Sanders told the audience that day.
Hundreds of thousands of West Virginians benefit from a range of federal programs and social services—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, tax credits, rental assistance, childcare subsidies, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Head Start, college aid, on and on.
But just don’t call it “socialism.” West Virginia is a conservative state that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, and Sanders is a socialist. Manchin was quick to point that out in his response to Sanders. “No op-ed from a self-declared Independent Socialist,” Manchin said in a statement.
Manchin knows his state, and he has been successful at charting a middle ground, which is increasingly difficult in today’s polarized political environment. The state’s progressives fantasize about replacing him, but that is a fool’s errand.
Sanders’ venture into Manchin territory changed nothing in the ongoing budget discussions, except to irritate the very person holding the strongest hand. If Sanders were more realistic, he would meet Manchin where he is pliable—at the negotiating table where a compromise could be reached.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Photo gallery from Trinity’s 10-0 win over Magnolia in the opening round of the Class AA-A sectional soccer playoffs. The Warriors will face Wheeling Central Catholic in the semifinal round Thursday.
(Photo gallery by Teran Malone)
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ONA, W.Va. — Photo gallery from Cabell Midland’s 35-7 win over George Washington.
(Photo gallery courtesy of John Hagley Photography)
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MAIDSVILLE, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection held a hearing Tuesday focused on a proposed expansion of a natural gas-fired power facility in Monongalia County.
The forum focused on a $1.1 billion expansion of the Longview Power facility, which currently generates enough electricity to serve 65 million people in a 13-state region. The 1,200-megawatt expansion will include a cycle gas turbine facility and a related transmission line.
Longview Power is seeking an air quality permit for the expansion.
Shane Ferguson, a representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, argued for the expansion, saying the facility would attract young electricians looking for their first jobs.
“It’s a lifelong career for a lot of apprentices,” he said. “We have apprentices that are now journeymen who started their career on the original project on that site.”
Bryan Raber with the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union said the project would result in the creation of hundreds of construction jobs and other positions supporting workers.
“The project is a huge job creator for the local workers,” he said. ” With the owner’s written commitment to hire local union construction workers and a payroll during construction of over $110 million, it would not only benefit the workers and their families but the community.”
Residents of the Cheat Lake area spoke against the proposal; Duane Nichols said the state should reject the permit application because of the facility’s proposed location near Monongalia County hospitals and schools.
“The location puts it in a special category and that any measure of environmental quality and environmental justice would disqualify it on that basis,” he said.
Betsy Lawson talked about the current effects of fossil fuel burning in her community, including how acid rain has affected forests near her home.
“Every day, I walk along Sugar Grove Road and many of the trees I see are sick or dead,” she said. “Adding more pollution does not just affect the Fort Martin community, but the entire eastern seaboard.”
James Kotcon, the chairman of the West Virginia Sierra Club Conservation Committee, said the expansion would add a fossil fuel facility to the state during a time when West Virginia should be embracing renewable energy generation.
“Any new facility like this is planning to run for many many years,” he said. “We simply can’t tolerate that if we’re going to protect our climate.”
The Department of Environmental Protection will accept written public comments through Nov. 1. Interested people can send comments to Edward Andrews, WV Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Air Quality, 601 57th Street, SE, Charleston, WV 25304. People may also email comments to Edward.S.Andrews@wv.gov.
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— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Agustin Iusem can now be found in the Marshall soccer stats.
The freshman made his first college shot memorable as he found the net in the 78th minute to lift the short-handed Thundering Herd past Wright State, 1-0, Tuesday night at Hoops Family Field. Jan Erik-Leinhos set up Iusem, who had spent nearly all his time with the jayvee team.
No. 3 Marshall took the field minus four of its leading players due to accumulation of yellow cards. Sitting out were leading scorer Pedro Dolabella, Milo Josef, Max Schneider and Gabriel Alves.
Even with a makeshift lineup, the Thundering Herd had the big edge in shots just as it did in Saturday’s 1-0 double-overtime win over UAB.
“We’re missing four guys. It’s a chance to see new guys step up and play,” Herd coach Chris Grassie said. “It took a while to establish rhythm with the new guys and subs. New relationships. It’s a great testament to our future. It shows how deep our squad is.”
Marshall (9-1-3, 3-0-2 Conference USA) extended its winning streak to five and is 4-0-3 at home now. It has outscored opponents, 28-10.
Wright State, a member of the Horizon League, falls to 4-8-1 with its third straight loss.
Marshall finished with 14 shots and forced Raiders’ keeper Sebastien Jiminez to make five saves. Wright State had five shots and Semmle had to make just two saves.
Grassie said Iusem’s score goes down as a feel-good story, one the 1,095 fans enjoyed.
“I can see something in his future,” Grassie said. “He showed he can handle it at this level.”
Marshall, which won its first NCAA championship in May, extended its program record for scoreless time to 733:58. The last team to score was West Virginia in a 2-2 double overtime draw back on Sept. 17.
“It’s more of a challenge for us,” the Herd’s Nathan Dossantos said about the shutout streak and having four top players sidelined. “We’ve got to be professional and do it. We treat every game as a final.”
The shutout extends the program record to seven straight. With the seven clean sheets, goalkeeper Oliver Semmle has 18 for his career. The Herd’s school-record for scoreless minutes rose to 733:58.
Despite dominating the statistics, the Herd didn’t press.
“We came out, attacked more,” Grassie said. “Not frustrated. Guys come off the bench and do the job. Makes it difficult now to pick a starting lineup.”
Marshall’s next match is Saturday at Charlotte. Start time is 6 p.m. The four players who sat out will be able to play.
The Herd will enter the match in second place in C-USA with 11 points. No. 18 FIU moved into first with 13 points thanks to its 2-1 win over Coastal Carolina on Tuesday night. Coastal Carolina has 10 points.
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The state Senate narrowly passed a bill outlining requirements for religious and medical exemptions to workplace covid-19 vaccination requirements.
“I urge adoption of this bill, passage. I urge everybody to push that green button and show these health workers and every other worker who wants to make a choice about their own body with their eyes wide open that we support their choice to do that,” said Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam.
Senators adopted an amendment, so the House of Delegates would still need to reconcile the bill before it goes to the governor. The House is returning from recess at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
In the Senate, passionate debate sprawled across topics like workers rights, the duty of employers, concerns about how new the covid-19 vaccines are, the importance of vaccines in controlling the pandemic and whether the bill would actually achieve its stated purpose.
The debate and vote also split the Republican supermajority. All Democrats voted against the bill. Republicans who voted against it included senators Charles Clements, Mike Maroney, Tom Takubo, Charles Trump and Ryan Weld.
Maroney, a radiologist in Marshall County, contended the doctors in the Senate had been intentionally left out of earlier discussions and that his colleagues had been “purposely, secretly, sneakily working this bill up so people couldn’t see it. That’s OK. I’m getting used to that.”
Maroney argued, “We’re not getting rid of a mandate. We’re putting a mandate on private businesses. It’s the biggest piece of trash I’ve seen dumped down the throats of private businesses in the Senate.”
Takubo, the majority leader from Kanawha County, said he had been reluctant to support vaccine mandates by medical facilities, but he had come to side with patients with weakened immune systems in cancer wards, pediatric units or nursing homes.
“Freedom only goes so far, as long as it doesn’t bleed onto another person’s freedom. Once you do that, you don’t call it freedom any more,” said Takubo, a pulmonologist.
Weld, the majority whip from Brooke County, said he doesn’t think people should be forced to take a vaccine they don’t want.
“But, to be honest, this is probably one of the worst, most poorly drafted pieces of legislation I’ve ever read in my life in how it tries to go about what it does,” said Weld, an attorney.
House Bill 335 allows exemptions for workers who provide signed documentation by a doctor or advanced practice nurse, after an in-person examination, that a specific medical precaution is warranted. It also allows exemptions through notarized certification for workers with religious beliefs against taking the covid-19 vaccine.
Tarr objected to complaints that the bill was crafted shoddily.
“For the attorneys who think this bill is poorly drafted, this bill’s been out here a week. If you really did have concern about the people of West Virginia and you appreciate the effort here, put in an amendment. I didn’t see it,” he said.
Dozens of employers under the umbrella of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the bill. “This bill sends a chilling message to employers looking to expand into West Virginia and sets up existing employers for a barrage of lawsuits,” the companies wrote.
In a back-and-forth early in this evening’s session, Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, asked Tarr why those businesses would be against the bill. The Senate did not run the bill through a committee or seek public comment.
“Why is every major hospital, every major medical association in the state and the Chamber of Commerce against this bill?” Romano asked.
“You’d have to ask them why they’re against this bill,” Tarr said.
Romano then suggested the medical organizations are concerned about being out of line with federal policy. “They’re worried about their federal reimbursements under Medicare and Medicaid,” he said.
Romano also asked Tarr why the bill is necessary.
“My question to you is, senator, if we’re complying with federal law, which is already in place, why do we need this bill? There’s already a medical exemption, already a religious exemption, so why are we taking the risk in putting our hospitals, nursing homes and medical providers like yours of not receiving reimbursement?” Romano asked.
Gov. Jim Justice introduced the bill partway through this week’s special session that initially was called for legislative redistricting and to allocate federal relief dollars to state agencies.
Senator Ron Stollings, another of the physicians in the Senate, said the goal should be to protect more people through vaccination. He, too, cited the businesses that want to be able to require vaccinations.
“When I look at people who are signed on against this, it’s a who’s who of businesses in West Virginia. They’re trying to protect the people that work for them,” he said. “We’ve lost enough West Virginians. Let’s put this away. It conflicts with the federal laws coming down the pike,” said Stollings, D-Boone.
Senator Owens Brown, D-Ohio, said he has been working with the state’s coronavirus task force, underscoring the importance of vaccination. He questioned the logic of the bill.
“Why should another man’s religion compromise the health of another human being?” Brown asked. “Why should another person’s freedom of religion cause the death of another person? Freedom of religion is not absolute in this country. Freedom is not absolute.”
Senator Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, said he had heard from dozens of constituents who wanted the bill to be passed. Those included many workers in health sectors, he said. “No bill that we pass is filled with perfection,” Roberts said. “We have to stand with our constituents. We have to stand with our people.”
Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, came down from the podium to speak in favor of the bill. Republicans generally try to avoid placing barriers on how businesses operate, he acknowledged, but that has limits.
Then, Blair reached for a comparison about authoritarians.
“To say we never do any bills that tell businesses what they can and can’t do is false. It happens all the time. What we do as conservatives is say the government shouldn’t be overreaching,” he said.
“Frankly, I think this harkens back to Nazi Germany. Our federal government is using federal dollars to coerce citizens into being obedient to the state.”
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The future of Conference USA is in limbo with six of its members looking to join the American Athletic Conference.
According to multiple national media outlets and first reported by Yahoo! Sports, UAB, Florida Atlantic, Rice, North Texas, UTSA and Charlotte are expected to apply for membership into the AAC as soon as this week.
The six schools would almost certainly be accepted, leaving behind Marshall as one of eight remaining members in C-USA. The other remaining C-USA members are: Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, Southern Miss, UTEP and Western Kentucky.
Early Tuesday afternoon, interim Marshall Athletic Director Jeff O’Malley offered a two-part statement on social media that read: With the news that broke yesterday, I want to assure our fans that we have worked and will continue to work to position Marshall in the best possible way. The one thing I’ve learned throughout this process is that Marshall University has a tremendous brand and one of the best fan bases in the country. Although the climate is changing, I’m very excited about the future of Marshall Athletics.
Marshall President Jerome A. Gilbert also offered a statement on social media later Tuesday. It read: I am working closely with AD O’Malley to determine what is best for Marshall athletics. We are in a strong position. I am confident that we can achieve a good result for the Herd.
I am working closely with AD O’Malley to determine what is best for Marshall athletics. We are in a strong position. I am confident that we can achieve a good result for the Herd. 🦬
— President Gilbert (@MarshalluPres) October 19, 2021
First-year Marshall football coach Charles Huff weighed in on the topic Tuesday.
“I’ve had numerous conversations way before it hit the Twitter bug about this conference realignment with our administration and our leadership,” Huff said. “Our leadership has a plan that I’m 100 percent behind. They are doing it the best way for Marshall University athletics and Marshall University as a whole. What we have to make sure we understand is you have to take your fan hat off and say, ‘OK, what is the best for Marshall athletics?’ And I’m not saying that’s to leave or stay. Our administration has a plan that we’ll roll out here when they feel is necessary after gathering all the information.”
After Oklahoma and Texas were accepted into the Southeastern Conference earlier this year, the Big 12 announced the addition of current AAC members Cincinnati, Central Florida and Houston.
With those three schools to join the Big 12 no later than July 2024, the AAC was left no choice but to seek expansion. Mountain West members Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State reportedly turned down the AAC several weeks ago.
The addition of the six C-USA schools would leave the AAC with 14 members, 12 of which were C-USA members at one point.
Adding Rice, North Texas and UTSA allows the league to maintain a strong presence in Texas with the loss of Houston, though it also has SMU.
Despite dropping its football program and not fielding a team in 2015 and 2016, UAB has won C-USA two of the last three seasons and is located in one of the better recruiting areas in the country.
The addition of FAU allows the AAC to keep two teams (South Florida is the other) in Florida despite losing UCF.
Charlotte did not field a football program until 2013 and began competing in C-USA in 2015, but is located in a bigger market and strong recruiting area.
The AAC has a strong media rights deal with ESPN that pays members about $6 million annually. On the other hand, C-USA members receive less than $1 million annually from TV revenue.
Marshall joined C-USA in 2005 after leaving the Mid-American Conference.
Huff says much more than football goes into the decisions, despite it being the sport that generates the most revenue.
“When you talk about changing conferences, you’re talking about budgets, TV contracts, where are we at right now from a foundation standpoint comparative to moving to another league or staying in this league? How is this going to affect the women’s cross country team, volleyball, softball and baseball? It’s not a football move,” Huff said. “We’re not just moving the football team — it’s everybody.”
Should it lose the six schools to the AAC, C-USA would need to add at least two members to become a 10-team league.
C-USA officials recently contacted AAC officials to gauge interest in combining schools from both leagues into two new leagues geographically, but the AAC rebuffed.
C-USA could look to the Sun Belt to expand, while independent Liberty may also be a target.
Regardless of what the future may hold for Marshall athletics, Huff believes the school’s administration will make the right call.
“I fully support our administration and all the people making these decisions,” Huff said. “I’ve been ultra pleased with the transparency. Sometimes in these things, you just wake up one day and realize all of a sudden you’re playing in the Hawaii conference and no one has talked to you. That has not been the case here. Our administration has done a phenomenal job of laying out the pros, cons and possibilities way before the Twitter machine puts it out.”
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The state Senate, after several days of extended consideration, today approved a map of redrawn Senate districts.
The map that was selected today was a newly-introduced amendment described as taking prior incarnations into account.
“I would characterize it as a synthesis of the two amendments we had on the floor yesterday,” said Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan. “This amendment tries to reconcile and harmonize some of the issues that were points of contention.”
— WV Senate Clerk (@WVSenClerk) October 19, 2021
The state Legislature is responsible for redrawing political boundaries every 10 years with a new Census. But the Senate’s own map proved elusive.
A bill representing Senate districts has been up for a final vote each of the prior four days. But instead of proceeding with a final vote, Republican senators took time to privately caucus and try to work out their differences.
That followed months of public hearings all around the state and a couple of weeks of open committee meetings.
“This has been an agonizing, in some ways, process – an interesting process,” Trump said.
A map that only divided five counties passed out of the Senate Redistricting Committee more than a week ago, but it never got a vote on the Senate floor.
Yesterday, two alternatives were up for votes — and they were each voted down in succession.
“I think the majority had a plan and they were ready to run with it, but it didn’t turn out that way so a little bit of chaos ensued,” Senate Majority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said this morning on WJLS-AM radio.
The latest map, introduced today, bore the names of Republican senators on opposite sides of the prior day’s votes — Trump and Majority Leader Tom Takubo along with senators Eric Tarr, Patricia Rucker and Robert Karnes.
“This is the product of conversations and compromises over a long period of time by a great number of people,” Trump said.
He said the latest map divides 11 counties, fewer than some of the earlier options. Special attention was given to keeping the 17th Senatorial District wholly within Kanawha County, the state’s largest. An alternative map from the prior day had split that district, offering no assurance Kanawha would have its own senator.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Trump said.
Senator Lindsay, who represents the 8th District from Kanawha County, still objected to the way the latest map treats Kanawha. Jeffries, who represents the 8th District from Putnam, was the other vote against the latest map.
Under the map that passed, the 8th District includes Charleston, goes north into Putnam, then takes in Roane and Clay counties.
“I believe this amendment is a disserve to the people of Kanawha County. It is the one county that is split three ways,” said Lindsay, noting that the map passed out of committee split Kanawha just twice.
The House of Delegates, which recessed Friday, would still need to approve the bill reflecting the Senate’s map — although that’s likely a formality.
Trump advocated for the map’s passage before the full Senate, saying “I think this is a good plan, Mr. President. In my opinion it’s a constitutional plan.”
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ELKINS, W.Va. — The quest for meat for many West Virginia hunters starts this week. The first of several antlerless deer seasons will open Thursday in 51 of the state’s 55 counties. This is the first of the split seasons which is considered the traditional antlerless hunting season.
Brett Skelly, Assistant Deer Project Leader at the West Virginia Davison of Natural Resources, said the October antlerless hunt is generally the more popular of all of them.
“The weather is usually gorgeous and it’s a great time to be out in the woods. It’s really nice temperature wise and it’s just a great time to be outside,” he explained.
The antlerless season is designed to not only give hunters an opportunity to kill a deer, but it also helps with population control in areas where the deer density has grown beyond what the landscape can support. This was once a much bigger problem in West Virginia, but according to Skelly, years of liberalizing the seasons and an overall shift in attitude toward killing does has helped a lot.
“Across most of our counties we are in a place where the deer and the habitat are pretty close together as far as deer densities go,” Skelly said.
A decade ago, the agency was under fire as deer populations exploded in many parts of the state and were creating headaches with auto collisions and crop and suburban landscape damage. Those years led to the loosening of restrictions on killing does, but it took a long time for hunters who were raised to never kill a doe to start catching on. Today, it’s not an uncommon practice, but Skelly and the team at DNR are not fearful it will hurt the population.
“Currently with our harvest framework, we feel like our population is in a good place and we’re not concerned with these seasons having any negative impact,” he said.
The antlerless opportunities are robust in West Virginia. Hunters call kill does October 21-24. The second half of the split season is set for December 9-12. Most counties in the state have a concurrent antlerless season during the very popular two week buck firearms season. If you still have tags after all of those days, the season reopens for antlerless hunting December 28-31st.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Citing falling infection and hospitalization rates, West Virginia University officials say mask requirements will be lifted for individuals in all indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status starting Thursday.
Staff and students will be required to wear masks in all classrooms, labs or any WVU System facility or building being used as a classroom through the end of the semester.
According to a WVU news release, those who are not vaccinated will be expected to wear a mask in all indoor settings as well as outdoors. Masks will still be mandatory on all public transportation, including the PRT through Jan. 18, 2022.
Additionally, WVU will drop its five-day quarantine requirement following out-of-state travel for all faculty, staff and students.
“Infection rates and hospitalization rates are beginning to decline across the state and within our community which are key data in our decision to ease some of our current campus protocols,” Dr. Jeffrey Coben, dean of the School of Public Health and associate vice president for Health Affairs said in Tuesday’s statement. “I urge our students and employees to remain vigilant, and we continue to encourage those on campus to wear a mask when indoors, regardless of vaccination status, especially in areas where physical distancing is not possible.”
On the Morgantown campus, 92 percent of faculty and 80 percent of students have verified their vaccination status. Infections on campus, quarantine and isolation numbers remain low.
As a result, WVU will host Fall FoodFest sponsored by Coca-Cola and refresh on Thursday, October 28, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. near the Student Rec Center fields. Students can register starting Wednesday, Oct. 20 at refresh.wvu.edu and claim their free meal token. Free meals are for current students only.
WVU’s decision comes a day after faculty senate groups from WVU and Marshall approved a joint, non-binding resolution calling for a vaccine mandate.
Both faculty groups had previously passed separate non-binding vaccine mandate resolutions earlier this year.