Tom Miller: Democratics likely to fare well in statewide contests
It's usually easy to predict winners in West Virginia elections because of a solid Democrat majority among voters. But many Democrats have quit voting a straight ticket recently. Despite a solid 2-1 Democratic edge, Republican nominee John McCain received 397,466 votes to only 303,857 for President Barack Obama four years ago.
President Obama also got only 106,770 votes from this state's 640,608 registered Democrats in this year's May primary while Keith Judd, an inmate of a Texas prison, got 73,138, which were clearly ABOs (Anybody But Obama). So it's likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will carry this state just like McCain did.
Democrats expect to win all the other statewide races. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a middle-of-the-road Democrat courting both business and labor, should defeat Republican nominee Bill Maloney for a full, four-year term just like he did in the 2011 special election to fill the unexpired term of former Gov. Joe Manchin.
Manchin resigned after winning the vacant U. S. Senate seat caused by the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd. He should win a full, six-year term in this election over GOP nominee John Raese of Morgantown. The state's three incumbents in the House of Representatives should also win new terms.
Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., a 36-year Washington veteran, is heavily favored over GOP nominee Rick Snuffer of Beckley. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., also is heavily favored over Democrat challenger Howard Swint of Charleston in the 2nd District. Rep. David McKinley, R-WV, should beat Democrat Sue Thorn of Wheeling in the 1st District Congressional District but this should be the closest of the three.
Darrell V. McGraw, a Democrat and this state's attorney general for the past 20 years, should win his sixth term in that office over Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey despite the efforts of a conservative, anti-regulation group, the Center for Individual Freedom based in Washington, D. C. Started as a tobacco lobby, it has spent $1.6 million trying to defeat McGraw.
McGraw has national support as well. The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) is backing the Committee for American Fairness that has spent $231,000 on anti-Morrisey advertising and an affiliated group -- Mountaineer Committee for Justice & Fairness -- reported spending $346,000 in anti-Morrisey advertisements.
A photo of Republican candidate Kent Leonhardt with retiring Commissioner of Agriculture Gus Douglass, a Democrat, has caused some people to hint Douglass is backing Leonhardt. Douglass did endorse one of his assistants, Steve Miller, in last spring's Democratic primary but longtime state senator Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, is his party's nominee. So Douglass has not made a general election endorsement.
Incumbent Justice Robin Davis and the other Democrat nominee, Tish Chafin, should win the two 12-year terms on the State Supreme Court of Appeals. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and State Auditor Glen B. Gainer III, both Democrats, are virtual shoo-ins for new four-year terms. The final Democrat incumbent in the state executive department, State Treasurer John Perdue, also is a heavy favorite to capture his fifth straight four-year term over Republican challenger Mike Hall of Hurricane, currently the minority leader in the State Senate.
West Virginia's reputation as a strong labor union state is supported by a recent national study of American teacher unions that concluded the Mountain State has the 13th strongest union presence in the nation. And the same study concludes that this state's policies are better aligned with traditional union interests than any other state, in the opinion of The Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now study.
Released last week, the report is a comprehensive analysis of American teacher unions based on such factors as involvement in politics, scope of bargaining and perceived influence. West Virginia "does not support performance pay and does not require student achievement data to factor into either teacher evaluations or tenure," the report concluded. "Seniority is the sole factor in layoff decisions, while teacher performance is not considered at all."
It's to be expected that leaders of the state organizations disagree with these findings. Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, questions the accuracy of this conclusion as does Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers chapter here.
"That's not accurate at all," Lee told a Charleston newspaper reporter. "A lot of things like certification and evaluation come into play. Seniority is a very small part of that." The report also ranks this state's teacher unions as the fourth-most-involved in politics and concluded these unions have the six-highest perceived influence in the country.
A recent incident involving a correctional officer at the Southern Regional Jail who was charged with sexually abusing female inmates exposed the present practice that allows these individuals to collect severance pay while they are in jail. The same day a 39-year-old employee at the jail was arrested on charges of trading cigarettes for sex with three women, William Roy Wilson of Beckley was issued a $3,143.53 termination check.
Former legislator Joe DeLong, now the director of the state jails system, said he hopes to work with members of the Legislature in 2013 to make some changes in the law to change how the agency deals with suspended and terminated employees. DeLong said Wilson was terminated, arrested and jailed and "was sitting in one of our cells" but was able to receive a paycheck because "state statute requires him to be paid for 15 days after his termination."
Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.
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