CHARLESTON — Joe Manchin is once again at a career crossroads that says as much about the West Virginia politician as it does the [state of American politics.
The Democrat says he'll decide right after Labor Day whether to stick with being in the U.S. Senate, where he was just reelected for a six-year term, or make a run for West Virginia governor in 2020.
In some ways, it's almost a risk-free political choice because Manchin can try to return to the governor's office, the job he had before joining the Senate, without forfeiting his Senate seat or complicating his party's drive to control Congress.
If he decides to run for governor and wins, conceivably he could even temporarily name his own successor in the Senate. But as a rare Democrat who can win a statewide race in a state that has fallen hard for President Donald Trump, Manchin's decision will be telling.
On the one hand, the Senate may be losing its luster as Manchin, whose party is in the minority, is bumping up against the limits of Democrats' power. Yet rather than continue trying to work with the president, as he is known to do, Manchin probably would have to confront Trump, who has been an ally of incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Justice.
So far, Manchin appears to be keeping a quiet counsel, traveling the state this past week, but holding his thinking close.
He declined a request for an interview with The Associated Press.
"I've had a lot of inquiries they want me to come back home," Manchin told CBS* "Face the Nation" in an interview Aug. 18. "I have people think that maybe I should stay."
Manchin has offered few clues even to his own party.
Over a dozen state senators questioned Manchin at a closed-door meeting this spring, warning that his indecisiveness is hamstringing other Democratic hopefuls while giving Trump and the national Republicans ample time to assemble behind Justice, according to Sen. Roman Prezioso, the Democratic leader of the GOP-majority state Senate.
Manchin kept mum, telling the lawmakers he needed time to talk to his family before making up his mind.
"They were pressing him hard," Prezioso said. "It was like a family get-together at Christmas — arguing, wanting to choke each other and then we were all friends at the end."
Justice, a billionaire whose businesses have been trailed by lawsuits alleging unpaid bills, has bet on the state's love of Trump to carry him through damaging news stories and into a second term.
In April, he hired current and former Trump staffers to lead his 2020 campaign after a federal subpoena was sent to his administration and state Republican committees approved "no confidence" resolutions in him. During a spat with Senate Republicans over an education bill this summer, Justice proclaimed he and Trump are "bound at the hip" as a top GOP lawmaker called him an "embarrassment" and demanded his resignation.
"The president is really popular in West Virginia and the governor's ability to ride those coattails could take a lot off the problems he's having," said Marybeth Beller, a political scientist who teaches at Marshall University in West Virginia.
The results of Manchin's last election, in which he ran against a Trump-backed opponent for his Senate seat, could also inform his political calculations. He narrowly won reelection by just over 3% after the president held rallies in West Virginia for his opponent, a stark contrast to the 24% walloping he put on his challenger in 2012.
There's also payback to consider.
Manchin was governor from 2005 to 2010, until he left to run for the Senate, but he very publicly considered returning home to run again for governor again in the 2016 race. Instead, Manchin endorsed Justice, who ran for governor as a Democrat in 2016. Manchin threw his weight behind the businessman to help Justice win support from fellow Democrats and eventually edge out a crowded field of competitors. But less than a year later, in front of a roaring Trump rally crowd, Justice announced he was switching parties because Democrats had "walked away" from him.
"Of course Joe's going to feel betrayed by that," said Prezioso.
Steady jabs back-and-forth have ensued between Justice and Manchin, even as the senator remains a question mark over the governor's race.
In a March news release about then-special counsel Robert Mueller, Justice made room to call Manchin "one of those loud Washington liberals" who hasn't embraced Trump. Zeroing in on a more local issue, Justice laid blame on Manchin for the state's neglected road system.
Manchin returned fire, saying "knowing Jim Justice's character, it's not a surprise for him to make a comment like this. He blames others for the work he hasn't done."
And when state officials were celebrating a S37 million settlement with the opioid distributor McKesson in May, Manchin was quick to criticize the dollar figure. In a stinging statement, he said Justice didn't "care enough to fight for the money that West Virginia deserves."
Given their history, a 2020 race between the former friends and current foes could roil the state's political landscape, and get downright dirty in the process.
Wednesday was the first time in six years that Lyle Fleming was able to walk around his home, or his neighborhood, without a wheelchair.
The Chapmanville native was paralyzed from the waist down in 2013, after he fell from a utility pole while working as a lineman. For the past two months, he's been training with an exoskeleton as part of his physical therapy routine at First Settlement Physical Therapy, in South Charleston. Now, he gets to take it home to use daily.
"I don't know, maybe I'll go bowling or something," Fleming said, smiling. "It's not, well I won't be doing any marathons, but I can do things I haven't been able to in a while. Maybe it'll stick, maybe it won't, but it's an option I have now. Standing is an option."
The Indego exoskeleton, designed by an Ohio-based company of the same name, is a lightweight, bionic device that straps tightly around the torso, with rigid supports strapped to the legs that extend down to the feet. It is specifically for people who suffer from spinal injuries, and it can aid them in walking for hours at a time.
Fleming is the first person to receive one of these exoskeletons in West Virginia, but that may be changing as more and more people find out about the technology. Already, another patient at First Settlement is being trained on the exoskeleton, said Kate Addis, a doctor of physical therapy and Indego instructor.
Since April 30, 2013, when Fleming suffered his injury, there have been good days and bad days, he said.
"You take every day as it comes. You never know what the hard times are going to be until they're there," Fleming said. "Every day is a new battle, and you've got to learn to be independent. Being around good people, compassionate people, that makes it a bit better."
He began attending physical therapy at First Settlement — roughly an hour and a half from his home in Chapmanville — because it was the only facility that his workers' compensation fund would cover, and it offered water therapy, which is exercising in a pool.
"That was the best thing I could have done at the time, mentally and physically," Fleming said. "In the water, you can feel things move that you can't out of it. You're lighter, so your legs, they flow with the water."
While Charleston is a bit of a drive to make from Chapmanville and back three days a week, Fleming said he doesn't mind the distance, because of the care he receives. After years of therapy, Fleming said his therapist, Trevor Shamblin, and others at First Settlement have become like family to him.
"It's been years, and I've gotten close to them, more than just, you know, doing my treatments," Fleming said. "That makes it easier — really liking the people you're working with. And this is like my job. If you don't like your co-workers, your day's always longer. I like my days."
A few months ago, Fleming mentioned the exoskeletons he had seen to Shamblin after one of their sessions together. Shamblin began calling others he knew practicing physical therapy, and they all recommended Indego.
So he called Stefan Bircher, manager of global market development at the company.
"I told him that Lyle was the patient he needed for this, that he would be the best," Shamblin said.
Bircher and others at the company agreed, and Fleming began training on the exoskeleton as soon as he could.
Addis, who trained Fleming on how to use and operate the contraption, said it works kind of like a Segway scooter, but with legs.
"You lean forward, just like you would if you wanted to start moving forward on a Segway, and the more you lean, the more you're going to move," Addis said.
Fleming said learning to control the exoskeleton wasn't error free. There were a few trips and stumbles as he adjusted to the rhythm of the steps, but nothing could beat the feeling of just standing up again.
"People take that for granted, take a lot for granted," Fleming said. "I'm lucky, though. I can't imagine how a blind person would feel, never seeing the light of day. I might not ever run or something like that, but I can walk. I can stand."
For Fleming, the most important part of this process was educating people who might be in a similar situation that there are options out there they can explore.
"People don't understand — it's physical, but you do get depressed. And depression, that's what kills. People want to help you, and it's from a good place, but sometimes, you want to help yourself," he said. "That's part of feeling wanted, feeling human: being able to do things for yourself, and this — I can do some of those things now probably. I can be more of myself."
To learn more about Indego exoskeletons, or to see who may qualify to try one, visit httpy/indego.com.
"You take every day as it comes. You never know what the hard times are going to be until they're there."
Physical therapy patient
McLEAN'S TOWN CAY, Bahamas — Hurricane Dorian struck the northern Bahamas as a catastrophic Category 5 storm Sunday, its record 185 mph winds ripping off roofs, overturning cars and tearing down power lines as hundreds hunkered down in schools, churches and shelters.
Dorian slammed into Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands at 12:40 p.m., and then made a second landfall near Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island at 2 p.m., after authorities made last-minute pleas for those in low-lying areas to evacuate.
"It's devastating," said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas' Ministry of Tourism and Aviation. "There has been huge damage to property and infrastructure. Luckily, no loss of life reported."
With its maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts up to 220 mph, Dorian tied the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to come ashore, equaling the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, before the storms were named.
Millions from Florida to the Carolinas kept a wary eye on the slow-moving Dorian amid indications it would veer sharply northeastward after passing the Bahamas and track up the U.S. Southeast seaboard. But authorities warned that even if its core did not make U.S. landfall, the potent storm would likely hammer the coast with powerful winds and heavy surf.
The only recorded storm that was more powerful was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with its 190 mph winds. That storm did not make landfall.
"Catastrophic conditions" were reported in The Abaco Islands, with a storm surge of 18-23 feet, and Dorian was expected to cross Grand Bahama later in the day "with all its fury," the center said. The hurricane was moving to the west at 5 mph.
In the northern stretches of the archipelago, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people to bigger islands.
Video that Jibrilu and government spokesman Kevin Harris said was sent by Abaco residents showed homes missing parts of their roofs, downed power lines and smashed and overturned cars. One showed floodwaters rushing through the streets of an unidentified town at nearly the height of a car roof.
In some parts of Abaco, "you cannot tell the difference as to the beginning of the street versus where the ocean begins," said Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.
According to the Nassau Guardian, he called it "probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people."
Earlier, Minnis had warned that anyone who did not evacuate was "in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence."
The government opened 14 shelters across the Bahamas. Dozens ignored evacuation orders, officials said.
"The end could be fatal," said Samuel Butler, assistant police commissioner. "We ask you, we beg you, we plead with you to get to a place of safety."
Bahamas radio station ZNS Bahamas reported a mother and child in Grand Bahama called to say they were sheltering in a closet and seeking help from police.
Silbert Mills, owner of the Bahamas Christian Network, said trees and power lines were torn down in The Abaco Islands.
"The winds are howling like we've never, ever experienced before," said Mills, 59, who planned to ride out the hur-ricane with his family in the concrete home he built 41 years ago in central Abaco.
Among those refusing to leave were 32 people in Sweetings Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people about 5 feet above sea level, and a group that sought safety in Old Bahama Bay resort, which officials said was not safe.
Earlier Saturday, skiffs shuttled between outlying fishing villages and McLean's Town, a settlement of a few dozen homes at the eastern end of Grand Bahama island, about 150 miles from Florida's Atlantic coast. Most came from Sweetings Cay.
"We're not taking no chances," said Margaret Bassett, a ferry boat driver for the Deep Water Cay resort. "They said evacuate, you have to evacuate."
But Jack Pittard, a 76-year-old American who has visited the (Bahamas for 40 years, decided to ride out the storm — his first hurricane — in The Abaco Islands.
He said he battened down his house to spend the storm in a nearby duplex. He noted the ocean is quite deep near where he was staying, and there is a cay that provides protection.
A short video from Pittard about 2:30 p.m. showed winds shaking his home and ripping off its siding.
'Tm not afraid of dying here," said Pittard, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
Jeffrey Allen, who lives in Freeport on Grand Bahama, said he had learned after several storms that damage predictions sometimes don't materialize, but he still takes precautions.
"It's almost as if you wait with anticipation, hoping that it's never as bad as they say it will be. However, you prepare for the worst nonetheless," he said.
Over two or three days, the hurricane could dump as much as 4 feet of rain, in addition to the winds and storm surge, said private meteorologist Ryan Maue.
Harris, the government spokesman, said Dorian could affect 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes. Authorities closed airports for The Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport in the capital of Nassau stayed open.
The archipelago is no stranger to hurricanes. Homes are required to have metal reinforcements for roof beams to withstand winds into the upper limits of a Category 4 hurricane, and compliance is generally tight for those who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer neighborhoods, with wooden homes in low-lying areas.
After the Bahamas, the slow-crawling storm was forecast to turn sharply and skirt toward the U.S. coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday and then buffeting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for Florida's East Coast from Deerfield Beach north to the Volusia and Brevard county line. The same area was put under a storm surge watch. Lake Okeechobee was under a tropical storm watch.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned the state's densely populated Atlantic coast: "We're not out of the woods yet."
He suspended tolls on the Florida Turnpike and other roads, including Alligator Alley, from Fort Lauderdale to Naples, to keep traffic flowing for evacuees.
HUNTINGTON — Two public forums regarding Cabell County's ongoing HIV cluster will be hosted over the next two weeks in Huntington.
The Cabell-Huntington Health Department will host a public community forum from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3, at the department's second-floor conference room at 703 7th Ave. in Huntington.
The meeting is hosted to provide the public with an overview of Cabell County's HIV cluster, as well as HIV education, awareness and intervention. A panel discussion will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the public.
Panelists include Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department; Dr. Kara Willenburg, chief of infectious diseases at Kilkenny the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine; Amanda Coleman, executive director for the Cabell-Huntington Coalition for the Homeless; and Melissa Pemberton, a technology specialist for Prosource.
A second, unrelated forum will be hosted at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, at Chris Temple Church, organized by Cabell County Commissioner Kelli Sobonya and State Del. John Mandt Jr. (R-Cabell). Called rathera "public safety solutions summit," this panel and question session will also touch on neighborhood safety, property crimes and homelessness as well as public health.
Panelists include Secretary Jeff Sandy of the West Virginia Department Military Affairs and Public Safety; Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle; Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial; Gordon Merry and Connie Priddy of Cabell County EMS; Pastor Mike Greider of Kentucky Recovery; Craig Hettlinger of the Huntington Addiction Wellness Center; Ryan Saxe of Cabell County Schools; as well as Coleman and Kilkenny from the prior panel discussion.
As of Sunday, Cabell County has 74 confirmed cases of HIV, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and remains the only cluster currently known in the state. One death in June has been associated with the Cabell County cluster.
Cabell County alone already has more confirmed HIV cases this year than the entire state of West Virginia has had in a single year since 2008 (84 cases that year), according to DHHR statistics.
This increase reflects a change in how HIV is predominantly being transmitted — now primarily through intravenous drug use. Because of those, Kilkenny and public health officials have touted the county's syringe exchange, which provides sterile syringes in exchange for used ones, as a vital means to mitigate the spread.
Critics, including Sobonya and Mandt, have questioned whether that service attracts an unruly transient population into the county and enables ongoing drug use. In June, Sobonya requested an audit of Cabell-Huntington's syringe exchange, which was denied by WVDHHR.
Both meetings are open to the public.