CHARLESTON — West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced Tuesday he will not run for governor, ending speculation on whether the moderate Democrat would challenge a Trump-backed incumbent in his deep-red home state.
Manchin said his decision to stay put in the U.S. Senate came after months of reflection and boiled down to "where I could be the most effective for the Mountain State."
"Ultimately, I believe my role as U.S. senator allows me to position our state for success for the rest of this century," he said in a statement, pledging to work on energy legislation and steer federal dollars to West Virginia from his perch on the Appropriations Committee.
The 72-year-old senator previously served as governor from 2005 to 2010, calling it the greatest honor of his life, before leaving for the Senate.
He very publicly considered running for governor again in 2016, but instead endorsed current-Gov. Jim Justice, who ran as a Democrat but changed parties in front of a roaring Trump rally crowd less than a year after taking office. Manchin was widely seen as the Democrats' best option for reclaiming the governorship of a state Trump carried by 42 percentage points in 2016.
He became the top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee earlier this year, giving the coal-state lawmaker a prominent position to shape policy. But he has been vocal about his frustrations with the Senate, criticizing a lack of productivity and bipartisanship. In a campaign ad last year, he proclaimed that "Washington sucks."
At a news conference Tuesday in West Virginia's capital city, Manchin said he had made his final decision Monday during a conversation with his wife.
"Fm at peace, Fm at ease with this," he said.
West Virginia Democrats had been pressuring Manchin to make up his mind.
More than a dozen state senators questioned Manchin at a closed-door meeting this spring, warning him that his indecision was preventing other Democrats from jumping in while giving Trump and the Republicans time to assemble behind Justice, said Sen. Roman Prezioso, the Democratic leader of the GOP-majority state Senate.
But Manchin stayed mum, telling lawmakers he needed more time to talk things over with his family.
"Joe Manchin carries enough strength that he kind of froze everyone until he made his decision," state Sen. Michael J. Romano said Tuesday, adding that several Democrats will now seriously consider a run for governor.
As Manchin contemplated running, he added fuel to the rumor mill by wasting little opportunity to publicly spar with Justice.
The two went back and forth over who was responsible for the state's neglected roads. Justice called Manchin "one of those loud Washington liberals" who hasn't embraced Trump. Manchin issued a stinging statement as Justice was cheering a $37 million settlement with an opioid distributor, saying the governor didn't care enough to fight for more money.
Justice, a billionaire whose businesses have been dogged by lawsuits alleging unpaid bills, has staffed up his 2020 campaign with current and former Trump officials.
Manchin narrowly won his second full term in the Senate last November, edging out an opponent backed by Trump by just over 3% after the president held rallies in the state. The victory was a far cry from the 24% beating he put on his challenger in 2012.
Speaking to reporters about his decision, Manchin leaned heavily on his seniority in the Senate and how he thinks he can accomplish more for the state from his post in Washington.
"I get to make sure West Virginia is not left out," he said.
HUNTINGTON — With Cabell County's ongoing HIV cluster at 76 confirmed cases — the virus's single worst event in West Virginia's history — concern about the disease's slow but steady rise has likewise deepened.
There was no shortage of questions and comments from the public at Tuesday night's HIV informational forum hosted by the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. Nearly every seat in the roughly 100-person conference room was filled, and the two-hour limit was filled with wall-to-wall discussion — both by the panel of experts and the community at large.
Fielding questions and providing their insights were Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department; Dr. Kara Willenburg,
chief of infectious diseases at 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. After 10-minute overviews of the nuances of the HIV cluster — a byproduct of widespread intravenous drug use — from their unique perspectives, there was no lack of questions to answer from the public.
Stephen Davis asked if the term "cluster" denotes that all 76 cases are connected. Kilkenny answered that the definition of a cluster rather describes an overarching set of risk factors shared by a single group — intravenous drug use, in this case — though each new HIV patient is interviewed by the health department to piece together who that individual may expose or had been exposed to.
Davis also asked how many individuals the department's syringe exchange sees. Michelle Perdue, who oversees the department's harm reduction program, said 795 individuals have used the program this year with varying degrees of regularity. That total, she added, is a sharp decrease from 2017, when the program saw more than 1,200 individuals during the height of Huntington's opioid epidemic and before the syringe exchange was limited to Cabell County residents.
Del. John Mandt Jr., R-Cabell, asked if some flaw in the syringe exchange may have contributed to the spread of HIV in Cabell County, noting local HIV cases were rare prior to the program's establishment in 2015.
Kilkenny said there's no clear answer why the cluster arrived here, even after preventative measures, like the syringe exchange, were created.
Kilkenny cited a study by Brown University that indicates that a harm reduction program in place prior to an HIV event can reduce cases by up to 80%. How many cases Cabell County would have had it not had a syringe exchange in place prior to a cluster, he added, is speculative.
Mandt also asked whether people from different areas, chiefly homeless individuals, may have brought an influx of HIV cases with them. Kilkenny answered that based on the health department's interviews with individuals infected, the spread is happening within Cabell County, and those who are infected contracted it here.
Connie Priddy, the Quick Response Team coordinator for Cabell County EMS, added from the audience that over 98% of overdose victims EMS sees in Cabell County have addresses within the county.
Perdue added that there is a false notion that the syringe exchange itself attracts transient individuals from other areas to use Cabell County's needle services — pointing out there are well over 300 registered syringe exchanges across the country, including dozens in West Virginia and the regional Ohio River Valley.
Coleman dispelled a handful of misconceptions about homelessness and how HIV has impacted her organization's work. More than half of those in Cabell County's cluster face "unstable housing" and many are outright homeless.
Coleman said that while Cabell County's homeless population has fallen from 227 in 2015 to 171 at the present, there's been a dramatic increase in "unsheltered homeless" (those on the streets rather than a shelter), leading to the perception there are more homeless individuals in Huntington. More than 30% of these individuals have some mental health issues, making it difficult for them to find stable housing.
While most are from Cabell County, the majority of those not from Cabell County come from Logan, Lincoln and Mingo counties, Coleman said, counties that don't offer the homeless services Cabell does.
Scott Caserta, who is running for mayor of Huntington in 2020, noted the discussion's "elephant in the room" was the syringes that are littered in public, and asked what the department is doing to address it.
Kilkenny answered that the department had upgraded its legal capacity to take medical waste in 2016, meaning it could dispose of all the needles it took in, adding that syringe litter reports peaked in 2017. Over the past four quarters, he continued, the syringe exchange has taken in more needles than it has dispensed.
Caserta also questioned whether the syringe exchange violates a city ordinance outlawing the possession and distribution of drug paraphernalia. Kilkenny said the department has met with legal counsel and county prosecutors, and determined the exchange is within the law.
With the cluster ongoing, health department leadership said they plan to organize more regular public forums in the future.
HUNTINGTON — A former federal employee pleaded guilty to computer fraud Tuesday, admitting to illegally accessing the medical records of a former West Virginia state senator, along with five others, during the former senator's 2018 bid for Congress.
Jeffrey Scott Miller, 39, was charged with six counts of use of a computer for unauthorized access to government documents after allegedly accessing medical records for six individuals last year while he was an employee with the Veterans Benefits Administration, according to an information filed last month in the Southern District of West Virginia federal court district.
An information is a formal charge filed against a defendant who agrees for the charges to be filed without the case being reviewed for indictment by a grand jury. It usually indicates a defendant is cooperating with an investigation.
Although the victims' names were not used in court Tuesday and agents with the federal government declined to release the names of those involved after the hearing, former state Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, has identified himself as one of the victims.
As part of the plea deal, Miller faces up to one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and one year of released supervision, among other things, for each of the six counts at his Dec. 9 sentencing. U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers accepted his guilty plea Tuesday, but said he would not uphold the plea agreement until an investigation into Miller's personal and criminal history was completed.
Miller also agreed to cooperate with federal investigators and testify in possible further prosecutions to come.
Mike Stuart, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, called the matter "very serious."
"Medical records are protected information, and the expectation and right of privacy is paramount," Stuart said in a news release. "Federal law requires employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration to protect the medical records of our veterans. Anyone that improperly accesses, uses or exploits veterans' medical records will be held accountable."
The alleged fraud occurred during U.S. Rep. Carol Miller's successful campaign against Ojeda, a Democrat, for the US. House 3rd District seat in 2018. Miller, a Republican, was elected into office over Ojeda in November 2018 with 56% of the votes in that race.
Carol Miller's chief of staff, Matthew Donnellan, previously told the Charleston Gazette-Mail there is no familial relationship between the Millers and said the congresswoman was not aware of any of the illegal actions until alerted to them by a reporter last month.
Ojeda was serving as a state senator at the time of his bid for Congress, but resigned from his position just two months after losing the congressional race to run for the presidency of the United States. He exited the 2020 presidential race in January 2019. He is a retired U.S. Army veteran who served 24 years and went on three combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, among other deployments.
According to the information filed in federal court, at the time the alleged crime took place Jeffrey Miller was a claims assistant for the Veterans Benefits Administration in Huntington. That office provides assistance and compensation to veterans who suffered disabilities resulting from their service.
The VBA maintains thorough medical records containing substantial amounts of private medical records about those veterans. The defendant was trained on the systems used to collect the information, but was prohibited from accessing it for non-work-related purposes, the information said.
Prosecutors accuse Miller of illegally accessing medical records of five individuals who were his co-workers between Jan. 24 and April 16, 2018.
He also illegally accessed the files of Ojeda—whom the information only identified as a public figure — between March 16 and May 24, 2018. On May 17, he took a photo of that person's medical records and sent it to another individual without a work-related justification for his actions.
The photos were taken days after Ojeda won the 2018 Democratic primary election to run in the general election for the 3rd District seat.
In Tuesday's hearing, the person who received the photos was only identified as an "acquaintance" of Jeffrey Miller's.
Thomas Dominski, special agent in the Office of Investigations for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Miller was assigned in the public contact office and would handle people who walked in off the streets. He should not have been accessing records beyond those, he said.
In a statement made to Chambers, Miller said he was trained on how to access the information and, "In doing so (he) accessed info without a good reason to."
When asked if he had any medical conditions that affected his ability to plead, Miller said he had been battling post-traumatic stress disorder for about eight years.
Ojeda sat in the front row of Tuesday's court proceedings as Miller pleaded guilty. He said he was perturbed at Miller's use of his mental health records in the court proceedings, when he had tried to use Ojeda's to ruin his campaign.
"I don't know if it caused me to lose," he said. "But it didn't help."
Ojeda identified himself as the public figure victim in the case via a lawsuit he filed to obtain more information about Jeffrey Miller's illegal agenda and the investigation that followed.
Last month Ojeda filed a lawsuit seeking a Huntington federal court to force the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to release its investigation, which he believes will identify Republican officials who the lawsuit alleges spread private information to sabotage his race.
Ojeda said he had received the investigation report, but it had been mostly redacted and did not identify the parties involved.
"This is doing nothing but protecting people who should be named in the lawsuit," he said.
Ojeda said he could not put into words how it meant to have a fellow veteran betray him, but said Miller's actions were dangerous and could make other vets avoid seeking help from the VA from fear that the same thing could happen to them.
Jeffrey Miller was represented by defense attorney Ray Nolan. Stefan Hasselblad prosecuted the case.
HUNTINGTON — Police are investigating after a longtime Huntington businessman and humanitarian was struck and killed outside the furniture company his family has operated for the past 100 years.
Frank E. Hanshaw Jr. died Friday after being struck by a vehicle outside his family-owned company, Huntington Wholesale Furniture Co., on 8th Avenue. He was 88.
The cause of the accident is still under investigation and the driver is cooperating with police, said Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial.
At about 9 a.m. Friday, Hanshaw was standing in a parking spot near the 8th Avenue company when a car left the roadway and struck him, Dial said. The driver also struck two nearby cars.
Dial said drugs and alcohol are not believed to be factors in the accident. The driver was not impaired, he said.
"We will gather all the evidence and we will do a traffic reconstruction of the scene," Dial said. "We will then confer with the prosecutor about what charges would be applied."
Hanshaw is remembered as a past president of Huntington Wholesale Furniture, the company started by his grandfather, George Washington Hanshaw, in 1918. The company receives furniture from manufacturers and ships it to retailers in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia. The family celebrated a century in business at the company last year, residing in the same location where it was founded.
In addition to being a prominent business leader, Hanshaw made a name for himself through charitable giving and community service.
As a longtime board member of the City of Huntington Foundation, Hanshaw made donations to many organizations, such as Harmony House and Marshall University.
In 2013, Hanshaw was a board member when the Foundation made a $500,000 donation to the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University to create the Huntington Foundation Inc./Frank E. Hanshaw Sr. Endowed Chair of
Geriatrics. The endowed chair is named for Hanshaw's late father, founder and past president of the Marshall University Foundation.
Hanshaw also chaired the Huntington Rotary Club's Rotary Park Committee. The Rotary Club raised about $400,000 in two decades under Hanshaw's leadership. All money went to the Rotary Park's upkeep, including installing a picnic shelter and playground. The Rotary Club gave Hanshaw the "Exceptional Citizen Award" in 2009 for his efforts.
In 2016, the Huntington Area Chamber of Commerce gave Hanshaw the "Loyalty Award" for being a supporter of the chamber since it was founded. He was also a lifetime member of Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church, having recently served on the church's Strategic Planning Committee.
Hanshaw's picture is also on the Huntington Wall of Fame, being inducted among five others in 2006.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.