There are more than 600,000 registered Democrats in West Virginia so if half of them were to show up at the polls and vote a straight ticket in the November general election that would be 300,000 votes for President Barack Obama.
But that number won’t be enough to enable him to carry the state against his Republican challenger Mitt Romney who can count on all of the 303,000 registered voters in his own party who show up to vote for him along with many Democrats who will be voting against Obama.
Four years ago, Republican presidential candidate John McCain beat President Obama by more than 90,000 votes and so the incumbent president has already written off West Virginia in his re-election campaign. Who can blame him after Democrat voters in last month’s primary election only gave him a margin of about 35,000 votes over a convicted felon locked up in a Texas prison?
The state Democratic party convention in Charleston earlier this month featured hundreds of party members who are enthusiastic supporters of President Obama. And the nearly 900 delegates also supported a resolution targeting U. S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin since both have refused to say if they will vote for President Obama in November.
They have both also declined to say if they voted for Obama in the May primary election and have said they may not attend the Democratic Party’s national convention in September. As a result, they were criticized by many of those attending the state party convention and one delegate said plainly if Manchin and Tomblin can’t support Obama, then she won’t support them when she makes phone calls on behalf of the Democrat Party ticket.
Obviously the Republican Party in West Virginia hopes to use this party division among Democrats to its advantage in the November general election. But four years ago, no other members of the GOP ticket were successful in the state except for incumbent Second District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito.
Both Manchin and Tomblin will be on the ballot for another term as U. S. senator and governor respectively in November. And all those Democrats who plan to vote a straight ticket will obviously be voting for them as well as Obama. But the rub comes if these two Democrat party leaders in the state continue to insist they can’t support the entire party ticket.
No one apparently has asked these two prominent party members whether they actually cast a vote for the inmate of a Texas prison as an alternative to Obama in the May primary to demonstrate their position or simply skipped a choice on that race. It seems more likely they simply avoided that contest entirely.
So apparently Romney will carry West Virginia just as McCain did four years ago — not because that many Democrats wanted to cast their ballots for the Republican nominee but rather because they wanted to distance themselves from their own party’s choice.
And it’s obvious many members of the Democratic party in West Virginia view both Manchin and Tomblin with disdain. But those who continue to vote a straight ticket will still be supporting them.
Meanwhile, moving all of the women serving time in West Virginia’s 10 regional jails into a single facility is clearly a wise move to avoid most of the growing number of so-called “frivolous” lawsuits filed by female prisoners against male correction officers. Some of them have been settled for amounts under $10,000 to save money in legal costs to defend the correctional officers involved.
Former legislator Joe DeLong, who now is acting executive director of the Regional Jail Authority, said the lawsuits have cost taxpayers more than $7 million in the past three years alone. Each year, inmates file numerous lawsuits in which they usually claim they have been mistreated.
Many of these lawsuits are sexually based and most of them are filed by state-sentenced female prisoners who are housed in one of the regional jails awaiting movement to the overcrowded state prison system. The main issue has been instances where female prisoners come into contact with male correction officers. And a lot of these are false claims that can’t be handled swiftly.
However, the ultimate outcome usually is a cash settlement because it’s cheaper for the Regional Jail Authority than to fight it in court. These settlements generally have been in payouts of $6,000 to $8,000 per case. DeLong said the Regional Jail Authority has insurance against legal claims but in the last three years liability insurance premiums have been about $2 million compared to $7 million paid out in claims. All the female prisoners are now in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail, which has 15 female officers to help cope with complaints.
Finally, the latest report on West Virginia’s 53 municipal pension plans for police officers and firefighters indicates the funding shortfall is now close to $1 billion, nearly double what it was just 10 years ago. And at least three of the individual plans for fire departments in Kanawha County are only 5-percent funded.
The situation continues to deteriorate and even though the Legislature has approved changes to help with the problem, the state’s largest city, Charleston, is already appealing to the Legislature to take further action or else that city’s current plans will not be sustainable beyond its next municipal election, according to City Treasurer Victor Grigoraci. Already, Charleston’s new city budget for the new fiscal year earmarks $9.5 million of its $84 million total for public safety pension funding.