The Voice of West Virginia
State lawmakers made quick work of the special session on Thursday. Part of the session included confirmation of nominees to the Educational Broadcasting Authority which drew fire from Democrats. There’s a deal in Washington on Infrastructure and Senator Joe Manchin is one of those in the bi-partisan group who built the framework. Covid continues to decline in the state but concerns continue over those unvaccinated. In Sports, the state baseball tournament is underway in Charleston. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A second round 68 has lifted David Bradshaw to the top of the leaderboard at the 88th West Virginia Open. The 11-time Open champion put seven birdies on his card Thursday at Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport. At 4-under par, Bradshaw will take a three-shot lead over Nick Fleming into Friday’s final round.
“I have had leads and I have lost them. I have been behind and come back,” Bradshaw said on Citynet Statewide Sportsline.
Bradshaw posted the low round of the tournament Thursday to follow up an even par round on Wednesday. The Shepherd University alumnus is seeking his 12th title just 18 years after winning his first as an amateur in 2004.
“It started out a little rough with a bogey on 10. But then I got things cruising along with a few birdies. I had one little blip on the radar on two when I duck hooked it into the weeds. But that happens if you play golf. I hit the ball well and putted pretty solid.
“This is a tough one for the old guys. I am about to turn forty. So even I am feeling it.”
Fleming (1-under) is the only other golfer on the good side of par through 36 holes. Bradshaw and Fleming will be grouped with former WVU golfer Chris Williams (1-over) in the final round. The trio will tee off at 11:20 a.m. Chris Williams is tied for third place with Bridgeport native Mason Williams and Pikewood National Director of Golf Matt Tashenberg.
Defending champion Ken Hess is six shots back at 2-over. He is tied with Bridgeport’s Woody Woodward in sixth place. Pat Carter (3-over), Christian Boyd (4-over) and Ryan Bilby (4-over) complete the top ten.
The field was cut to 62 players after Thursday’s second round.
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The murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin spawned nationwide protests and ignited the “Defund the Police” movement.
“Defund the Police” meant different things to different people. A few activists wanted to dismantle police departments. Others had a more nuanced approach where policing could be reinvented to include more funding for social services and efforts to deal with the root causes of poverty and crime.
Here are a couple of examples of stories in the New York Times one year ago indicating at the time that the defund movement was catching on.
“Across the country, calls to defund, downsize or abolish police departments are gaining new traction after national unrest following the death of George Floyd,” The Times reported one June 5, 2020.
The Times ran a similar story July 3, 2020, with the headline, “Have Americans warmed to calls to defund the police?” The Times reported, “As people have learned about the term and some city governments have even put it into action, Americans have shown receptiveness to it.”
But the story has changed significantly over the last year.
The Times reported this week, “Facing a surge in shootings and homicides and persistent Republican attacks on liberal criminal-justice policies, Democrats from the White House to Brooklyn Borough Hall are rallying with sudden confidence around a politically potent cause: funding the police.”
The story cites the campaign of Eric Adams, a former New York City police officer who is the first round leader in race for the Democratic nomination for mayor. Adams had a strong anti-crime message and condemned efforts to take away police funding “at a time when Black and brown babies are being shot in our streets.”
On the same day, another Times story chronicled how police departments across the country are losing veteran officers and struggling to fill vacancies. “A survey of 200 police departments (by the Police Executive Research Forum) indicates that retirements were up 45 percent and resignations rose by 18 percent from April 2020 to April 2021 when compared with the previous 12 months.”
It is not surprising that police are turning in their badges in record numbers and young people are reluctant to choose policing since the profession has been subjected to withering criticism and scrutiny over the last year.
Meanwhile, violent crime in major cities, after a long decline, is rising again. “Homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year,” according to the Times.
President Biden is getting the message. This week he freed up Covid-19 relief money to re-fund the police.
“We’re now providing more guidance on how they can use the $350 billion… to help reduce crime and address the root causes,” Biden said. “For example, cities experiencing an increase in gun violence are able to use American Rescue Plan dollars to hire police officers needed for community policing and to pay their overtime,” Biden said.
The issue is resonating with voters. A USA Today poll in March found support for the “Defund the Police” movement dwindling. “Only 18 percent of the respondents supported the movement… and 58 percent said they opposed it.” Only one in four Black Americans polled were in favor of defunding.
The country was appalled at George Floyd’s murder, and the protests that followed highlighted legitimate complaints, especially by people of color, about policing. However, Americans are also very worried about crime, and calls to “Defund the Police” are wildly out of sync with those concerns.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Senate on Thursday confirmed two of Gov. Jim Justice’s nominees to the state Educational Broadcasting Authority.
Senators voted 22-6 and 21-6 respectively to appoint Greg Thomas and Danielle Waltz. Republicans were united in their support.
Thomas has represented multiple conservative causes, including former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s 2018 U.S. Senate campaign. Waltz is an attorney who has also lobbied on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Senate Democrats have raised concerns about the appointments because of the individuals’ political activities. Justice has argued the appointments are an attempt to bring “diversity” and “balance” to the EBA, which governs West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
“We in this country rely upon a free press — that’s the First Amendment — untainted by bias and prejudice,” Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said about the Thomas nomination. “To put somebody like this on a board that governs our public broadcasting system is a real travesty.”
Romano noted his concerns with Thomas’ background.
“Here we have somebody who is clearly a political partisan,” he added.
Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, who criticized press coverage of the state Legislature during the regular session, said public dollars should not go toward partisan news coverage.
“One thing that tells me is that the influence within that body is way too far left,” he said. “If you want to balance things out and not make it political, I think one, it’s good to give diverse opinions on a board rather than have them all one way. Second … this nominee also has represented in the past politicians from each party.”
Tarr did not mention any instance of media bias from West Virginia Public Broadcasting during his remarks on the Senate floor.
Justice also appointed Ron Hughes to the EBA. Hughes is a senior account executive at Pikewood Media Group, the parent company of West Virginia MetroNews, and a former accounts executive at Charleston Newspapers.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — If there was any concern over Bridgeport’s ability to contend in Class AAA after notching six consecutive state championships at the AA level, there no longer should be.
The No. 3 Indians scored five runs in the third and two more in the sixth that proved critical in their 7-5 victory over No. 2 Jefferson in Thursday night’s state semifinal at Power Park.
With the victory, Bridgeport (33-4) will face Hurricane at 10 a.m. Saturday in the AAA title game.
“We live to play another day,” BHS coach Robert Shields said. “Moving up to triple-A and playing a team the likes of Jefferson which came back against Washington two out of the three games in the (regional) tournament, I knew they had a chance of coming back. They have some big sticks throughout their lineup.
“A gutty performance out of (starting pitcher) Chris Harbert and Austin Mann coming on in relief and doing a nice job. We got some timely hits again tonight. We flew out a little too much, but we’re advancing.”
The Indians broke a scoreless tie in the top of the third inning by scoring five runs on five hits. The offensive surge was aided by a pair of Cougar errors, the first of which came at the plate on Frank Why’s single that brought Cam Cole around from third. Jefferson (27-4) got the ball to catcher Connor Bailey in plenty of time to prevent Cole from scoring, but he couldn’t hang on to the ball, allowing the Tribe to lead 1-0.
BHS then scored four more in the inning with two outs, getting a triple to center field from Nate Paulsen to bring home Why, while the second error of the frame on that play allowed Paulsen to score his team’s third run.
After JD Love’s two-out triple, Aidan Paulsen delivered a sharp single to score courtesy runner Trent Haines. Following a pitching change, Aidan Paulsen scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-0.
“We had a guy by fifteen feet at home plate and don’t secure the ball,” JHS coach John Lowery said. “That opened up that inning, because we’d have been out of the inning and I don’t think they would have scored a run.”
The Cougars looked as though they’d scored in the bottom half of the inning. However, Regan Allinger’s fly ball to center that originally counted as a sacrifice fly was overturned on an appeal when the umpires ruled Kamien Gonzalez had left third base early. Video replay indicated otherwise.
“It’s beyond me that they can call a guy out at third for leaving too soon on a ball that’s almost to the warning track,” Lowery said. “I guess it’s best not to get into that, but that was a big call in the game, because it would’ve given us another run and we’d have still had that inning going on.”
But JHS got back into the contest in the fifth, finally getting to Harbert by scoring three runs on three hits. Griffin Horowicz led off with a double, moved to third on a Gonzalez single and scored on Peyton Corwine’s ground ball to short, which resulted in an error that allowed him to reach.
Cullen Horowicz delivered a bases loaded single to bring in another run and Allinger’s sacrifice fly brought home Corwine to make it 5-3.
With runners at second and third, however, Harbert struck out consecutive batters to keep the two-run lead intact.
The Indians immediately answered with two runs to go up by four in the sixth. Cole delivered a run-scoring single to left and Nate Paulsen lifted a sac fly to center that made it 7-3.
“We got out a lot early being out in front and we didn’t sit back and be patient. But they made a good adjustment and that’s what the senior leaders that we have do,” Shields said. “They help on the bench with the kids and they make adjustments and we have to do it one more day.”
Austin Mann relieved Harbert to start the home half of the sixth and found trouble as the Cougars loaded the bases via an error, base-on-balls and a Gonzalez single.
After the first out, Bailey’s groundout to third scored Samuel Wabnitz to make it 7-4.
With runners at second and third, Shields elected to intentionally walk Cullen Horowicz to load the bases. Allinger followed with a single up the middle that scored another run, but Mann indcued an inning-ending fly ball to right from Zac Rose to keep the lead at two runs.
“We got a little bit too relaxed after that big inning and they had a big inning themselves,” Nate Paulsen said. “We kind of turned it on after that and played better defense and started hitting some more balls.”
Mann retired the side in order in the seventh to send Bridgeport to the final.
Cole finished 2-for-2 with a pair of runs, while Why led Bridgeport with three hits. Nate Paulsen had two of the team’s five RBIs.
Gonzalez was 3-for-3 in defeat and keyed Jefferson’s seven-hit attack.
Harbert struck out seven, walked four and allowed three runs in five innings to earn the win.
Riley Vasdasz was the first of four pitchers Jefferson utilized and suffered the loss by allowing five runs in 2 2/3 innings.
“We were getting the ball up early. You can’t pitch above the waist,” Lowery said. “The ball is elevated already and they get two balls over the outfielder’s heads and then we walk the No. 8 hitter and you know they’re pesky at the top of the order.”
Shields and Lowery entered Thursday’s matchup having combined for 20 state championships, with Lowery owning 12 titles. Each of Shields’ previous eight state championships at Bridgeport came at the Class AA level.
“It’s an awesome feeling and a great feat for these kids,” he said of reaching Saturday’s final. “We have one more thing we have to do. To get to the next step, for us to change in this new division, we have to be able to handle this adversity. We did it tonight and now we have to do it on a big stage Saturday morning.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Legislature met Thursday for its second special session of the year with both chambers adjourning sine die.
The Senate moved through the governor’s bills quickly during a 90-minute floor session. There was little debate on the funding bills.
House leadership took a different approach and sent the bills to the House Finance Committee for further consideration. Members of the committee rejected some of the bills but it approved the two largest.
One bill allocates $42 million from current budget revenues to fund State Park expansion/improvement projects. State Division of Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel said the use of parks and forests have exploded and more cabins and campsites are needed.
“The problem we’re having now is that we’re facing capacity issues,” McDaniel said.
Plans are to build smaller cabins at Beech Fork State Park and some other locations. The bill also includes the total replacement of the aerial trams at Pipestem Resort and Hawks Nest State Park.
Del. Marty Gearheart voted against the bill in committee. He said just because the state has additional revenues that doesn’t mean it has to spend it all.
“These are things that weren’t part of the budget that all of the sudden we think we can put on our shopping list because the money is there,” Gearheart said.
Del. Jeff Pack argued the state must continue to invest in its parks.
“We’re talking about investing in our park system where we have a proven track record of a return in investment,” Pack said. “We’re investing in West Virginia. We are investing in improving West Virginia.”
Lawmakers in recent years have balked at Gov. Justice’s plan for a $35 million closing fund for economic development deals. The idea, now at $30 million, received a better reception Thursday.
State Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch said the state has to be able to get possible development sites “shovel ready.”
“What we’re looking for is an investment and that’s how I view this $30 million,” Gaunch said.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators announced Thursday a deal on an infrastructure plan, in which West Virginia’s senators were factors in the agreement coming together.
The infrastructure framework would cost $973 billion over five years — $1.2 trillion in eight years — with $579 billion in new spending on roads and bridges, public transit, water systems and broadband improvements.
“We have a deal,” Biden said outside of the White House surrounded by the group of 10 senators.
“We’ve all agreed that none of us got what we all would have wanted. I clearly didn’t get all I wanted. They gave more than, I think, maybe they were inclined to give in the first place.”
The Biden administration proposed a $2.3 trillion plan in March addressing infrastructure needs and “human infrastructure” issues, such as child care and education.
“This reminds me of the days we used to get an awful lot done in the United States Congress,” said Biden, who represented Delaware in the Senate for nearly three decades.
The bipartisan agreement followed a series of meetings within the bipartisan group — in which Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is a member — as Biden and Senate Republicans negotiated and ended talks on a possible bill.
“Like any good negotiations, nobody got everything that they wanted in the deal,” Manchin told reporters. “The package is a testament that we can, if we work hard enough and are determined, accomplish heavy, heavy challenges in a bipartisan way.”
The new spending includes $110 billion for roads and bridges, $65 billion for broadband improvements, $73 billion for electricity upgrades, and $55.2 billion toward water infrastructure. Manchin noted $6 billion will go toward researching and developing new energy technology. The plan also would direct funds toward encouraging companies to establish operations in areas impacted by shifting energy markets.
“Most of all of the utilities are already there. They can get up and run equipment. Also, it gives them a tax advantage and a tax credit to come into these areas. That gives them another tool to work with,” he said. “I think West Virginia is going to be very well placed in this piece of legislation to have a lot of opportunities. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re prepared to take advantage of them.”
Options for financing the plan include tax changes, repurposing unused coronavirus relief funds from last year, and incentivizing public-private partnerships.
“We’re going to do it all without raising a cent from earners below $400,000,” Biden said during a second press conference. “There’s no gas tax increase, no fee on electric vehicles, and the fact is we’re going to make sure that everybody in America is in a position to be able to do what need be done.”
The president ended negotiations with Republican senators earlier this month. Biden and the group were unable to reach an agreement as Republicans opposed changing portions of the 2017 tax law and the scope of Biden’s plan.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., led Republicans in talks. Biden thanked Capito on Thursday for her efforts, and Manchin mentioned Capito’s leadership made the new framework possible.
“She put a template together that we used. That was the template that was given to the bipartisan group when she came to an impasse,” Manchin said.
Capito spoke to reporters Thursday before the announcement; she said she wanted to review the framework before supporting the plan.
“In terms of infrastructure, I’ve always felt — and my plan has always reflected — that infrastructure is physical and core infrastructure,” she explained. “I haven’t seen the details of the plan that has been agreed upon, but I think it is a narrowing focus from what President Biden originally had enumerated in his bill.”
Democratic lawmakers will have to agree on another measure covering White House priorities before the president approves the infrastructure proposal; Biden asked lawmakers to pass the infrastructure bill “in tandem” with a measure addressing issues like child care and education.
“We need physical infrastructure, but we also need the human infrastructure as well. They’re a part of my overall plan,” the president told reporters at the White House.
While the infrastructure agreement has bipartisan support, Democratic senators could approve the second measure through reconciliation, which would allow the split Senate to pass a bill without any Republican votes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., met with White House officials on Wednesday to discuss a two-track approach.
“We will not take up a bill in the House until the Senate passes the bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill. If there is no bipartisan bill, then we’ll just go when the Senate passes a reconciliation bill,” Pelosi said Thursday. “I’m hopeful that we would have the bipartisan bill. I think it would be really important to demonstrate the bipartisanship that has always been a hallmark of our infrastructure legislations.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized Biden’s approach in a floor speech.
“It almost makes your head spin,” he said. “An expression of bipartisanship, and then an ultimatum on behalf of your left-wing base.”
The Senate begins a two-week state work period on Monday, in which lawmakers will not resume their session until July 12.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Winners of 31 straight games entering the Class AAA state tournament, Hurricane more than earned the top seed ahead of its quest for a state championship at Power Park.
For much of Thursday’s state semifinal against No. 4 St. Albans, the Redskins showed why. Hurricane pushed across four runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to take control, then held off a late Red Dragons’ rally for a 10-7 win.
The win gives Hurricane (33-1) a spot in Saturday’s state title game, where the Redskins will face the winner of No. 2 Jefferson/No. 3 Bridgeport at 10 a.m.
“You get to this point, it’s survive and advance and giving yourself a chance on Saturday is all you can ask,” Hurricane coach Brian Sutphin said.
Quarrier Phillips gave HHS the early lead with a first-inning double that brought home Damian Witty.
Redskins’ pitcher Ismael Borrero held the Red Dragons scoreless on one hit over the first three innings, before Phillips doubled his team’s lead with a run-scoring single in the third.
St. Albans (25-8) cut the deficit in half with its first run off Borrero in the fourth as Will Campbell’s two-out single plated Ayden Youngblood.
But in the bottom of the inning, Hurricane turned a 2-1 game into a five-run advantage with its first of two straight four-run frames.
An error and consecutive walks allowed the Redskins to load the bases, before leadoff hitter Ethan Spolarich connected for a two-run single. Prior to the Spolarich single, the Red Dragons brought starting pitcher Garrett Comer back on the mound in place of Carson McCoy, who had taken over for Comer to start the third inning.
Joel Gardner followed Spolarich’s two-run hit with a two-run triple to center that upped Hurricane’s lead to 6-1.
“We really started getting some good at bats and we had some freebies,” Sutphin said. “We had a chance to put it away and it wasn’t for a lack of effort.”
Run-scoring singles from Cameron Carner and Spolarich in the fifth helped the Redskins hold an 8-1 lead that grew to nine runs on Gardner’s bases loaded walk and Witty’s RBI fielder’s choice.
Hurricane had a chance to end the game in five innings, but Phillips bounced out with a runner at third to end the fifth.
“We gave up the two big innings. We did a lot of things we knew we couldn’t do against that team, because they’re just too good,” St. Albans coach Rick Whitman said.
St. Albans scored two runs in the sixth to draw closer, capitalizing on a Comer triple that led to him scoring on a dropped third strike, before Campbell’s double helped lead to a Michael Hindman sacrifice fly.
Still, the Redskins carried a seven-run lead into the seventh and appeared set to win comfortably.
But St. Albans had other ideas in mind, starting its final inning with a McCoy single and Drew Whitman’s RBI double. After Tyson Burke reached on Hurricane’s lone error, Borrero was replaced by Gardner on the mound.
Gardner was greeted by Trent Short’s RBI single that cut the Red Dragons’ deficit to five. With two runners on, Comer drove in his team’s sixth run on a fielder’s choice to short, and Campbell added a run-scoring single two batters later to make it 10-7.
“The last thing we do is quit and they showed me a lot,” Whitman said. “They kept battling and I’m proud of them. I’m disappointed that we lost, but I tell them all the time you found out what you’re made of when things aren’t going your way and they showed me a lot of character and battled until the very end.”
Gardner then buckled down with the tying run at the plate and struck out Hindman and Jamison McDaniels to wrap up the Redskins’ win, allowing Hurricane to beat St. Albans for the third time in as many tries this season.
“We tried to stay in the moment and we couldn’t let that get in our heads too much,” Gardner said. “I had to keep attacking them and making good pitches. They kept on getting a bat on it and they were falling until those last two outs.”
Borrero was charged with five runs in six innings. He struck out six, walked two and allowed nine hits over a 110-pitch outing. He will be the only Hurricane pitcher unavailable to work in Saturday’s final.
“Overall, Ismael was great,” Sutphin said. “His ball was running in on the hands and they were having a hard time getting really good swings. We had some long innings and before the sixth, the pitcher is sitting out a while and you kind of get out of rhythm. Their guys made it interesting late.”
Comer took the loss after allowing three runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings over separate stints on the mound.
The first four batters in Hurricane’s lineup — Spolarich, Gardner, Witty and Phillips — each had two hits and combined to go 8-for-15 with nine RBIs.
Brogan Brown finished 3-for-4 and scored a pair of runs in the win.
Short and Campbell had three hits each, combining for half of the Red Dragons’ 12 hits.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmakers will have the next year to figure out what to do with the ongoing issue of regional jail costs and the impact on county budgets.
The House and Senate approved a bill in Thursday’s special session that freezes the daily rate that counties pay for inmates at $48.25. The per diem was scheduled to increase to $55 a day on July 1.
The rates have been frozen since 2018. The bill extends that another year.
House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw said Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline” the legislature “has a lot of work to do” on the regional jail issue.
“There is going to have to be an increased role for state government here but there’s also going to have to be greater participation by county government, by municipalities, by county prosecutors,” Hanshaw said.
Many counties are behind on jail bills and county commissioners say they can’t keep up.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said during Thursday’s floor session the governor’s bill is the right move.
“This is an issue that all of us have heard about from our county commissioners. It doesn’t matter what part of the state you live in or what party you’re in,” Trump said.
Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said the freeze puts the legislature on notice to fix the current revenue problem.
“What I’m hearing from my counties and I think it’s important for us to realize is that this is a ball, that while we’ll be able to kick it down the road here for another fiscal year, is going to eventually blow up on us,” Romano said.
Current state law requires counties to pay the bill for each inmate arrested in their county housed in a regional jail.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh says there’s new evidence about the possible dangers residents face by not being vaccinated against COVID-19
“Ninety-eight to 99% of the deaths that we’re seeing in the U.S. today from COVID-19 are impacting people that have not been vaccinated,” Marsh said Thursday during Gov. Jim Justice’s coronavirus media briefing.
Marsh said it’s the most important information about vaccinations health experts have seen to date.
“This demonstrates the incredible potency and effectiveness of these vaccines,” Marsh said.
Marsh said the vaccines are going to play an even larger role when the Delta variant arrives in West Virginia. He said the Delta variant has a 5 to 8 R-Naught value, meaning one person with it can spread it to as many as eight people. That’s more than both the original virus and the UK variant.
“That’s the reason why we are very, very, much encouraging all West Virginians to be vaccinated and to be fully vaccinated now,” Marsh said.
He also cited recent data Thursday about how the virus is impacting children.
“Today in the U.S., 22.4% of all new COVID-19 cases are occurring in children,” Marsh said.
Gov. Justice continued to push Thursday for additional state residents to be vaccinated.
“You don’t want to be in the death lottery,” Justice said.
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