- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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April 20

The Charleston Gazette says Don Blankenship is trying to confuse voters:

What excellent timing Don Blankenship has. Just weeks before the primary election, he has made a splash asking a federal judge to throw out his criminal conviction of conspiracy to violate mine safety standards, claiming new evidence in previously undisclosed documents.



You would think that if these documents were so revealing, his lawyers would have brought them to the court’s attention back when the documents were first acquired, back when they could have done their client the most good, when Blankenship was still in jail.

That’s when most of the “new” documents were received, after all, on Jan. 31, 2017.

Yet Blankenship’s multi-million-dollar defense team did not bring up these reasons before.

Instead, three weeks before an election, where Blankenship seeks to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, he and a new team of lawyers attempt to throw dust in the eyes of voters.

Blankenship’s lawyers argue that federal prosecutors and the U.S. Labor Department did not turn over hundreds of pages that would have been helpful to Blankenship’s defense until after the trial.

Blankenship was sentenced to a year in prison and a $250,000 fine, the maximum allowed for violating safety standards. He was charged after the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.

The new motion specifically cites FBI interviews with two of the government’s main witnesses against Blankenship, Chris Blanchard and Bill Ross.

While those particular documents were not included in the trial, the issues they cite were explored during the trial. Blankenship’s lawyers cross-examined witnesses on the topics at length.

One of the “new” memos cites Chris Blanchard, then the president of the Massey subsidiary that operated Upper Big Branch, as saying “no amount of money or resources … could take care of all violations at a mine.”

Another cites Bill Ross, a federal mine ventilation expert who then worked for Massey and who disagreed with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration’s requirements for the mine ventilation system. Ross said the operation was “set up to fail.” U.S. District Judge Irene Berger ruled during the trial Blankenship’s defense could not rest solely on a disagreement with MSHA.

Both of these memos seem to further verify that Blankenship sent people to work in a mine he had reason to believe was not in compliance with federal mine safety laws and was not safe, so it is unclear how these documents are supposed to exonerate him.

Of course, that is not the real goal. The goal is to generate doubt and confusion among voters who may not have an opportunity to read the documents carefully. For that, the timing is perfect.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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April 20

The Inter-Mountain on the state of West Virginia’s corrections system in light of the South Carolina prison riot:

West Virginia may well have been on the brink of the precipice over which South Carolina fell this week. We may not be out of danger yet.

A South Carolina state prison about 60 miles from Columbia, the state capital, was the scene of a bloodbath Sunday and Monday. A power struggle between two prison gangs erupted. Seven inmates died and 22 others were hurt in the ensuing riot.

Prison guards retreated from the site of the initial melee. According to one report, it took four hours for corrections officials to gather enough force to begin restoring order.

Could it have happened here?

Possibly.

There are some similarities between prison systems in the two states. One is a shortage of staffing. In South Carolina, the corrections system is about 500 people short of having adequate personnel, though steps are being taken to rectify that.

Here in the Mountain State, both regional jails and state prisons remain short-staffed. The outlook for correcting that is much better than it was just a few months ago, however.

Recall that state legislators, convinced the corrections staff shortage was a disaster waiting to happen, approved a big increase in jail and prison pay. It amounts to $6,000 annually, phased in during a three-year period.

Is that enough, quickly enough? That is more than a good question - it is a pressing one.

Gov. Jim Justice and legislators should be monitoring the campaign to hire more corrections officers, using higher pay as a lure. If corrections officials are not having the success they had hoped in that, consideration should be given to accelerating the schedule for putting more money in jail and prison guards’ paychecks.

In the meantime, Justice should keep the offer he made a few months ago - of providing National Guard troops as backups for prison guards, if needed to avert a massacre like that in South Carolina.

Online: http://www.theintermountain.com/

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April 24

The Exponent Telegram on public colleges and universities in West Virginia:

What’s old is new again.

For decades, lawmakers in Charleston have railed against the number of state-run colleges and universities in West Virginia.

There are too many institutions of higher education for such a small, rural state, they say. Our resources are stretched too thin, they complain.

It is an issue that has not gone away and may very well be picking up steam again.

State Sen. Ed Gaunch of Kanawha County told us last week that we could be in for a “day of reckoning.”

“I think you’d be hard pressed to find a legislator there who didn’t realize the importance of higher education,” said Gaunch, a Republican. “The question is, how to take a limited number of resources and use them in the best possible way?”

So why do we have so many public colleges and universities?

They were established long ago when we had no interstates or internet. To have a college nearby was considered a necessity.

Plus, generations of lawmakers always sought to open colleges in their districts in order to get votes and glory.

But now we have a situation in which Concord, Bluefield State and the WVU Institute of Technology are located within 35 miles of each other. The Higher Education Policy Commission reports that Bluefield State has had drastic declines in enrollment in recent years.

In fact, many two- and four-year institutions have lost enrollment - last fall marked the seventh straight year of enrollment declines - yet the costs of running these schools continue to rise.

And with the nearly annual fights over tight state budgets, funding is being scaled back, causing schools to raise tuition and fees like clockwork.

Gaunch sees a time when West Virginia University and Marshall University will assume control of some of the poorer-performing campuses around the state.

“I hate to use the phrase ‘take over,’ but I think we’ll see that,” he said.

Gaunch said WVU is already operating in Parkersburg, Beckley and Keyser.

But closing schools? That will be even more difficult than the consolidation of high schools that have taken place in the last quarter century.

Still, lawmakers introduced a joint resolution at this year’s legislative session which called for a committee to study whether all of our state’s public colleges and universities are “viable as currently constituted.” The resolution failed.

This may not mean a wholesale closing of colleges in the state, but Sen. Craig Blair, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said nothing is off the table.

“Fairness is always on the table. We want an efficient, high-caliber education system in the state of West Virginia. We’re not employment opportunities for professors and administrators,” Blair said.

Anything is possible, although attempts to close schools will be painful and downright nasty. It’s been discussed a million times before and nothing has come of it.

But spreading out funds for so many schools doesn’t do any of them justice, nor does it help the students.

Gaunch may be right when he says there may soon be a “day of reckoning.”

Online: https://www.wvnews.com/

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