Redistricting documents kept private

Charleston Daily Mail (WV) - Friday, September 9, 2011

Legislative officials have denied the state Republican Party's Freedom of Information Act request to see all documents related to the recent redistricting process. 

The state GOP recently filed the records request of the House of Delegates, Senate, acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office and the Legislative Redistricting Office for all documents related to the redistricting process, which they claim lacked both public input and disclosure. 

Officials denied the request Thursday, leading the chairman of the state GOP to charge that leaders had something to hide. 

"Acting Gov. Tomblin and House and Senate Democrat leaders are intentionally hiding documents from the public," Republican Chairman Mike Stuart said in a press release. "Rather than provide essential documents to the public, Tomblin and legislative Democrat leaders have chosen to improperly assert technicalities in the law to skirt being honest with the voters." 

In his response to the FOIA request, House of Delegates counsel Mark McOwen said the request was "improper" under FOIA laws because the records sought were "of a personal nature; internal memoranda or communications received or prepared by a public body; attorney-client communications and work-product; subject to the deliberative process privilege."

Legislative manager Aaron Allred said the request also was exempt because the documents were of a "pre-decisional" nature and considered exempt as internal memoranda. 

That's in line with statements Allred made to lawmakers prior to the redistricting session, in which he said any documents they generated prior to introducing a bill or amendment were not subject to FOIA. 

However, Allred said in his response to the GOP that he would review the documents again and approach individual delegates to see if they'd consider releasing them. 

But Stuart still criticized the reasoning behind the denial. 

"Tomblin, (House Speaker Rick) Thompson and their friends are hiding behind technicalities to prevent the public from finding out the truth," Stuart said. "Refusing to comply with valid FOIA requests is both illegal and shameful." 

* * * 

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was not in attendance at President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress last night. 

That's because Rockefeller is still recovering from an Aug. 8 surgery to repair a tendon just above his left knee and has not yet been cleared to return to work. 

But Rockefeller spokesman Andrew Beckner said the senator's recovery is proceeding on schedule. 

"He's recovering very well and progressing just as the doctors suggested," Beckner said. "He scheduled the surgery to coincide with the August recess and was told prior to the surgery he'd likely miss the first week that Congress was back in." 

Beckner said Rockefeller is slated to return to work next week as doctors had planned. 

"You always wonder if there are going to be complications - especially for a guy who is 6 feet 7 - but in this case everything is working out well," he said. 

* * * 

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin continues to fare well among West Virginia voters, according to a poll released Thursday by Public Policy Polling. 

PPP, as the firm is known, said if Manchin had to stand for reelection this year, he'd be close to unbeatable. 

The poll of 708 "likely" voters was taken between Sept. 1 and 4. It has a 3.7 percent margin of error. 

According to the survey, 59 percent of West Virginians approve of Manchin's performance in the Senate and only 26 percent disapprove. He is tied for the fifth-most popular of 87 current senators that PPP has done polling about. 

The pollster said Manchin, the former governor, is seeing his support rising, though he is not as popular as he was as governor. Manchin was elected to serve out the term of Robert Byrd who died in office in 2010. Manchin is up for reelection in 2012. 

"Initially Senator Joe Manchin's approval numbers weren't as strong as those of Gov. Joe Manchin," said Dean Debnam, the polling firm's president said in a statement. "But he's headed in that direction now and it will make him very difficult to defeat for a full term in the Senate.