W.Va. redistricting may end as case for Supreme Court to decide

Herald-Dispatch, The (Huntington, WV) - Saturday, March 31, 2012
W.Va. redistricting may end as case for Supreme Court to decideNew boundaries for this state's three congressional districts -- drawn at a special legislative session last year and only slightly different from the lines used for the previous decade -- will New boundaries for this state's three congressional districts -- drawn at a special legislative session last year and only slightly different from the lines used for the previous decade -- will be used in the 2012 election while we all wait to see if the U. S. Supreme Court will step into this dispute that could change those lines for the 2014 election. Attorneys for legislative leaders want this nation's highest court to reverse a recent U. S. District Court ruling that rejected the recent congressional redistricting plan approved by the state legislature late in 2011. In January, the five justices on the West Virginia Supreme Court temporarily blocked the decision by a three-member panel of federal judges so that the new legislative plan for the three congressional districts can be used in this year's election. Anthony Majestro, a Charleston lawyer representing the House of Delegates, filed the 31-page "jurisdictional statement" with the U. S. Supreme Court last week. He said House Speaker Richard Thompson, D-Wayne, and others in the House of Delegates believe this case raises "significant constitutional questions" that might convince the nine justices -- currently busy with the controversy over President Obama's universal health care plan -- they should grant a full briefing and oral arguments before resolving this dispute. The new boundaries moved only one of West Virginia's 55 counties into a new congressional district -- switching Mason County from the 2nd Congressional District to the 3rd Congressional District. The U. S. District Court judges subsequently agreed with the challenge filed by the Jefferson County Commission and South Charleston attorney Thornton Cooper that this did not fulfill state and federal constitutional requirements that the three congressional districts be as equal in population as possible. Jefferson County and Cooper both have a month to file responses to Majestro's jurisdictional statement, and Cooper has already said he will. The ultimate ruling should come in plenty of time to determine the congressional district boundaries for the 2014 election and thereafter. And for the upcoming 2012 election, there will be competition for party nominations for the state's three congressional seats in three of the six primary races. Incumbent Republican Rep. David B. McKinley of Wheeling is unopposed in the GOP primary in the First Congressional District as is his Democrat challenger, Sue Thorn, also a Wheeling resident. And Rep. Nick J. Rahall II of Beckley, who has been representing the 3rd Congressional District for 36 years, is unopposed in the Democratic primary as he seeks his 19th consecutive two-year term. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican running for her seventh term in the 2nd Congressional District, faces opposition from current state legislator Jonathan Miller of Inwood and Michael Davis of Elkins. The Democrat primary in the 2nd District is a three-way race between Dugald Brown of Martinsburg; William McCann of Kearneysville and Howard Swint of Charleston. Rahall's opponent in the November general election will be determined in another three-way race for the GOP nomination between Lee A. Bias of Barboursville, Bill Lester of Beckley and Rick Snuffer of Beckley. n n n Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin didn't get everything he wanted at the 2012 legislative session, especially the proposal to create the office of lieutenant governor in the executive department. He told a newspaper reporter last week that he knows the Legislature did look at this proposal for a new executive officer but "for various reasons, they chose not to do that." His comments on the failed bill came in an interview where he made it clear that he has no problem signing a measure referred to by many legislators as the "Penn State bill." Approved unanimously by the 2012 Legislature, it is best known by that title since it is a response to the sex scandal last fall that ultimately led to the firing of legendary college football coach Joe Paterno. The governor's staff labeled the legislation the "Sandusky Bill," referring to Penn State's assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who has been indicted on 42 counts of child molestation between 1994 and 2009. The West Virginia law will require greater responsibility for adults to report acts of child sexual abuse or neglect. Anyone who sees or even suspects abuse of a child is obligated to notify law enforcement officials and could be subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 or 30 days in jail or both if they fail to report it to police. n n n The recent tragic fire in Charleston that ultimately claimed nine lives is another vivid reminder of the national statistics that indicate a West Virginia resident is nearly twice as likely to be killed by a fire as the average American. The last year for which these statistics are available is 2008 and then, only 12 of every one million Americans died in a fire. But in West Virginia, the number of residents killed by a fire was 23.7 per million -- nearly twice the national average. One of the major factors has to be the statistic that residents of this state are not as likely to have smoke detectors in their home. The state fire marshal's office in this state found in a recent year-long survey that one-fourth of the residential fires occurred in homes that didn't have a smoke detector. Nationally, 90 percent or more of residential structures have smoke detectors, according one of the state's deputy fire marshals. Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.