The Voice of West Virginia
Coal industry giant Bob Murray has died. Covid 19 hospitalizations soar to a pandemic high in West Virginia. Two Monongalia County residents are in the hunt to be the state’s Agriculture Commissioner. Marshall honors the quarterback who guided the “Young Thundering Herd” in the years after the plane crash. The current Thundering Herd is climbing in the rankings and West Virginia’s U.S. Senators weigh in on today’s vote on the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two men who live in and both represented Monongalia County in the state Senate at one point vie to hold the position of commissioner of the Department of Agriculture in the Nov. 3 General Election.
Voters will decide between incumbent Republican Kent Leonhardt, former state legislator, or go with Bob Beach, a Democratic state senator from Monongalia County.
Leonhardt is a Fairview native that holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Wildlife Management, Masters in Business Management and Graduate of USMC Command and Staff College. He said the voters, including farmers of the nearly 22,900 farms in the state, will vote for him because they want to see the momentum of the office and industry continue.
“You want to keep somebody in office that has started these programs and let this person finish it to the end. To change the person mid-stream you may end up losing all the progress you made,” he told MetroNews.
Leonhardt has touted the Fresh Food Act passed under his leadership that mandates state institutions to source five percent of their beef commodities from state farmers. Going into law July 1, 2019, it was part of the department’s effort to expand the use of local foods to all of the state’s schools and state-led institutions through the Farm to School program.
Being a veteran, Retired USMC Lt. Colonel, Leonhardt also told MetroNews he is proud of the VA Agro-therapy project in West Virginia for veterans and first-responders.
Leonhardt, who owns a cattle, goats and sheep family farm on 380-acres, said that something that may resonate with the voters the most is the way the department has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. He credited his military background for his leadership skills.
“During this pandemic, we kept the agriculture businesses open with almost zero, very little incidents with COVID infections. It’s had very little impact,” he said.
Beach was raised on an 800-acre Angus cattle farm at Fort Martin and said he jumped into the race 18 months ago after meeting with farmers from Greenbrier, Mason and Kanawha counties.
“At the end of the evening, what you were hearing was there is a lack of communication between the farm and the Department of Ag. Also a lack of advocacy for the farmer. Those two things can be easily corrected if you have the right person in play,” he said.
Beach has been in the legislature for 20 years and has a political science degree from Fairmont State University. He has served on the committees around agriculture and rural development that has led bill passages with Leonhardt including Beach being a sponsor of the Cottage Food Law, SB 285.
The bill was signed by Gov. Jim Justice in 2019 and allowed for sales of homemade food items beyond farmers’ markets and community events.
Leonhardt has called Beach a career politician touted his campaign has “a real farmer for West Virginia.”
“I love my job, I love helping people, I love watching agriculture grow,” Leonhardt said.
Leonhardt said programs and industries that have grown in the past three and a half years include hemp, honey, maple syrup, cattle, and food banks.
Leonhardt served two years in the state Senate before taking office in 2016 and now has continued to try to cultivate the hemp industry in the state. When the application period ended for the 2020 growing season of industrial hemp in Oct. 2019, the state received more than 400 applications.
The 2021 growing season application process ends on Oct. 31. According to the department’s figures, the state had 649.5 acres of hemp grown in 2019.
During his time in the legislature, Beach has pushed for the hemp industry by working on experimental plots. He said if elected he would like to put an education element into the hemp program and not just focus on the application process.
He said the hemp program needs to be stressed as a business and not a hobby and some results have been disappointing.
“A lot of focus has been on how many applications are being made. Well, that’s not what you want to judge anything on, you want to judge it on the output and how many plants are being generated,” Beach said.
Beach said he’d want more focus in the department on promoting agricultural products grown in the state. He has put together a 10-point plan for educational advances with K-12 schools and agriculture.
His campaign has been based around the term “ARC” standing for advocacy, resources and communication for the industry. The West Virginia Development says in 2019, the state’s farmers produced $800 million in a variety of products from produce to livestock.
Beach was last elected to the state Senate District 13 in 2018 and his term would end 2022 if not elected to the Ag post.
“That element that I have to bring to the table is as a native West Virginia, I can talk to talk and walk the walk when it comes to agriculture. I was raised in that environment, I stayed close to that environment all my life,” Beach said.
The early in-person voting period in West Virginia ends Oct. 31.
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Another poll in the West Virginia Governor’s race indicates that incumbent Republican Jim Justice maintains a commanding lead over Democratic challenger Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango.
The WMOV Radio Poll conducted last week by Triton Polling and Research found that 54 percent of likely voters favored Justice while 35 percent favored Salango. Seven percent favored other candidates and just five percent were undecided.
The results are almost the same as the MetroNews West Virginia Poll conducted earlier in the month. Our poll had Justice at 53 and Salango at 34.
There have been other polls that show the race much closer, and those are the ones that Salango campaign spokesperson Kelsi Browning referenced when contacted.
“Other polls show Ben Salango within striking distance. The early voting numbers show that there is excitement for Salango,” she said. “In the home stretch, we are focusing on getting out the vote and letting voters know that there is a real choice on the ballot between public service and self-service.
Salango has faced several challenges in this race that have proven difficult to overcome.
First, the contest has changed dramatically since he announced last fall. At the time, Morning Consult’s approval ratings for the country’s governors had Justice near the bottom.
2019 was a tumultuous year for Justice; a second teachers strike in as many years, story after story about unpaid bills by his companies and a growing perception that by living in Lewisburg he was governing in absentia.
The pandemic changed the metrics of the race. Justice, after a couple of early stumbles, took the lead on the state’s response. Those daily briefings, many carried live on television and radio, contributed to the perception that Justice was in command and negated the criticism that he didn’t come to work.
Justice has dominated the news cycle since March in a way that no other Governor in the state’s history could.
The MetroNews West Virginia Poll found that 63 percent of likely voters either strongly approve or somewhat approve of the way Justice has handled the state’s response to the coronavirus. Only 29 percent disapproved.
Salango, despite campaigning vigorously and raising legitimate questions about how the state has handled the pandemic, has found it difficult to break through on the issue.
Second, voters grouse about elected politicians, but the incumbency provides a significant advantage. Justice went into the re-election campaign with sky-high name recognition. Salango was appointed to the Kanawha County Commission in 2017 and won election in 2018.
So, he is known there, but building name recognition in a state as geographically diverse as West Virginia is a mammoth—and expensive—undertaking. Our poll found that when voters were asked whether they approved or disapproved of Salango, 37 percent said they were “not sure.”
That uncertainty also provides an opportunity for Justice to define Salango with attack ads.
Third, Salango has a top-of-the-ticket problem. Granted, voters are more likely today to split their ballot, but it helps Justice to have Donald Trump and Shelley Moore Capito at the top.
Fourth, Salango did not get enough face-to-face meetings with Justice. He did well in the one debate and landed some punches. However, many of the state’s TV stations did not carry it live and he badly needed at least another two debates to put himself on an even playing field with Justice.
I have heard it theorized that Salango ran just to establish himself as the front runner four years from now. I have covered enough races to know candidates like Salango do not pour themselves and their money into a campaign thinking they are going to lose. Driven candidates are in it to win it.
Salango can hope that the stars will come into alignment on election night, and upsets do happen. However, he must also know how unlikely that is.
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Bob Murray, a coal titan who founded the company bearing his name, died on Sunday at age 80.
Murray’s political activity and fierce defense of the coal industry perhaps made him as well known as his company’s business activities.
His death was first reported by WTOV-TV and then by the Intelligencer newspaper in Wheeling, the area where Murray made waves for so many years. Sources in the coal industry also confirmed the death to MetroNews late Sunday evening.
Murray had been in ill health for several years, becoming more acute in recent weeks. Just days ago, his retirement as chairman of the company’s board was announced. Early this month, his application for black lung benefits was reported by public broadcasting. In the black lung claim, Murray said he depended on oxygen and was “near death.”
Michael Shaheen, a St. Clairsville, Ohio, attorney who has been representing Murray, told the Intelligencer on Sunday afternoon that Murray had died that morning. Shaheen said a private memorial service will be held Tuesday.
Murray Energy, which is based in St. Clairsville, just came through bankruptcy. The company emerged in September as a newly-formed American Consolidated Natural Resources. During that process, Murray had shifted to a board chairman role.
Murray, who claimed to have lied about his age so he could start working in a coal mine as a youth, worked in a series of coal executive roles before starting his company in 1988. That began inauspiciously, with the purchase of a single continuous mining operation with an annual output of one million tons a year.
Quickly, Murray Energy Corporation embarked on a strategy of buying high-sulfur coal reserves and aiming to be the low cost producer in coal regions. Murray Energy purchased the former Consolidated Coal holdings in West Virginia about a decade ago.
Murray Energy grew to be the nation’s largest privately held coal company, producing about 53 million tons of high quality bituminous coal in 2018. By the time of its bankruptcy, the company employed about 5,500 people, including about 2,400 active union members.
Bob Murray had been an active backer of conservative politics, both in West Virginia and nationally. News of his death drew statements of appreciation from political figures like West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Senator Shelley Moore Capito, both Republicans.
Bob taught me a lot about the coal industry and for that, I will always be appreciative. Very sad. https://t.co/KjDqvUFvL3
— Patrick Morrisey (@MorriseyWV) October 26, 2020
Saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Murray. He was a staunch ally for coal miners, a good friend, and a one of a kind person. Thinking of his friends and family during this difficult time. https://t.co/VlnpxDOD4l
— Shelley Moore Capito (@SenCapito) October 26, 2020
Murray threw invitation-only fundraisers for President Donald Trump in Wheeling, near the company’s headquarters, donated $300,000 to Trumps’ inauguration and submitted an action plan of coal-boosting requests numbering more than three pages.
Murray often used his political platform to push for breaks for the coal industry. He also fought regulation at the state and federal level.
Murray said he wasn’t afraid to tell Trump that during a 2019 fundraiser he hosted.
“FERC is feckless. His FERC,” Murray told a reporter from E&E News covering the fundraiser. “And I told him that.”
His battles extended to the coverage he got. Murray filed more than a dozen defamation lawsuits against journalists and newspapers, but none reached judgment in his favor.
In June 2017, Murray Energy issued a cease and desist letter to the current events comedy television show “Last Week Tonight,” hosted by John Oliver, saying a segment “incited viewers to do harm to Mr. Murray and his companies.” The suit against HBO was dismissed with prejudice in 2018.
Just days ago, when announcing his retirement, Murray described pride in his life’s work, including the fights.
“Throughout my life in and about coal mines and in our industry, I have given all that I had to our employees and their families to sustain their family livelihoods and jobs for the hardworking people in our mining communities,” Murray stated.
“I tried to put my faith and our families first so that we could build the best possible coal company in Murray Energy Corp.
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— By Dave Weekley
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The last week of October is beginning with the United States, as a whole, seeing new daily records for coronavirus cases.
On Oct. 23, analysis from The New York Times showed more than 85,000 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed nationwide which broke a single-day record set back on July 16.
Saturday’s new case total for the U.S. was the second highest for a single day in the pandemic.
Among states, West Virginia was one of more than 30 states where COVID-19 cases were classified as higher and staying high as of Sunday morning, according to Times data.
That category included Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Ohio.
Ohio set a new daily case record on Saturday.
Calls for preventative measures, like hand washing, mask wearing and physical distancing, continued.
Residents were also asked to keep cooperating with contact tracers.
“When it comes to slowing the spread of COVID-19, disease investigation and contact tracing are some of our most valuable public health tools,” said Christina Mullins, commissioner for the Bureau for Behavioral Health.
The bureau is part of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
Since August and September, Mullins said those with local health departments in West Virginia, DHHR and the West Virginia National Guard have been using a cloud-based data system to investigate COVID-19 cases and monitor contacts for symptoms.
Mullins estimated more than 400 people were actively using the system statewide for case investigations or contact tracing activities.
In many cases, Mullins said trained students, volunteers and DHHR staff were also being assigned to assist with contact tracing in counties seeing surges.
“All of us can help these efforts,” she said.
For people who test positive for COVID-19, Mullins said isolation was key.
She also asked those with positive test results to provide accurate information to contact tracers.
For people potentially exposed, she said contact tracing calls were coming from local health departments, West Virginia COVID-19 Response or the number 866-611-0661.
“Contact tracing is a critical activity in protecting the lives and safety of our citizens and you can help West Virginia remain strong throughout this COVID-19 pandemic,” Mullins said.
Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean of health sciences at West Virginia University and a member of the state coronavirus task force, previously said the next six to 12 weeks may the worst for virus spread in the pandemic.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s defense entered Saturday’s matchup at Texas Tech as the NCAA leader in fewest yards allowed per game (240.3). The Mountaineers allowed a season-high 348 yards in the 34-27 loss and not having one of their top players on the field for over half the game didn’t help matters.
Senior linebacker and leading tackler Tony Fields II was ejected in the second quarter on a targeting call while making a tackle on Tech quarterback Henry Colombi. The call was made only after an official review.
“We have made the game so difficult to officiate on targeting and difficult to coach,” said WVU head coach Neal Brown. “That could have been a good call, it could have been a bad call. I have no idea. But as a head football coach, I don’t have a clear understanding of targeting. I don’t have a clear understanding of how it is reviewed. I feel bad for the officials on the field. I feel bad for the review. I don’t know.
“And here’s the thing on quarterbacks, it is even worse especially against dual threat quarterbacks because they fake a slide and then they slide. They slide head first. They slide feet first. I don’t know.”
West Virginia’s defense tightened up in the second half after allowing twenty points in the first half. A Dante Stills fumble recovery on the opening possession of the third quarter led to a game-tying touchdown drive. After trading touchdowns later in the third, Tech’s lone forced turnover of the game was turned into the decisive points on a 56-yard scoop-and-score from Zach McPhearson.
“The fumble we had in the fourth quarter, that wasn’t the reason we lost the game. But that was the turning point. We had two possessions where we had an opportunity to get it done and we didn’t.”
Three different Tech backs rushed for at least 40 yards and the Red Raiders averaged 4.6 yards per tote.
“Here’s the deal, they dinged us in the run game. We had trouble with them a year ago. Final offense numbers weren’t bad but we let them run for 179 yards. That’s too much. They were fifty percent (8-of-16) on third down. That is really good in our league.”
Drops adding up among Mountaineer receivers
According to the ESPN broadcast, West Virginia was tagged with seven dropped passes against Texas Tech. A recurring problem in the first half of the season resurfaced again and at critical times in the second half.
“It is just the little things,” said WVU receiver Winston Wright, who caught 9 passes for 126 yards. “If you don’t have your hands at the right place at the point of the break, you can lose your eyes. It is just the little things. But I think we will bounce back.”
“I don’t really have anything to say about the drops,” said WVU quarterback Jarret Doege. “I just tell them I am coming right back to them. I go love them up. I had my share of missed reads. So that is like a drop for me. I have to clean up some things.”
Doege returns to West Texas
Jarret Doege passed for a season-best 347 yards in defeat. Doege is a native of Lubbock and was a fixture at Texas Tech games growing up.
“It was a cool experience. I tried to take it all in in pregame, realizing what was going on. Once the ball kicked off, I got locked in and got ready to play. It was a really cool experience to come back home and play.”
Big 12 co-leaders up next
West Virginia opens the second half of their regular season Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium against Kansas State. The Wildcats (4-0) and Oklahoma State are the only unbeaten teams in Big 12 play.
“We’re all down about it,” Wright said. “We practiced really hard this week. The difference between this year and last year, we are pushing on to the next game. So we are going to come back ready to work on Monday. We are going to go out on Saturday and prove that we are the most improved team.”
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The quarterback for the Young Thundering Herd, the Marshall University football team fielded after the 1970 plane crash that killed 75 players, coaches and supporters nearly 50 years ago, is now memorialized in Huntington.
A city block, located at the intersection of Huntington’s 14th Street and Charleston Avenue, has been designated Honorary Reggie Oliver Square.
It’s named for a beloved figure in Huntington who died in 2018 at the age of 66.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said the site was chosen for a reason.
“The one significant place for Reggie in his time here in Huntington was at Fairfield Stadium and this entire area is where Fairfield Stadium was,” Mayor Williams said.
Fairfield Stadium was Marshall University’s football home from 1927 to 1990 which brought a move to Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“Why right here? For those of us who played ball here, this was the entrance into Fairfield Stadium for the athletes,” Williams explained.
Oliver was originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
He was a freshman in 1970 and did not travel to East Carolina that season because, at the time, freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition under NCAA rules.
The plane crash happened on Nov. 14, 1970 on the return trip home near Tri-State Airport.
For the next three seasons, Oliver was Marshall’s starting quarterback.
“When you talk about the fabric of Huntington, when you talk about the essence of the greatest comeback story in the history of sports, you talk about Reggie Oliver,” said Mike Hamrick, Marshall University athletic director.
“I grew up watching Reggie play quarterback at Marshall. I grew up idolizing Reggie Oliver.”
After graduation, Oliver played for the Jacksonville Sharks in the World Football League before returning to Huntington to teach and coach at Huntington High School.
He went on to become an assistant coach at Marshall, a head coach at Alabama A&M University and a head coach at Eastmoor Academy in Columbus, Ohio.
Oliver was inducted into the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame in 1984.
This past Friday, friends and family of Oliver were part of an unveiling of the Honorary Reggie Oliver Square sign during what was Marshall’s Homecoming Week.
“Reggie Oliver meant everything to those of us who came to know him and love him,” Mayor Williams said. “He loved Marshall University and he loved Huntington, West Virginia and we’re here to pay him honor.”
“I’ve never been around a person who loved and cared about this University and this community more than Reggie Oliver,” he said.
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SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Fishing tournament directors in West Virginia will soon have to follow a new set of regulations. Starting January 1st all fishing tournaments in the state, regardless of size or structure, will be required to have a permit issued by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
The present regulations, which were implemented in the early 1990’s, required a permit only for any “open” tournament in West Virginia. The “open” tournament in general referred to tournaments which awarded cash prizes. The new regulations expand the requirement to any organized fishing event.
“Tournaments that give out money or prizes, they were the ones that had to have a permit before. Starting January 1st, any tournament must have a permit, an open tournament, club tournament, kayak tournament, doesn’t matter. They must have a permit,” said DNR Assistant Chief of Fisheries Mark Scott.
The regulation change reflects the increased popularity of fishing tournaments. Originally a few bass tournaments were happening on West Virginia waters, but in the last decade the number of bass tournaments have exploded. Their popularity has increased along side and in direct proportion to the number of catfish tournaments, kayak fishing events, and a spattering of club fishing tournaments across the state. The agency recognized the growing trend of more tournaments along with limited waters and boat ramp access was going to create problems.
“Folks talk about tournaments in Tennessee, Texas, Florida, or places like that. One of their lakes would encompass every bit of water we have in West Virginia. You get two or thee tournaments which accidentally show up on the same water on the same day, which in the past could happen since only the open tournaments needed a permit, then you could have a massive crowd of boats, and a mess of trying to launch boats and park trailers. It could be an issue.”
Beyond permits however, Scott and the agency decided to take a closer look at the requirements for fish handling during these events and proper care of the resource. The old regulations largely didn’t address the fish handling or the proper care of fish to insure a safe release. Creating the rules, Scott said he consulted and worked with the leading fishing organizations in the state.
“I spoke with several bass tournament folks, several catfish tournament folks, kayak tournament folks. I tried to hit a little bit of everything. They all care very deeply for the resource. Nobody wants to go out and kill the fish they are targeting. A lot of these things they’ve already been doing anyway, but this sort of ties them to it. Those few who were not doing it, now we can hold their feet to the fire,” Scott said.
The new rules set regulations on the size of the weigh-in-holding tank, parameters on water temperature and the numbers of fish which can be held at any one time. There are requirements for protective chemicals in the holding tank, proper oxygenation, and deep cleaning of the equipment after each use to hold down the spread of disease or invasive species from one body of water to another.
The applications for the 2021 tournament permits will be accepted starting December 1st.
“We’ve changed it a little bit. You can only request five tournaments per application and you have to wait two weeks before you can apply for five more. That prevents one tournament holder from booking Stonewall Jackson every weekend through the summer or something like that,” Scott said.
Finally, tournament directors will also be responsible for collecting data on fish caught in their tournament. Length, weight, species, and the number of fish which died along with the number retuned to the water must all be collected.
“We’re going to be a little more of a stickler on this now. We’ve always asked for the data, but in the past we’ve let them slide on getting it into us. Now we’ve given them 30 days to submit the data, which should be plenty of time. If they don’t all permits are on hold until they do,” he said.
The agency requires no permit fees, but the data is required is put to use to determine the quality of fish health in each body of water. Tournament data is now available for more than three decades on most West Virginia waters and is part of the knowledge base used to make management decisions for fishing in those waters in the future.
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