Phil Kabler: Perfect plan revisited
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, says he's building consensus in the Legislature for his "practically perfect plan" for congressional redistricting -- actually, he calls it the "more perfect plan," but I prefer the "Mary Poppins" allusion.
Unlike the "perfect population plan" he proposed during the special session on redistricting, the new plan has several revisions to make it more palatable to legislators, particularly in that it does not split Kanawha or Harrison counties, nor does it put Republican incumbents Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley in the same district.
It links the fast-growing Eastern Panhandle with fast-growing north central West Virginia in the 1st District -- or at least Monongalia and Marion counties; Harrison would go into the 2nd. The proposed 1st would also include the Northern Panhandle, which critics might say could make McKinley vulnerable to a candidate from the Eastern Panhandle.
It also creates a relatively compact 2nd District, with Kanawha as the southernmost county.
Unger contends a selling point is that it's a drivable district, linked from Kanawha to Harrison County by Interstate 79, Harrison to Wood via U.S. 50, and Wood back to Kanawha on Interstate 77.
The 3rd District is unchanged in the plan, save for the addition of most of Randolph County. (The plan keeps all counties intact, except for a small sliver of Randolph that goes into the 2nd, and a chunk of southwestern Taylor that also goes into the 2nd.)
Unger said legislation to adopt the plan could originate in the Senate as early as this week.
At least one of the litigants in the U.S. District Court case that overturned the so-called "Mason County flip" congressional redistricting plan says he would not oppose Unger's plan if approved by the Legislature.
South Charleston lawyer Thornton Cooper said his primary concern is to avoid what he calls the outrageous gerrymandering that links the Eastern Panhandle with the Ohio River counties of Mason and Jackson.
Incidentally, in his most recent U.S. District Court filing opposing a motion for a stay of the court order, Cooper advised the court that not only is he "a voter, an attorney, a political cartographer, and a party in the case," but also a former -- and potentially current -- candidate for Congress.
Cooper notes that he is chairman of the candidate recruitment committee of the Kanawha County Democratic Executive Committee, and is obligated to find Democratic candidates for every office on the 2012 general election ballot.
"Because of the popularity of Congresswoman Capito, it is difficult to find Democratic candidates who are willing to take the chance of being trounced by her in the general election," Cooper advised the court. "If by the evening of the last day of the filing period, no other Democrat has filed to run in the congressional district ... Mr. Cooper plans to recruit himself to make sure that there is a Democratic congressional candidate ..."
Cooper said that while some believe his potential candidacy presents a possible conflict of interest as a party to the suit, he noted, "My ulterior motive is to fall on my sword. What I won't let happen is to not have a Democrat on the ballot in the general election."
Back during the special session, Senate Republicans prevailed over the Democratic leadership in passing the now-unconstitutional congressional plan -- with the support of Democrats who were hoping to elect Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, as Senate president, I'm told.
At the time, McCabe backers were hoping the six Republicans would reciprocate in the event of a close vote for Senate president.
Instead, the Republicans opted to restore the long-dormant tradition of having their members symbolically vote for the Senate minority leader in the floor vote to elect the president.
Finally, national political pundits are already salivating over the possibility that there will be two self-funded millionaire businessmen at the top of the 2012 GOP ticket in West Virginia, with John Raese's filing to again run against U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
(Although Bill Maloney has been awfully quiet since losing the special gubernatorial election in October. What ever happened to that statewide speaking tour he announced shortly after his defeat?)
Considering that the Manchin campaign made hay over Raese's ownership of a house in an affluent section of Palm Beach, Fla. (are there any other sections of Palm Beach?) during the 2010 election, it could be considered poor judgment for Raese to have flown into Charleston from Palm Beach International to file as a candidate Thursday.
What may be more interesting is that after filing, the Raeses flew on in their twin-engine Cessna Citation jet (actually, the jet belongs to a subsidy of Raese's Greer Industries) to the Morgantown Municipal Airport.
However, the jet is hangared, not in the University City, but at Cumberland (Md.) Regional Airport, about 70 miles east of Morgantown.
Why? Unlike West Virginia, Maryland does not collect aircraft registration fees or charge personal property taxes on aircraft. Purchases of aircraft are also exempt from Maryland sales taxes, if the company that owns the plane is engaged in interstate commerce.
For a Citation CJ2, domiciling the jet in Maryland saves about $240,000 in sales taxes, and about $52,000 a year in personal property taxes.
Say what you want about Raese's skills as a politician, but he's certainly an astute businessman.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.