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Manchin's opposition clouds future of Dems' elections bill
A key Democratic senator says he won't not vote for the largest overhaul of U.S. election law in at least a generation

WASHINGTON — A key Democratic senator says he will not vote for the largest overhaul of U.S. election law in at least a generation, leaving no plausible path forward for legislation that his party and the White House have portrayed as crucial for protecting access to the ballot.

“Voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen,’’ Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia wrote in a home-state newspaper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

He wrote that failure to bring together both parties on voting legislation would “risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.”

The bill would restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, strike down hurdles to voting and bring transparency to a murky campaign finance system.

Among dozens of other provisions, it would require states to offer 15 days of early voting and allow no-excuse absentee balloting.

Democrats have pushed the legislation as the antidote to a wave of restrictive state voting laws sweeping the country, many inspired by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud in his 2020 election loss.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has pledged to bring the election bill to a vote the week of June 21, testing where senators stand. But without Manchin’s support, the bill has no chance of advancing. Republicans are united against it.

In appearances on two Sunday news shows, Manchin stressed his reasons for opposing the bill, including his view that it is too broad.

“I think it’s the wrong piece of legislation to bring our country together and unite our country and I’m not supporting that because I think it would divide us further,” Manchin said. He also said he believes Republicans will see the need for a bipartisan deal.

“And if they think they’re going to win by subverting and oppressing people from voting, they’re going to lose. I assure you they will lose,” he said.

Manchin said lawmakers should instead focus their energies on revitalizing the landmark Voting Rights Act, which was weakened by a Supreme Court decision in 2013. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has joined him in calling for that approach.

Manchin’s opposition to the broader elections bill is just the latest challenge facing Democrats as they debate how to deliver their promises to voters. Manchin reiterated he would not vote “weaken or eliminate the filibuster,” a route that many Democrats see as the only realistic path forward. The filibuster rule requires 60 votes to pass most bills, and in today’s Senate, which is split 50-50, that means many of the Democrats’ biggest priorities, from voting rights to gun control, are dead on arrival.

Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have frustrated their party by their defense of the filibuster. But they aren’t alone, with as many as 10 Democratic senators also reluctant to change the rules.

President Joe Biden this past week used the 100th anniversary of Tulsa’s race massacre to make a plea for legislation to protect the right to vote, which comes as Republican-led administrations in Texas and other states pass new restrictions making it tougher to cast ballots. Biden also seemed to call out Manchin and Sinema for stalling action on voting measures, though he has not said he wants to end the filibuster.

Biden said the right to vote was “precious” and must be protected, and pledged that June would be a “month of action” on Capitol Hill. “We’re not giving up,” Biden said. “I’m going to fight like heck with every tool at my disposal for its passage.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has promised to block the elections bill, which he characterizes as undue government overreach into state election systems.

He said no GOP senators support it.

“I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act,” Manchin wrote. “Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.”

In March, House Democrats passed the voting bill by a near party-line 220-210 vote. The legislation would restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, eliminate hurdles to voting and bring transparency to a campaign finance system that allows wealthy donors to anonymously bankroll political causes.

The measure has been a priority for Democrats since they won their House majority in 2018.

But it has taken on added urgency in the wake of President Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, which incited the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Manchin was interviewed Sunday on “Fox News Sunday” and “Face the Nation” on CBS.

Ian Jessee conducts the strings section of the West Virginia Youth Symphony Sunday at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston. A performance by the West Virginia Youth Symphony kicked off Symphony Sunday at the ballpark. The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra performed later Sunday night, followed by a fireworks display. The annual event was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Take me out to the symphony

Ice Cream Dream: K-Bo’s serves up far more than sweet treats

DANVILLE — Owner Kelly Underwood believes his vision for K-Bo’s restaurant has grown exponentially from its inception because of his willingness to try new things.

“I don’t have all of the answers, so I listen to our customers and our staff and if someone has an idea, I’ll try it and if it works, it stays,” he said. “I travel a lot with my work so I get to sample food from around the globe. Sometimes, I’ll try them out here.”

A Chicago-style hot dog did not make the cut.

“It was big and it was $5, and nobody here wanted tomato and pickle on a hot dog,” he said, laughing.

Underwood is a pilot by trade and makes his living with NetJets, known for possessing some of the finest private jets in the world.

“That was my dream as a kid,” he said. “For the last 10 years or so, my career as a pilot has taken off and I’m very thankful for that. Many folks locally think that K-Bo’s is where I make my living, but I’ve never taken a paycheck from K-Bo’s. It is something I see as important for my community. It fills a need here and I’m proud of that.”

The ever-expanding menu has evolved.

“Initially, I thought that ice cream and hot dogs with four people working here would be all I ever needed,” he said, laughing. “We have 14 employees today and we definitely sell more than hot dogs.”

Today a sample size of the menu boasts pulled pork sandwiches, ground chuck cheeseburgers, wings, salad and the recent addition of brick-oven pizza.

Underwood and Larry Hill built the oven from the ground up with pizza-making in mind.

“It took us a year to build,” he said. “If we are short staffed we don’t do the pizzas because it takes a dedicated team. We use Boar’s Head pepperoni and cheeses.”

Underwood said deep frying wasn’t on his radar initially.

“At first, I didn’t want to deal with fries and onion rings and I wanted to keep it simple, so we offered chips but adding those took us to another level and that led to chicken tenders and related stuff,” he said.

In 2016, a full-service deli came into play, accessible from the side entrance and featuring Boar’s Head meats.

“We do a lot of catering and we recently did 800 sandwiches for the school board,” he said. “I don’t try to hide the fact I’m more expensive than some, but I seek out the best products and the deli is no different. I do my thing here and people appreciate it. Our ice cream comes from United Dairy and we don’t use a powder that you add water to. Our ice cream costs more because it is real ice cream.”

Chicken salad is made fresh with fresh chicken tenders.

“We get a lot of feedback from customers who come here for Boar’s Head meats or the quality ice cream and they are our regulars,” he said.

A joint ownership venture with his wife, Terri, the Underwoods opened the doors to the restaurant on June 6, 2013, after an extensive search for a building to suit their needs. The couple named the business as a tribute to their children.

“I knew I wanted an ice cream shop because I owned an ice cream machine before I ever had a building,” he said, laughing. “I looked at places here in town and in Madison and they always seemed to fall through for some reason out of my control.”

Underwood said the former Dairy Queen building made sense on many levels. It also housed another ice cream shop after DQ, so the layout of the space made sense immediately.

Larry Hill, who worked at Danville Lumber for many years, helped Underwood inspect the site and helped develop it into the well-oiled machine it is today.

“If it wasn’t for Larry and Dreama Ramsey, this place wouldn’t be here,” Underwood said. “They keep it going, particularly when I’m not here.”

K-Bo’s has a reputation for giving back to the community through fundraisers and school or sports-related initiatives. Underwood said those contributions are something he’s uncomfortable talking about.

“I just always wanted to give back and despite what people may think, I’m not making money at this, but it is a passion,” he said. “We put our profits back into the business and our people. We make it a priority to hire young people and we pay them a little more than they can make somewhere else and we have a great work atmosphere here which is because of our people. I’m proud of how far we’ve come in a short time. It really is a family business.”

For weekly and daily specials and other menu updates, visit K-Bo’s on Facebook.

Treatment court offers substance abuse help for Logan County parents

LOGAN — A treatment program that began as a pilot in three West Virginia counties, including neighboring Boone, is now offering services in Logan County as part of a recent expansion that included five more counties statewide.

Family treatment court was established in Logan County in October 2020 and provides parents with substance use disorders a new avenue for rehabilitation and regaining their parental rights. The program is a collaborative effort that includes the Logan Circuit Court, the Logan County Day Report Center, Child Protective Services, substance abuse providers, foster care and others.

Logan County’s family treatment court got its first participant in January and is now up to nine. Twenty participants are allowed in the program at one time.

Participants must go through a rigorous, nine-month minimum process in which they must reach five milestones. Throughout their journey in the program, participants are consistently drug-screened, visited and checked on in other ways by officials who oversee their progress.

“It’s a lot,” said Logan County Circuit Judge Joshua Butcher, the judge overseeing the program and all of the county’s neglect and abuse cases. “It’s a lot that’s expected of them, and it can be overwhelming because it’s a lot to deal with. It’s an intensive supervision program, and a lot of people who are struggling with the issues that bring them to court in these kind of cases need that intensive supervision. They need that structure in their lives and without it, they’re far less likely to succeed.”

Drug screenings take place a minimum of three times per week at first and gradually wind down as participants make their way through the program. Participants must maintain daily contact with Ashley Ranson, the court case coordinator for family treatment court.

Participants are required to take part in individual and group counseling, and some are required couples counseling in certain cases. If a participant does not have a job, they are required to complete community service, as well as Jobs and Hope West Virginia, a program established by Gov. Jim Justice and the Legislature.

“We also have them participate in Jobs and Hope West Virginia just so they can have more resources than what we are able to provide,” Ranson said, “and then they can help with driver’s licenses, further their education, give them more job opportunities available.”

Each participant is allowed a limited amount of supervised visitation hours each week for their child. Visitation protocols gradually shift as participants pass through each of the program’s milestones.

“They get supervised visitation at first, and then after so long being in the program — usually milestone two, milestone three — we start doing unsupervised and even overnights,” Ranson said. “At the end of milestone three to milestone four, we’re looking to permanently place the kids back in the home while they’re still maintaining all the services, so that way when they graduate after milestone five, they’ve [the children] already been in the home getting the aftercare.”

Family treatment court launched in West Virginia in October 2019 as a pilot program in five counties: Boone, Ohio, Randolph, Nicholas and Roane. Boone County’s program is overseen by Circuit Judge Will Thompson, who has been a major proponent of its expansion around the state. The county graduated its first class of two participants in August 2020.

On May 6, Nicholas County graduated its first class. In August 2020, the state Department of Health and Human Resources allocated up to $1.5 million to expand the program into three more counties: Logan, Braxton and McDowell.

Butcher said the program has allowed him, along with others involved, to have a more personal connection with the individuals in the cases.

“What’s really unique about this program, for me, from my perspective, is typically, my dealings with the parents, in these cases, are limited to the several court hearings that we’ll have over the procedural life of a case, and I don’t get to know them very well except for their case details, not them as people,” said Butcher. “But now, in this program, I see them every single Thursday at 1 p.m. to go over their progress — what’s gone good in their week, what’s gone bad in their week, whether they need incentivized in some way through the program, whether they need sanctioned in some way through the program to help get them back on the right path; and I get to hear how their visits are going with their kids … just their high points and their low points. You get to know them more as a person.”

Logan County is expected to hold its first graduation in October or November, according to Butcher and Ranson.

“When these graduations come up and we see them succeed, and I know we’re going to see that at a higher rate than we do typically in these cases because of the intensive supervision and the additional services that they’re getting, it’s going to be all that more meaningful, both to them and to everyone in the program that’s working with them, including me, because they’re than a name on a page,” Butcher said. “They’re a real Logan County parent struggling with substance abuse disorder that’s overcoming and making a huge change to keep their family intact, and I’m excited to see it.”