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Statehouse Beat: Hostility in Legislature finally got to Palumbo

Sen. Corey Palumbo’s announcement that he will not seek reelection to the state Senate was disappointing but hardly surprising.

A political moderate who, as a lawyer, was particularly effective at mediating compromises on legislation, Palumbo had long expressed his displeasure with a process that had become increasingly partisan, hostile and obstinate.

Eighteen years ago, when the Kanawha County Democrat arrived in the Legislature, the era when Democrats and Republicans could engage in heated debate on the House or Senate floor, then slap each other on the back and toast each other in Junior Rules or at the Marriott was about over.

Legislative campaigns were increasingly expensive and nasty, with outside interest groups exerting more and more influence.

That the dispiriting climate of the Legislature today would drive one of the grown-ups in the room, and one of its sharper minds, out of politics — at least for a time — is disheartening.

Meanwhile, in Washington, we saw one of those partisan stunts that make current-day politics insufferable.

Every West Virginian — and particularly those living in the 2nd Congressional District — should be mortified by the antics of Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., who violated House rules and national security protocols by joining other Freedom Caucus Republicans who barged into closed hearings in a House Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility (SCIF) on Wednesday.

The Los Angeles Times described the stunt by right-wing House Republicans as going “full clown mode,” and suggested it was to deflect attention from the damning testimony of diplomat William Taylor a day earlier.

As Mooney should well know, at its current stage, the House impeachment inquiry functions like a grand jury to determine if there is a preponderance of evidence to pursue formal charges of impeachment against President Donald Trump — at which point, the impeachment trial in the Senate will be open to the public and the president’s attorneys will have opportunities to cross-examine witnesses — things the GOP protestors contend they’re being denied.

If a grand jury was meeting one afternoon at the courthouse, and a bunch of yahoos burst in to the confidential proceeding in hopes of disrupting testimony against a buddy, we can be certain they would all be spending the night at South Central.

Perhaps more remarkably, Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va. — one of 47 Republicans serving on the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry — skipped out on the deposition Wednesday of Laura Cooper in order to participate in a pre-storming press conference where Republicans claimed they are being shut out of the proceedings.

Why all the political theater?

As Carl Sandburg said, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

•••

Some updates:

n Regarding the lobbyist spending disclosure of West Virginia Medical Association executive director Danny Scalise: Scalise indicated the association spent a total of $1,287 on meals, beverages and lodging to host four legislative speakers at its conference at The Greenbrier (Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson; House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay; Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha; and Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone). The filing did not provide an individual breakdown. Stollings said that he should not have appeared on the spending disclosure, since he paid for his own room and board.

He said he was on a panel on public health, where Republicans on the panel were left squirming when asked by the physician audience why legislation to raise the legal age to buy tobacco to 21 failed to pass.

n Regarding the $200,000 Division of Highways consulting contract awarded to retired Highways engineers Rusty Roten and Thomas Badgett, a lobbyist noted that the contract stipulates that among their duties is to “serve as the agency’s liaison with the Legislature.” That is seemingly at odds with a longstanding policy prohibiting state agencies from hiring lobbyists.

“Does this mean that the general policy of agencies not being able to hire lobbyists/advocates for their agency’s interests has been abandoned by the Justice administration?” the individual asked.

•••

It didn’t generate much coverage locally, but news out of Major League Baseball could have major implications for minor league teams in four West Virginia cities.

Going into negotiations for a new Professional Baseball Agreement with Minor League Baseball after the current agreement expires after the 2020 season, Major League Baseball says it wants to eliminate 42 minor league teams.

The stated goal is three-pronged: To increase salaries for the remaining minor league players, to eliminate teams with substandard playing fields and facilities and to shrink the geographic footprint of leagues to eliminate overnight bus trips.

The proposal was first disclosed by Baseball America, which offered some details of the plan.

It includes eliminating the four short-season leagues, including the Appalachian League, in which Bluefield and Princeton have teams, and the New York-Penn League, in which the West Virginia Black Bears are a member.

It also calls for reducing the 14-team South Atlantic League, home to the West Virginia Power, to a six-team league (Logic would suggest that would include the five current teams from South Carolina and Georgia, along with Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League), while creating a new, eight-team Middle Atlantic League made up of Class A teams presumably from the North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland area.

If the proposal comes to fruition, Bluefield and Princeton are done — neither have fields or facilities that meet PBA standards.

As for the Power and Black Bears, who knows? Both have top quality fields and facilities, but could be geographical outliers. Either, but likely not both, could end up in the Middle Atlantic League, but after that, it gets iffy.

As part of the proposal, MLB would assist cities left without Major League affiliates in setting up or joining independent leagues — a proposal that, unfortunately, comes at a time when many independent leagues are struggling, as the teams have to come up with funding for salaries, equipment and transportation — costs borne by the parent clubs of minor league teams.

MLB would also assist former Appalachian League teams in efforts to join summer collegiate leagues.

The negotiations have a long way to go, but the prospect of losing minor league baseball raises quality of life, and to a lesser extent, economic issues for the four cities.

•••

Finally, West Virginia may be a backward state, but I don’t recall our Supreme Court ever having oral arguments over the intricacies of a 3 a.m. bar brawl.

That’s what the Indiana Supreme Court did Tuesday in hearing arguments over whether to take up an appeal of a personal injury lawsuit, in Cavenaugh’s v. Porterfield.

A key issue is whether bar ownership had responsibility to provide security in the bar’s parking lot at closing time, in order to break up a brawl where now-West Virginia Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, got his eyes gouged out.

Porterfield’s lawyer said it should be reasonable to assume that when you put a group of people out on the street after drinking alcohol for hours on end in close proximity to one another, scuffles may ensue.

And, if it’s bad enough that the Indiana Supreme Court finds itself having to discuss bar brawls at length, that’s hardly the extent of the Indiana judiciary’s involvement in drunken bar fights.

As Doren Burrell pointed out, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications last week brought disciplinary charges against three Indiana circuit judges, stemming from an altercation that broke out after a night of heavy partying during a judicial conference in Indianapolis.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the judges were headed to a White Castle for midnight munchies when they got into a verbal altercation with three men, again in a parking lot, and a brawl ensued, ending badly for two of the judges, who suffered gunshot wounds.

One of the judges had a blood alcohol level of .213 and told EMTs that he drank “a lot of Pabst Blue Ribbon” that night.

Sorta makes couch-gate look like a minor indiscretion.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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Funerals for Friday, November 22, 2019

Bartley, Anthony - 5 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Caldwell, Jackie - 11 a.m., Mitchell Cemetery, Left Hand Fork, Lens Creek.

Carrico, Elizabeth - Noon, Crossroads Apostolic Church, Bradley.

Crosswhite, Susan - 3 p.m., Main Street Church of Christ, Hurricane.

Hall, Donnie - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Jones, Louise - Noon, Graceland Memorial Park, South Charleston.

Knapp, Howard - 1 p.m., New Hope Bible Baptist Church, Point Pleasant.

Melrose, Carolyn - 1:30 p.m., Trinity United Methodist Church, Point Pleasant.

Miller, Blondell - 1 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Moore, Sharon - 1 p.m., Lohr & Barb Funeral Home, Parsons.

Smith, Patty - Noon, House of Prayer Full Gospel Church, West Hamlin.

Strawther, Marshall - Noon, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, St. Albans.

Sutherland, Gregory - 4 p.m., Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home, Charleston.

Wilson, Steven - 1 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.