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Statehouse beat: Beginning and end on unequal footing

While the state's Sesquicentennial celebration will go down in the books as a success, I couldn't help being a little underwhelmed by the opening ceremonies on the south steps of the Capitol on West Virginia Day.

Not to say that there was anything wrong with the governor's speech, the reading of excerpts from "A Song for West Virginia" by poet laureate Marc Harshman, or the singing of "The West Virginia Hills" by the Cabell-Midland High School Show Choir.

Yet, it seemed to pale in comparison with what occurred on the same location exactly 50 years earlier, when President John F. Kennedy keynoted the Centennial celebration.

News accounts indicate more than 5,000 people braved a steady rain to attend that event. Attendance Thursday, I would guess, was closer to 500. It would be generous to say two-thirds of the seats on the south plaza were filled.

Of course, there'll probably never again be circumstances where a president will be so indebted to West Virginia for his election to warrant such participation as Kennedy was. Still, having the governor for the keynoter just isn't quite as compelling.

(U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin were on the bill, but couldn't attend because of a key floor vote on the immigration legislation.)

One spectator quipped that the highest-ranking U.S. official represented at Thursday's ceremonies wasn't the president, or even a cabinet member, but an attorney for the U.S. Postal Service.

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While the state will pick up most of the tab for the Sesquicentennial (what a shame, now that I finally learned to spell it I'll never need to use it again), corporate sponsors came through with more than $400,000 of support (including in-kind contributions).

Platinum sponsors ($25,000 contributions) were Appalachian Power, AT&T, Bristol Broadcasting, the Dickinson Family, United Bank, West Virginia Lottery, and West Virginia Radio Corp.

Gold sponsors ($15,000) were the Clay Center, CGI, EQT, Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia and West Virginia Beer Wholesalers.

Silver sponsors ($10,000) were Auge+Gray Collective Works, Charleston Newspapers, Designs by Sara Lane and Wal-Mart.

There were also 18 Bronze sponsors ($5,000), including Alpha Natural Resources, Charleston Area Medical Center, The Greenbrier, Mardi Gras Casino and Resort, Toyota, West Virginia American Water, West Virginia Coal Association and the West Virginia Hospital Association.

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Given the way he handled his political campaigns, no one would describe John Raese as a gracious loser, and in those elections, he was only out $2 million or $3 million of his own money each time.

Now that he's losing a sweetheart deal for radio broadcasts of West Virginia University athletics, worth multi-millions over the years, not to mention the loss of prestige of having his radio network affiliated with WVU sports, it's no surprise Raese is going all scorched-earth.

Though some of his allegations date back a decade or more -- one wonders why Raese was not compelled to make issue of them at the time -- they probably warrant legislative review, even coming from the guy who wants to put lasers in space, and likens smoking bans to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.

One pertinent point Raese and his legal team can't seem to grasp with the Tier 3 rights is that WVU is not purchasing anything -- it's attempting to sell the rights.

One of the alleged violations in Raese's motion for an injunction contends that, by law, WVU "is required to competitively bid contracts where the value exceeds $25,000 and award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder."

That would be true if WVU were the buyer, but in this instance, as the seller, it wants to award the contract to the highest qualified bidder.

As Attorney General Patrick Morrisey noted in his report on Raese's complaint in April, WVU could not be in violation of purchasing laws and regulations -- since it isn't purchasing anything in these circumstances.

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As one contemporary noted, with Raese, all business is personal. Not only has Raese had ongoing feuds with WVU leadership over the years -- remember when he ran ads in 2003 calling for then-President David Hardesty's "reign" to end? -- but also has a long history of acrimony toward Drew Payne.

That dates back to when Payne worked for Raese's arch-nemesis, Arch A. Moore, Jr., at the Governor's Office of Community and Industrial Development in Moore's third term.

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Finally, during the Board of Public Works meeting last week, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant announced that her office not only would be open on the West Virginia Day holiday, but would be serving pepperoni rolls from her native Marion County.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin jumped in to add that his office would also be open on the holiday. Asked by Tennant if he'd be serving anything, Tomblin said, "Coming from the South, we'll probably have biscuits and gravy."

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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