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Statehouse beat: Crossing over to the other side

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Quote of the week: "Ryan is the sort of leader folks in either party should hold up as a community exemplar." -- Conrad Lucas, West Virginia Republican Party chairman, welcoming Ohio County Delegate Ryan Ferns to the GOP, after switching his party affiliation.

Given its underdog status, it's understandable that the state GOP would be more aggressive, even vicious, in its attacks on Democrats. A couple of examples:

• When Secretary of State Natalie Tennant issued her first campaign video for her U.S. Senate campaign, Lucas made a big fuss that stock footage illustrating the state's college students was not shot on the West Virginia University campus, but at rival Pitt.

• The GOP filed a trumped-up Ethics complaint against Auditor Glen Gainer (at the time, still considering whether to run against Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va., in 2014) for -- horror of horrors -- being rightfully proud that his office had saved the state tens of millions of dollars through its Purchasing Card program with Visa.

Had Ferns -- whom I referred to in June as a "little-known delegate" when he crossed party lines to vote for Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, in the House speaker's race -- switched from Republican to Democrat, I doubt if the GOP would have declared him a "community exemplar."

Likely, they would have focused on his two DUI arrests, including an April 20, 2012, arrest, which he somehow pleaded down from aggravated DUI (0.229 blood alcohol level) to first-offense DUI.

The GOP also might well have pointed out that it was no big loss, since Ferns hasn't been very successful in his one and a half terms in the House. (During the 2013 regular session, he was lead sponsor of seven bills. None made it out of committee ...)

Conversely, state Democrats haven't figured out how to go for the jugular.

State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio made no mention of the DUIs, and about the harshest statement he came up with against Ferns was to call him "an ineffective delegate" who probably "would not be successful" had he stayed in the 2014 House Democratic primary race. (Ferns' 2012 bust came too late to have a viable opponent in the May primary.)

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Regarding last week's item on the Council of Finance and Administration debating whether to write off $20.35 million in state losses on $24 million of venture capital loans awarded by the Economic Development Authority from a $25 million venture capital fund created by the Legislature in 2002, reader Gerald Hutton of St. Albans wrote:

"I hope your readers have not seen the last of your reports on the "bad to abysmal" investments of the Economic Development Authority. This was all complete news to me and to everyone else with whom I have discussed your column."

Looking through the portfolios for the venture capital companies, it's clear a lot of investments were in computer software companies and life sciences/biotechnology companies.

Not being an expert, I would think those are high-risk, high-reward investments (i.e. one Google makes up for a whole lot of wash-outs ...).

Charleston-based Mountaineer Capital -- the firm that has fared best (current book value of $1.957 million of a $3.8 million loan) among the state's venture capital investments -- arguably has a less esoteric portfolio.

Some of its investments include Game Plan Technologies of Athens, Ohio, which provides software for coaches to edit and analyze game film for various sports; JBL Co. of St. Albans, industrial scales and material weighing equipment; Metalwood Bats of Eleanor, manufacturing metal baseball bats that perform like wood bats; Plethora Technologies of Charles Town, network security software; and Vested Health of Charleston, providing health plans for small and medium-size companies.

EDA executive director David Warner was off last week for the Thanksgiving holiday. I'll try to track him down to see if he's got a better explanation for what went wrong.

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One observation on the failed Kanawha County Schools excess levy election: It seems to provide more evidence that campaigns that rely primarily on mailed flyers are doomed to failure.

(That follows Darrell McGraw's failed re-election bid for attorney general in 2012, a campaign that relied almost exclusively on flyers and public appearances, in the face of a nearly $2 million campaign waged by challenger Patrick Morrisey. Not to mention all the attack ads from PACs and independent expenditure groups.)

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Finally, as disappointing it is that the Daily Mail dropped "Doonesbury," would it have been too much to ask that they replace it with a comic strip that's at least marginally funny?

Meanwhile, as much as I enjoy Charleston native Brad Diller's "Funday Morning" strip, is it really necessary to depict characters smoking so frequently? With the possible exception of emphasizing that the characters aren't very bright, the smoking appears to be irrelevant to the punch lines, and it's inappropriate to depict smoking in bars, considering that Kanawha County has been smoke-free for more than five years.

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


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