April 14, 2014
By Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON — State House of Delegates leadership was silent last week after a Republican party official accused Democrats of “waging a campaign to retain control of the House of Delegates on the taxpayers’ dime.”
Repeated attempts to reach House Speaker Tim Miley and other Democrat legislators was met with no comment following state Republican Chairman Conrad Lucas’s assertion that incumbent Democrats are using the legislative franking privileges “to campaign for re-election and charge it to the taxpayers.”
Lucas was referring to the sudden increase in the volume of mail being distributed to constituents by Democrat House members. Lucas pointed out that most of the mailings have been made in districts “where we (Republicans) have targeted the incumbent Democrats” for defeat in this year’s November election.
The chairman said the most “blatant abuser,” however, is Kanawha County Democrat Delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie, whose most recent mailing coincided with the number of historic Democrat voters in her district.
“What a coincidence,” Lucas said last week.
One Democrat whose mailing went out before Gurthrie’s was asked who provided the stickers with constituent names that went on his envelopes.
“Pam VanHorn,” he said. VanHorn is associated with the state Democrat party.
House Clerk Greg Gray provided a reporter with a printout of mailing costs for individual legislators. Gray said the list covered the period from last November to April 1. An additional listing, provided by Gray, included some mailings after April 1, he said. He could not be certain that all mailings were included in the latter list, however.
The November-April listing was as low as 46 cents for Del. Tony Barrill of Monongalia County to a high of $2,592 for Del. Rick Moye of Raleigh.
It appeared from an analysis of the original listing that each piece of mail cost between 46 and 48 cents.
The current listing, which includes the mailings after April 1, is confusing in calculating costs, however. For example, Gray’s sheet says Del. Don Perdue of Wayne County mailed 4,000 pieces, which cost $1,054.08. When a reporter pointed out that the mailing imprint alone costs 16 cents per letter, Gray said he did not know for certain how the $1,054.08 was calculated. At 46 cents per mailing, Perdue’s “report to constituents” would have cost taxpayers $1,840.
Lucas questioned even that calculation.
“Does that include the cost of printing additional stationery, specifically targeted for these delegates with a color photograph of each of them on it? Their ordinary stationery doesn’t have a color photo,” he said.
Gray maintained that the House routinely has to purchase stationery, so there is no specific cost for each legislator. He did concede that the mailings under question contained color photos that are not on regular House stationery. He also said the “message,” generally printed on front and back, is also done “in house in the mimeograph department.”
Because both the photo and text are printed by state employees on state time, Gray appeared to have not calculated a cost for the printing. Gray did say that the House purchased a bulk mailing permit to “better keep delegates in contact with their constituents.”
Like most of the other mailings, Guthrie’s letter talks about her legislative work on the clean water bill, children and families legislation, senior citizens bills, pay raises for teachers, school service personnel and public employees and veterans legislation. She also pointed out that she supported raising the state minimum wage. All are, basically, hot-button issues in this year’s election campaigns.
Gray’s second list included Lincoln County Del. Jeff Eldridge, who is in a battle for re-election. The list said Eldridge mailed 2,400 pieces. At 46 cents, that cost would be $1,100. By contrast, his fellow Democrat Josh Barker of Boone County, spent $4.16. Mingo County Delegate Justin Marcum’s mailing costs were listed at $1,673. His mailing went out prior to April 1 and was in the format of a “report to constituents,” as well. A fellow Democrat said of the mailings, “You might understand a report to the constituents while the legislature is in session. I can’t understand why they’re reporting in April with a primary election a month away.” The legislative session ended in mid-March.
Other Democrats reported that during a heated Democrat House caucus in February, Miley and leadership urged Democrat delegates to use their “franking” privileges to “combat stories told by Republicans and the media about the protect-the-baby bill.”
At the time, Democrat legislators, particularly in the coalfields, were under attack for failing to discharge a 20-week protect-the-baby bill from Perdue’s health committee. It was reported that those Democrats complained, during a caucus that is technically confidential, that they were “being murdered at home” for failing to vote pro-life on the baby bill. It was then, Democrat delegates say, that Miley urged them to “combat those allegations by using their franking privileges to communicate directly with constituents.”
Logan Democrat Dels. Rupie Phillips and Ted Tomblin were not listed as sending any mailings on either report from Gray. Marcum’s fellow Democrat, Harry Keith White of Mingo, is listed as spending slightly more than $5.
Boone Republican Joshua Nelson is not on either mailing list. Among Republicans, Del. Larry Kump of Berkeley County was the biggest spender at $811.
Lucas said he would call on Miley to “stop the Democrat campaigning from the Speaker’s office.” He added, “I don’t think the taxpayers of West Virginia accept their hard-earned tax dollars to be used in re-electing Democrats. I especially doubt that they want to promote the campaign of Nancy Pelosi Guthrie.” The “Pelosi” reference is to national House of Representatives member Nancy Pelosi, a well-known liberal leader.
Calls to Miley’s private office, as well as messages left by phone and in person at the Speaker’s office, were not returned. Miley aide Stacy Ruckle did call a reporter to ask the nature of his questions. She said she would let Miley “know you are looking for him,” He had not returned the call by press time. Guthrie also did not respond to telephone messages.