Ashton Marra

Assistant News Director, Statehouse Reporter

Ashton Marra is the Assistant News Director at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, coordinating the coverage of her fellow reporters under Interim News Director Jesse Wright, and serves as the producer for the morning news magazine West Virginia Morning. She also serves as the fill in host of the program.

Ashton covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning with the latest statehouse news, from politics to policy and everything in between. You can keep up with her work on social media through Twitter and tumblr.

During the legislative session, Ashton focuses on the state Senate, bringing daily reports from the inner-workings of the state’s upper house on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s nightly television show The Legislature Today.  She also hosts the show, interviewing lawmakers, lobbyists and leading a roundtable discussion focused on the top stories of the week with her colleagues from the Capitol press corps.

Ashton served as the producer and host of Viewpoint, West Virginia Public Broadcasting's 10-week political talk show in the fall of 2014. The weekly, hour-long program included in-depth interviews with candidates, analysis and a reporter roundtable leading up to the 2014 general election. 

Ashton has most recently received national attention for her coverage of the January 9, 2014, chemical spill in Charleston. Her work was featured on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, WBUR's Here & Now, KCRW's To The Point, the PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera America. She was named the 2014 Associated Press "Outstanding Reporter of the Virginias."

Ashton came to WVPBS in October of 2012 from ABC News’ morning program Good Morning America where she worked as a production associate. Ashton produced pieces for the broadcast, including the first identified victim of the Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting and the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, as well as multiple entertainment news stories.

Before her time at GMA, Ashton worked as an intern on ABC’s news assignment desk, helping to organize coverage of major news stories like the Trayvon Martin case, the Jerry Sandusky trial and the 2012 Presidential election. She also spent 18 months as a weekend reporter for WDTV based in her hometown of Clarksburg, WV, breaking the story of missing Lewis County toddler Aliayah Lunsford. Ashton’s work from that story was featured on HLN’s Nancy Grace in October of 2011.

Ashton graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University in May of 2012, where she was named WVU’s Reporter of the Year. She covered government for the P.I. Reed School of Journalism’s bi-weekly newscast WVU News and also served a semester as the WVPBS bureau reporter.


Ways to Connect

AP Photo

As the state's focus shifts to Charleston this week for the start of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship's trial, we're taking a look back at a 2005 special episode of Outlook titled "The Kingmaker."

The half hour special profiles Blankenship and his political influence at the time, just after the 2004 election when he spent some $5 million on the campaign to elect Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin.

Tax Reform Committee Campaign Contributions
Data Source: Institute on Money in State Politics / / Data Visualization by Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

When Republican lawmakers took control of the state Legislature for the first time in some 80 years in 2015, party leaders maintained their legislative priorities wouldn’t change. 

Blankenship Trial
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

On Monday April 5, 2010, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, killed 29 miners. At the time, the mine was owned by Massey Energy, which federal regulators and a state funded independent investigation found responsible for the blast. Massey’s CEO was Don Blankenship.

Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

A federal judge has denied a motion from former Massey CEO Don Blankenship to delay his trial slated to begin October 1.

Judge Irene Berger issued the order Thursday.

Blankenship’s attorneys filed the motion to reschedule last week after receiving more than 70,000 documents from U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office. Blankenship's attorneys said they needed more time to review the documents. 

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Charleston Police Chief Brent Walker.
Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Booth Goodwin brought together local first responders, state health officials and substance abuse treatment specialists Tuesday to celebrate the success he sees in his district in combating drug abuse. 

Goodwin said his office intends to continue enforcing federal laws that prohibit the sale of narcotics, but now, he and his colleagues are also focusing on the treatment side, looking at ways to curb the demand for the drugs. 

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

As lawmakers continue to discuss ways to reform the state's tax code, Tuesday's meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform focused on one tax increase that may be palatable for members of the state Legislature, the tobacco tax.

West Virginia last increased its tobacco tax in 2003 to the current 55 cents per pack which, according to the national Tax Foundation, is the 8th lowest in the nation.

Tax Foundation Policy Analyst Jared Walczak told members of the committee while the state does have one of the highest smoking rates in the nation at 23 percent, an increase in the tax is not necessarily a sustainable source of revenue into the future.

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Republican Senate Finance Chair Mike Hall has been outspoken on the issue of road funding since his party took over the legislature in January.

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

A legislative review of the state’s new employee pay schedule found the state will be paying an additional $50 million over the next ten years to salaried employees because of a computing error.

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

An audit of the Department of Education’s handling of the state funding formula for public schools says the Department is miscalculating funds and has actually been underpaying some counties for the past six years.

State lawmakers approved a recalculation of the state school aid formula in 2008.

Justice Brent Benjamin at a community forum earlier this year.
Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

A West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals candidate has officially announced he will use public campaign financing in his re-election bid.

Justice Brent Benjamin is only the second candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court to use the public campaign finance program put in place by lawmakers in 2010. Justice Allen Loughry was the first to use the funding and won his seat in 2012.

Gov. Tomblin lays a wreath at the Fallen Firefighter Memorial at the West Virginia Capitol.
Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and members of the State Police, National Guard, Air National Guard and others rang the ceremonial bell on the state Capitol’s north courtyard Friday after laying a wreath at the memorial for fallen firefighters.

Monongalia County Superintendent Frank Devono at the state Board of Education.
Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Monongalia County Board of Education is asking the state school board to join them in the appeal of a lawsuit that said the county could not allocate funds to their regional education office to hire classroom teachers at hourly rates.

The West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers filed the lawsuit in 2011 claiming the county board was circumventing state hiring practices by using its RESA, or Regional Educational Service Agency, to hire interventionists, certified classroom teachers who are shared between classrooms and schools working one-on-one with low performing students. 

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin held a ceremonial bill signing at the Capitol today for Jamie’s law, a bill that mandates suicide prevention and awareness in West Virginia schools and on college and university campuses.

Along with the governor and state Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano, Michelle Toman addressed those gather at the Capitol for the signing.

Toman is the sister of Jamie Campbell for whom House Bill 2535 is named. 

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The West Virginia Board of Education is moving forward with a plan to consolidate multiple schools in Fayette County. 

Fayette County is the only county in the state fully controlled by the West Virginia Board of Education. Wednesday the board approved a change to the county’s ten year facilities plan that would consolidate four of the six high schools by the fall of 2018.

The vote, however, was close at 6 to 3.

Congress will return to session after Labor Day to a full schedule. They will consider long term funding for the nation’s roadways, the Iran nuclear deal and an education bill replacing No Child Left Behind.

The full schedule has the conservation community worried about the impending expiration of a little-known program for buying park and forest land. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has generated almost $17 billion during its 50-year history.

About $10.5 billion of that has been spent to buy 5 million acres of public land, mainly out West, but West Virginia has also benefited from the fund. Think Harpers Ferry, the New River Gorge and the Monongahela National Forest. 

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The unincorporated town of Comfort, West Virginia, is made up of two gas stations and an elementary school. All three sit along a winding, two lane road that on any given day is peppered with trucks carry loads of coal. Coal they picked up at the Kanawha Eagle mining complex a few hundred feet down the road, but the last several years have been tough for the industry and now fewer and fewer of those trucks roll through. 

The Miner

As the price of coal has declined over the past four years, no one state may be feeling the financial impact more than our own. West Virginia once relied heavily on coal and related industries for jobs, but now has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. As part of our partnership with Pittsburgh’s the Allegheny Front looking at the future of coal in Appalachia, we zero in on how the decline of coal prices are impacting how West Virginia governments pay the bills.

WDBJ / Twitter

The general manager of a TV station in Virginia says two crew members were fatally shot on air in central Virginia.

Jeffrey A. Marks, general manager of WDBJ-TV, identified the two killed as Alison Parker and Adam Ward. Parker was 24, Ward 27.

 The station says in tweets and in a story on its website that the incident happened Wednesday morning at a shopping center on a lake in Moneta.

The nonprofit news organization Climate Central is made up of journalists who report on climate science and scientists who conduct research on the subject. The group recently released a report focused on the increasing number of danger days cities across the country will experience over the next 40 years, and the state’s capital city, Charleston, topped the list. 

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Craft beer lovers in West Virginia have had plenty to get excited about as of late. From new breweries to new legislation, a lot has been happening for the industry in the state.

West Virginia also just wrapped up its first ever craft beer week. Highlighted by festivals, tastings, tap takeovers and other special events, the 8-day celebration comes just months after a new law went into effect that helps propel the industry forward.