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Blair named new state Senate finance chairman


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said Wednesday he has selected Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, as the new Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, during a legislative special session in 2016.
(Gazette-Mail file photo)

Blair succeeds Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, who resigned to serve as Gov. Jim Justice’s chief of staff. Hall replaces Nick Casey, a former state Democratic chairman whom Justice fired after the governor switched his political affiliation from Democratic to Republican earlier this month.

Carmichael said he had three prime candidates for the powerful chairmanship, but chose Blair over Sens. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, and Jeff Mullins, R-Raleigh, on the basis of seniority.

“He really earned this role. He’s earned the right as a good foot soldier for Senate Republicans,” Carmichael said.

Blair, who had been chairman of the Senate Government Organization Committee, served in the House of Delegates from 2003 to 2009, and was elected to the Senate in 2012 and re-elected in 2016.

Gaunch and Mullins, who is the vice chairman of the Finance Committee, are first-term senators, both elected in 2014.

“Craig may be seen as more of a fiscally conservative firebrand than Sen. Hall was,” Carmichael said, suggesting that may be more perception than reality.

Carmichael said the Senate has been fiscally conservative in recent sessions, noting “This year, we delivered a budget, and the governor reluctantly let it become law, that actually spends less money than the year before.”

During the 2017 regular session and special session on the budget, Blair frequently clashed with Justice on fiscal issues.

In February, when Justice called on the Legislature to take up his budget proposal, which at the time included about $400 million in tax hikes, Blair gave a floor speech stating, “We can’t go to the well and ask our taxpayers for more money when they cannot afford it now, including our governor,” referencing a news article citing $4.4 million in tax liens against businesses Justice owns.

When the Legislature passed the 2017-18 budget bill that Justice denounced as a “travesty,” but let become law without his signature, Blair said the Legislature need not apologize.

“We saved the taxpayers at least $200 million,” Blair said, referring to reductions from Justice’s budget proposal. “The only thing we need to be ashamed of is [that] it has taken so long to get here.”

Blair did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment on his appointment.

Carmichael said Wednesday he has not decided who will succeed Blair as head of the Senate Government Organization Committee, and said he will be meeting with senators to discuss options.

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