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GOP senators refuse to restore Democratic women to state boards

By PHIL KABLER

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Republican senators on Thursday rejected gubernatorial appointments of two women with Democratic ties, a year after the Senate backed off similar plans to block several nominees.

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, tried unsuccessfully on Thursday to put Belinda Biafore, state Democratic Party chairwoman, and Jo Marie Chandler, daughter of former state party chairman Larry Puccio, back on the confirmations list. Both were appointed by then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to serve on the state Unemployment Compensation Board of Review.

The Senate rejected Prezioso’s motion to restore their appointments on a 19-13 vote. Sen. Jeff Mullins, R-Raleigh, was the lone Republican to join with the 12 Senate Democrats backing Biafore and Chandler.

Afterward, Biafore said, “Just look at me and say, ‘You’re a Democrat, and we just don’t like you.’ Don’t say that I can’t do the job.”

“I was just saddened, because I took that position very seriously,” Chandler said, saying she had no other comment on the Senate’s action except to say, “I wish them the best, and I pray for the Legislature.”

During more than an hour of floor debate, Senate Republicans insisted it was lack of qualifications, not gender or political affiliation, that led them to block the two Democratic women’s confirmations.

“I know neither one of these candidates,” said Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, “It’s not political.”

“I said, he’s either lying or stupid,” Biafore said of Blair. Blair was a senator last year, when Senate leadership attempted to block the six nominees, including Biafore’s appointment to the state Women’s Commission.

The Senate backed off on that attempt, after then-Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, threatened to require that all bills on the Senate floor be read in their entirety as a protest.

“It’s the first time in my 19 years that I’ve seen confirmations used for what was clearly political purposes, to target members of labor or Democrats,” Kessler said at the time.

During much of the debate Thursday, Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, a lawyer, essentially cross-examined Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, and Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, to get them to explain why they considered the two women unqualified to serve on the board.

Romano pointed out that Biafore has ruled on more than 60 appeals since being appointed to the board in January, asking Boso if that did not qualify her to serve.

Boso responded he was looking at her qualifications at the time she was appointed, adding, “My point of reference is not what she’s done since she’s been there.”

Romano also grilled Ferns, who made the motion to remove the two women from the confirmations list over what he said was their lack of experience in adjudication.

“I would think you need to be able to read and write, and be fair. There’s no other qualifications in the law,” Romano countered.

Biafore said it was ironic that Ferns made the motion to block her confirmation.

“Sen. Ferns was one of the candidates I worked very hard for back when he was a Democrat,” she said. Ferns switched his party affiliation in 2013 when he was a member of the House of Delegates.

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