By PHIL KABLER
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Over objections from Democratic senators, the state Senate Confirmations Committee refused Wednesday to approve two appointees to state boards — the current state Democratic Party chairwoman, and the daughter of a former state Democratic chairman and adviser to Gov. Jim Justice.
On the motion of Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio — whom Justice likened to a poodle in a recent radio interview — the committee rejected the nominations of Belinda Biafore and Jo Marie Chandler to serve on the state Unemployment Compensation Board of Review.
Biafore is chairwoman of the state Democratic Party; Chandler is the daughter of Larry Puccio, a former state chairman who advised Justice during his campaign.
“It’s pretty clear to me, and it’s obvious to anyone in this room, that this is politically motivated,” said Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion.
Ferns, a former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party in 2013, said he believed both women should be removed because they lack experience in adjudicating claims. The board hears appeals of administrative law judges’ hearings on awarding unemployment claims.
However, Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, pointed out that Biafore has ruled on about 60 appeals since her appointment to the board, and that Chandler’s experience as a school administrator in Marion County qualifies her to hear such cases.
“I think we’re playing a bit of a game here. We don’t need to be playing games,” Miller said.
Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he was unaware of either woman’s ties to the state Democratic Party.
“This is not partisan politics. It’s quite the contrary,” said Blair, who said the women should be disqualified because both are from Marion County.
Prezioso made a motion to restore both nominations, a motion that was rejected on a party-line 2-6 vote, with Prezioso and Miller voting yes.
“We need to remove the perception out there that we are knuckleheads. We shouldn’t do this,” Prezioso said prior to the vote.
Both Biafore and Chandler were originally appointed by former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, not by Justice.
The list of gubernatorial appointees will be voted on by the full Senate later this session, and names can be added or removed with amendments on the Senate floor.
Republicans on the Confirmations Committee made a similar move in 2016, when they rejected several appointments. Among the rejections that year were Biafore, to the state Women’s Commission; state AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue to the state Workforce Development Board; and labor leader and Kanawha County Democratic Chairwoman Elaine Harris, to the Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board. Democrats decried the move and threatened to bring legislative business to a standstill by requiring that every bill be read in its entirety. Republicans relented, and the appointees were confirmed on the Senate floor.
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