CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The 100-member West Virginia House of Delegates will have 33 new faces next year, but the high turnover won’t change the GOP’s two-year grip on the state’s lower house.
After Tuesday’s election, Democrats picked up just one seat in the House. So the House will have 63 Republicans and 37 Democrats when members return to Charleston in February for the legislative session.
“I would see this as a confirmation of our pro-jobs and pro-growth reforms and the things we’ve been able to accomplish over the last two years,” said House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan. “What we did reflects the will of the people. It gives us momentum that the direction we’re headed is the direction people want us to go.”
Democrats had hoped to pick up more House seats, as GOP leaders and operatives mostly were targeting Senate and statewide races this year (Republicans picked up four senate seats, along with secretary of state, state auditor offices and agriculture commissioner Tuesday).
Democrats also figured they could make headway in the election by skewering GOP House members for supporting anti-union measures such as a “right-to-work” bill and a repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law. The Democratic playbook didn’t seem to work.
Six incumbent Democrats lost their seats in the House, while five Republicans suffered the same fate.
The ousted Democrats were: Delegate Phyllis White, Mingo County; Frank “Bucky” Blackwell, Wyoming County; Peggy Smith, Lewis County; Tim Manchin, Marion County; Steve Shaffer, Preston County; and Nancy Guthrie, Kanawha County. Guthrie lost her 36th District seat by four votes. White, Blackwell and Shaffer were appointed to the House.
GOP incumbents losing Tuesday night were: David Evans, Marshall County; Michael Ihle, Jackson County; Michel Moffatt, Putnam County; Ray Canterbury, Greenbrier County; and Terry Waxman, Harrison County. GOP newcomers replaced Moffatt, Ihle and Waxman in multi-member House districts.
In 2014, Republicans gained control of the House for the first time in more than 80 years.
Tuesday night’s election results show that West Virginia voters support “bold, conservative changes,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.
“We have a lot of challenges on the horizon but each presents an opportunity to improve the lives of our citizens,” Armstead said. “We must deal with our continuing budget deficit and make our education system one that allows our teachers more freedom to teach our students without excessive red tape. We need to take bold steps to create more good-paying jobs to keep our young people here at home.”
Four Democrats who won House seats Tuesday night will be making a return appearance in the state Legislature. Joshua Barrett, Phillip Diserio, and Richard Iaquinta were former delegates. Shirley Love was a former state senator.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito will have two family members serving in the House of Delegates next year. Her son, Moore Capito, was the top vote-getter in the four-seat 35th District in Kanawha County. His cousin, Riley Moore, won a narrow victory in Jefferson County’s 67th District.
Also Josh Higginbotham, who won a seat in the House 13th District, will become the youngest member of the House of Delegates. Higginbotham, 20, is 12 days younger than Delegate Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, who was re-elected Tuesday night.