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WV Senate parliamentarian shouts at Democratic lawmaker


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia Senate parliamentarian repeatedly shouted at a Democratic lawmaker during a public floor session Wednesday night, alleging the senator had threatened to fire him.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael broke up the altercation, directing Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to escort Jake Nichols, the parliamentarian, out of the Senate chamber.

“Get him out of here!” Carmichael said.

Moments earlier, the Senate staffer screamed that Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley had threatened to fire him, if Democrats ever regained control of the Senate in West Virginia.

Unger, who frequently challenges procedural rulings on the Senate floor and needles Senate leadership, later said the parliamentarian misunderstood him.

Unger said Thursday he was surprised Nichols got so upset.

“It was an overreaction,” Unger said. “I thought he was going to hit me.”

The spat began around 8:15 p.m. when Unger approached Nichols, the Senate parliamentarian, during a run of the mill debate over House Bill 2083, which would increase criminal penalties for anyone who exposes children to the production of methamphetamine.

Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, made a motion to revisit the bill and an amendment passed earlier in the day. Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the changes were only technical and called it a “cleanup amendment.”

After the Senate voted to pass the new version of the bill, Nichols conferred with several Senators and staffers on the floor. Unger then spoke to Nichols before returning to his seat in the chamber. A few minutes later, Unger returned as Carmichael was shepherding the session on, when Unger appeared to grab Nichols’ arm. (Unger would later say he only touched the staffer’s arm.)

Here’s what happens next:

Nichols breaks free of Unger’s grip.

Nichols: “Mr. President!” [Unintelligible]

Carmichael: “Sergeant-at-Arms!”

Nichols: “He just said when he gets back in control he’s going to fire me!”

Carmichael: “Sergeant-at-Arms, Sergeant-at-Arms! Senate will come to order. Senate will come to order, and I mean it. Get him out of here!”

Unger said Thursday that he and Nichols were arguing over “procedural things,” and Nichols told him to “go to the president [Carmichael] if you want the information.” Unger said he was unsure exactly what he said that prompted Nichols to start shouting on the Senate floor.

“The only thing I may have said is there needs to be changes around here,” Unger said Thursday.

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