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Leaders spar over question: Did session help W.Va.?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — History has a way of repeating itself. In 1933, when the Democrats took over both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature, Republican M.Z. White, Senate president, took a seat in the minority.

This year, it was the Democrats’ turn to yield, and Sen. Jeff Kessler took a seat on the floor as his party’s minority leader.

Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, stepped up to the podium last occupied by the Marshall County Democrat. Cole was elected to the Senate in  2012, after two years in the House of Delegates, an appointee of then-Gov. Joe Manchin.

Cole, who had an aggressive agenda during the election, matched it during the legislative session.

The first 15 bills introduced in both chambers dealt with tort reform, repealing alternative and renewable energy standards, repealing prevailing wage standards and allowing public charter schools.

“I always set pretty high goals,” Cole said. “Did we leave stuff on the table that I think would have been good for West Virginia? Absolutely. Would it have been physically impossible to add anything more? Probably so.”

The self-described optimist said he tends to be a “glass half-full person,” but in this case the glass is three-quarters full.

Not surprisingly, Kessler has a different opinion of the session.

“It was a very divisive session where we accomplished very little,” Kessler said. “When we came into the session, there was open anticipation that there would be initiatives concerning jobs, highways, road funding, things that would address workforce participation.”

Kessler said there were no real jobs initiatives, although “there was some tort reform stuff they say set the groundwork for more jobs. Whatever.”

The big economic development announcement came not from Republicans, but from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who announced during the session that Proctor & Gamble is planning to build a 1 million-square-foot plant in the Eastern Panhandle, bringing more than a thousand construction jobs initially and hundreds of permanent jobs.

“Proctor & Gamble did not decide to build here based on whether or not we had nonpartisan election of judges,” Kessler said.

In the next election, judicial candidates from the Supreme Court to Family Court will not be identified by party on the ballot thanks to legislation passed this year.

Cole points out that before Republicans came to Charleston to open the session, they had to figure out staffing, office assignments, committee assignments, committee chairs and managing the flow of business from day to day.

“We’ve never done that before; we’ve never seen it done,” Cole said. “It just always happened behind the magic curtain…

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