WV law mandates GOP senator

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has no choice but to appoint a Republican to fill a vacancy in the West Virginia State Senate – unless he wants to violate the law.

State Sen. Daniel Hall, R-Wyoming, has announced he will leave his post to accept a job with the National Rifle Association. That means Tomblin must appoint someone to the Senate, to serve until the vacancy can be filled through an election.

Hall’s situation is unusual in that he was elected to the state Senate in 2012 as a Democrat. Soon after the 2014 election, he switched parties.

During that election, Mountain State voters made an historic change: After more than 80 years in which Democrats had controlled both houses of the Legislature, Republicans won enough House of Delegates seats in 2014 to claim a majority there.

Though many new GOP senators were named in the same election, its results left the two parties with equal numbers in the Senate. Then Hall switched parties, giving Republicans an 18-16 advantage.

Some Democrat leaders hope to get back to the 17-17 split for the upcoming legislative session. Unless Tomblin appoints a Democrat to fill the vacancy, they will go to court, they warn.

But the law is clear. It stipulates the governor must make his appointment “from a list of three legally qualified persons submitted by the party executive committee of the party with which the person holding the office immediately preceding the vacancy was affiliated.”

Hall is a Republican. His previous party affiliation is immaterial.

Whether Democrat leaders like it or not, that is the law – which, it may be noted, seemed to be perfectly agreeable to their party’s leaders during the more than eight decades when they held power.

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