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At the Capitol: A historic week

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The opening of 82nd session of the West Virginia Legislatie Session was a historic week at the Capitol, as Republicans took control of the Senate and House of Delegates for the first time since 1932.
The Senate elected Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, a Bluefield businessman who owns several car dealerships, as president on a 19-15 vote. Cole is a freshman senator, having been elected in 2012, after being appointed to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates in 2010.

In the House, longtime Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, was elected speaker on a 64-35 party line vote, with Delegate Rupie Phillips, D-Wyoming, abstaining.

In their acceptance speeches, both new leaders expressed their desire
to move the state forward.
“My sincere hope is we work together to lift up our future generations,” Armstead said. “It’s time to work together to write a new chapter in West Virginia.”

Cole said he wants to make the state a more attractive location for job-creating companies.

“It’s time our children no longer call West Virginia the place they
visit on special occasions, or the place where they’re from. It’s time
to find every possible way to keep our kids home,” he said.

The November elections brought a remarkable flood of new faces to the Legislature, including 10 new senators and 33 new delegates.

In the House, that runs the gamut from 18-year-old Delegate Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, who is the youngest person to serve in the West Virginia Legislature and currently is the youngest legislator in the nation, to Delegate Frank Deem, R-Wood, who at 86, returns to the House 60 years after his first term in 1955-56.

The new Republican leadership wasted no time taking action, moving forward with a bill to repeal the state’s Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act, passed in 2009 under then-Gov. Joe Manchin.

Last fall, many of the newly elected Republican legislators campaigned for repeal of the legislation, calling it “West Virginia’s Cap-and-Trade.” Proponents of the act, however, noted that it does not restrict greenhouse gas emissions, like the federal Cap-and-Trade, but merely provides incentives for electric power companies to use sources of energy other than coal to produce 25 percent of their power generation by 2025.

Among the proponents was Manchin, now a U.S. senator, who issued a statement Thursday saying he is disappointed Republicans in the Legislature are playing partisan politics.

“I had always hoped and believed that the corrosive political atmosphere that has been so destructive in Washington would not make its way to our state,” Manchin said. “This attempt by Republicans proves that the worst of Washington political gamesmanship has made its way to West Virginia.”

Meanwhile, the highlight of the first week of the legislative session normally is the governor’s State of the State address to a joint assembly of the Legislature.

This year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s address was practically an afterthought, following the historic change of control in the House and Senate earlier in the day.
As he did in 2014, Tomblin’s address focused more on reviewing past accomplishments, rather than proposing major new initiatives.

Tomblin reached out to the new House and Senate leadership in a spirit of cooperation, noting, “We must work together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as West Virginians united for the common good. This is West Virginia, not Washington, and we work together to meet the challenges we face as a state.”

However, Tomblin did extend warnings to the new leadership not to push unreasonable, irresponsible legal tort reform measures, or to attempt to eliminate tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, which would cost the state $85 million a year in lost revenue,

Finally, the week concluded with a memorial service for Arch A. Moore Jr. at the Culture Center, with Tomblin, Manchin, former aide Tom Tinder, and son Arch Moore III paying tribute to the former three-term governor.

The speakers shared a quintessential Moore moment, when during the construction of the Culture Center in the early 1970s, the governor instructed workers engraving the word “Archives” on the building to hold up after the first four letters, sending critics into a frenzy, believing that Moore was naming the building after himself. Tomblin, who was a freshman delegate at the time, said of the incident, “He would sometimes accomplish things by distracting his critics.”

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