Lawmakers debate succession bill
July 16, 2010 ·
Since Sen. Robert Byrd died two weeks ago, there have been many ideas and interpretations about how and when his seat will be up for election. Lawmakers met at the Capitol Thursday to debate a bill that would put Byrd’s seat on the ballot this November
Gov. Joe Manchin called legislators into a special session at noon with only two items on the agenda:
legislation addressing the state’s succession issues, and an appropriations
Because Byrd died with more than two-and-a-half years remaining
in his Senate term, lawyers have disagreed about when a special election should,
or could, be held. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant determined that the
election wouldn’t be held until 2012—because this year’s primary has already
passed. Attorney General Darrell McGraw
disagreed and called for a special election later this year.
Manchin’s bill would allow for both a primary and a special
election. When the legislation was first introduced, it was greeted skeptically
by many. Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler says he took issue with a
provision that would have made a primary election unnecessary if there were
only one candidate in a party.
“If we are establishing by statute that there’s a primary
election, then we’re going to have a primary election,” he said. He added that
he didn’t want anyone to make a long-shot bid and be accused of wasting the
“When you have an open election, any John Q. Public that wants
to run has the right in this democracy to go put their name on the dotted line
and roll the dice and take their shot.”
That provision, along with one that would give the governor
more discretion in setting special election dates, was removed before the bills
were introduced in the House and the Senate.
The new version of the bill requires a special election
whenever 30 or more months remain in the term. It was referred to both the
House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Before the committees met, both
committee chairmen and their staffs met to iron out their disagreements.
Making changes in the state’s election law this late in the
year poses difficulty for election workers. Diana Cromley is the Mason County
Clerk, and the President of the County Clerks Association. She says the clock
is ticking on the time left before the general election.
“Well we have deadlines that have to be met by code,” she
said. “I have in front of me two pages of very fine print that we have to meet
for the Nov. 2 general. In order for us for us to be able to have a special
election primary before that, we would certainly have to have some modification
of these dates.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee debated the bill for hours,
but ultimately passed it with only minor language tweaks. On Thursday evening, the
House hadn’t acted on the bill.
Gov. Manchin plans to announce his appointment for Byrd’s seat at 2:00 Friday afternoon. He hasn’t yet announced whether he’ll be
running for the seat if legislation passes and there’s a special election in