GOP Calls for Byrd Special Election

WHEELING – The West Virginia Republican Party today will call for state law to be amended to permit a special election this year for West Virginia’s vacant U.S. Senate seat.

State GOP Chairman Douglas McKinney noted numerous changes need to be made to the state’s succession laws, and he commended Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant for urging Gov. Joe Manchin to call a special legislative session this month to address pertinent state codes.

If a special election isn’t set for this year, Republicans might file legal action, McKinney acknowledged.

“It’s premature to say that now – but the Republican National Committee is looking at it, and we’re looking at it,” he said.

McKinney said both the West Virginia AFL-CIO and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce are seeking to “draft” Manchin for the U.S. Senate job and want Manchin to appoint himself to the post. But if that doesn’t happen, both organizations have said a special election is warranted.

“I certainly feel that is exactly what needs to be done,” McKinney said. “West Virginians deserve to elect a senator themselves. … It might not be in the best interest of the (Republican) party, but the people of West Virginia need a chance.”

He believes Manchin should appoint someone in the short term to occupy the seat previously held by U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

“We don’t want to be without a senator for the next five or six months,” McKinney continued. “But the senator who is going to serve for the next two years should be elected.”

Tennant announced last week her interpretation of the law as it pertains to the current situation. She determined Manchin first must appoint someone to fill the vacant Senate seat, and then that two elections for the same seat must take place concurrently in 2012.

One race would be for the full six-year term, while the second race would be a special election. The winner of the special election would fill the seat for only about five weeks – from just after the November 2012 election until the new Congress convenes in January 2013.

Manchin has said he will not appoint himself to the seat, but he reportedly is interested having the job.

Sarah Payne-Scarbro, director of communications for Manchin, said Monday that there “is no news to report” and that Manchin “will not discuss the succession process until the middle of this week at the earliest.” Byrd’s funeral is today.

“The governor has said publicly that he will not appoint himself,” Scarbro commented. “There is no timetable on the appointment.”

Among those reportedly being considered by Manchin to replace Byrd are former Gov. Gaston Caperton, current state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio and former Byrd aide Anne Barth.

McKinney said problems with West Virginia’s succession laws first became apparent to Republican officials earlier this year as they sought candidates to succeed former state Sen. Don Caruth, R-Mercer, who died May 1.

Succession laws pertaining to state Senate seats are the same as those for judges and governors, according to McKinney. These require that the appointee to the unexpired term be elected at a party convention by delegates selected from each magisterial district within the senatorial district.

McKinney said executive committee members from pertinent counties first must meet to select the delegates to the convention.

State Sen. John H. Schott, R-Mercer – previously a House of Delegates member – was appointed to the seat previously occupied by Caruth. But there won’t be a convention to fill Schott’s vacant seat, as House appointments aren’t subject to the same law, according to McKinney.

The convention to officially select the state Senate appointee is set for Aug. 23. Because Democrats will have no say in who the new state senator will be, McKinney expects Democrats to file legal action regarding that appointment.

Likewise, Republicans are considering legal action if a special election for the vacant U.S. Senate seat doesn’t happen this year, he noted.

The state Republican party is to hold its next meeting July 24 in Morgantown, and McKinney said there already has been time blocked out on the agenda for executive committee members to select a Republican nominee to the Senate seat if succession laws are changed prior to their meeting.

McKinney believes the interest in the job will excite the electorate.

“The climate is right for Republicans, no matter what happens,” he said. “If there ever was a chance for West Virginians to elect a Republican senator, this is it.”