Kessler Boots Possible Rival

WHEELING – Acting West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler ousted Sen. Brooks McCabe from the body’s leadership Thursday after learning of McCabe’s plans to potentially challenge him for the Senate presidency.

Kessler, D-Marshall, said he had a “congenial discussion” with McCabe, D-Kanawha, on Thursday, at which time he informed McCabe he was no longer president pro tempore – a position that placed him in power just behind Kessler in the Senate.

“He clearly understood,” Kessler said. “You’ve got to reassess things from time to time, and I had gotten indication that Sen. McCabe was going to mount a challenge for my presidency. I had to remove him.

“It was nothing personal, and nothing anticipated,” Kessler continued. “But once it became evident what was occurring – that there was a breach or violation between leadership and me – I had to make a change.”

Kessler added that he had “always respected Brooks.”

“It’s nothing personal … but there can only be one president,” he said. “There can’t be two.”

Attempts to reach McCabe at the Legislature, his business and home were unsuccessful Thursday.

Kessler became acting Senate president in January, after the elected Senate president, Earl Ray Tomblin, took over as acting governor of West Virginia. Tomblin is seeking election as governor, and his win would leave the Senate presidency open.

Although Tomblin still holds the position of Senate president, Kessler has instituted his own leadership team while acting as Senate president. He initially appointed McCabe as president pro tempore to replace Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison, who served in the role under Tomblin.

On Thursday, Kessler reappointed Minard as president pro tempore, citing his experience and commitment to the Senate and the Democratic caucus.

“I wanted to make sure my leadership team and Democratic caucus was not involved in who was going to win (the senate presidency),” Kessler said. “I want to focus on moving the state forward and getting Gov. Tomblin elected to the permanent position of governor.

“At that time, I expect to run and be elected Senate president,” Kessler added, noting he has not heard of any other senators seeking to challenge him for the gavel.

“I am confident I will not only win in caucus, but on the Senate floor,” Kessler continued. “I wanted to put this all behind me today. I did not want it to be a distraction for the Legislature or for the governor in his race.”

Both Kessler and McCabe – along with Tomblin – indicated earlier this year they would be candidates in the 2011 special election for governor. McCabe later changed his mind, noting he might instead seek election to a full term as governor in 2012. Kessler, meanwhile, finished fifth in the six-person Democrat primary won by Tomblin.

Last year – prior to receiving his opportunity to serve as Senate president – Kessler announced he would not seek re-election in 2012.

Now with the opportunity to potentially lead the Senate next year, Kessler has filed pre-candidacy papers with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office to run again for the Senate in 2012.