Kessler Elected Senate Chief

The West Virginia Senate has a new president in Marshall County Democrat Jeff Kessler.

By a 28-5 vote along party lines, senators officially removed the “acting” from the Senate president title Kessler has held since January. The five Republican votes went to Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam.

Kessler, who turns 56 on Wednesday, had faced a challenge for the presidency from Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha. But McCabe ended his bid after Kessler won the Democratic caucus’ nomination by a 17-11 vote.

“Brooks came in to see me personally, and I appreciated his gentlemanly act,” Kessler said. “He withdrew his challenge.”

Following the full Senate vote, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman swore Kessler in as president.

“I am delighted and humbled to have been selected to preside over the Senate,” Kessler said. “And I am happy to see the (Democratic) Senate was united. …

“I am happy to see all the jockeying and campaigning is behind us. I have received the … support, and I will reach out to each of them to see each of their talents is used to the maximum to move the state forward.”

Kessler said the Senate will focus in the coming months on Marcellus Shale issues, working toward reducing Other Post-Employment Benefits debt, addressing prison overcrowding, and creating job opportunities in the state.

“We are in the position that if we work together, we can do great things – particularly in the energy sector,” Kessler said.

Kessler succeeds Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin as Senate president. Tomblin officially took over the governor’s duties on Sunday.

Kessler, a lawyer, has represented West Virginia’s 2nd Senate District since 1997, and was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kessler’s selection completes a cycle of political change that began in June 2010 with the death of former U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Former Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, was elected to Byrd’s unexpired term in November 2010. Tomblin then became acting governor, which prompted this year’s special gubernatorial election.

All 28 Senate Democrats were able to cast their vote for their president in caucus Monday, including a newly appointed Senator and one presently serving in Afghanistan.

Earlier on Monday, Tomblin appointed Democrat Arthur Kirkendoll to succeed him as senator representing the 7th District, and Kirkendoll was sworn in to the Senate prior to the presidency vote.

And Kessler said Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, a member of the West Virginia National Guard, was able to cast his vote via Skype. But this move did force a change in voting procedure in the caucus.

Typically, members in the Democratic caucus cast a written secret ballot when choosing their leadership nominee.

Kessler noted Wells had to speak his vote Monday, and a silent vote for members was not possible.