Kessler May Have Ace in Hole

Acting West Virginia state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, faces a battle later this month to retain his post. Though I’m not privy to the counting of potential senators’ votes being done by Kessler and his opponent, state Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, I wonder if Kessler has an ace in the hole.

Sometime around the middle of the month, legislators will gather to certify results of the Oct. 4 balloting in which acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was elected to the position. Voters decided – narrowly – to keep Tomblin in the office he had been acting in since former governor Joe Manchin went to the U.S. Senate.

Because Tomblin was acting governor for many months, the Senate needed an acting president. Kessler won the nod there, after an acrimonious race. With Tomblin formally out of the Senate, Kessler will have to go through another vote if he wants to remain as president. That will occur shortly after Tomblin’s election as governor is certified.

McCabe began opposing Kessler several weeks ago. Both men think they have enough votes to win the Senate presidency.

But here’s the thing: The analyses I’ve seen speculate on how many Democrat senators will support Kessler and how many will bolt for McCabe. There are five Republicans in the state Senate.

They’re difficult to spot, overwhelmed as they are by the Senate’s 29 Democrats – but they could well hold the balance of power in a Kessler vs. McCabe contest. The rules specify the Senate – not the ruling party – is to select its president.

Here’s the thing: All five GOP senators are from northern counties. Three are from the Ohio River valley (the Republicans are from Pleasants, Wood, Jackson, Randolph and Preston counties).

Geography will come into play. Most of McCabe’s supporters are from southern counties, while most of Kessler’s are from the north. To judge by Oct. 4 election returns, most northerners are conservative, while most southerners – who voted overwhelmingly for Tomblin – are less so. So, if Republican senators want to do what’s good for their region, they’ll back Kessler.

Although he’s far from a Republican in Democrat’s clothing, Kessler has other pluses for conservatives. He’s said he opposes abortion and he is a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights.

And he’s taken some shots at the Democrat establishment in Charleston – which explains, to some extent, the southern support McCabe enjoys.

Here’s how voting for the Senate president could work out:

Kessler needs 17 or 18 votes to win. Remember, the Senate seat now held by Tomblin may not be filled in time for the Senate president voting. And, state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, is absent while serving in the military in Afghanistan.

Kessler can count on some Democrat votes. All three other Democrat senators from the Northern Panhandle will back him, of course. So will several other northerners who got leadership positions when Kessler became acting president and booted a few Tomblin loyalists.

If Kessler can court the GOP senators successfully, he will need no more than 13 Democrat votes to win. Even if McCabe gets 16 Democrats, he would lose, under that scenario.

Obviously, it would be nice for our area to keep Kessler in the presidency. It would be good for other northern counties, too. During the past half-century, just two of the nine Senate presidents have been northerners (not counting Kessler).

Republican legislators, whether dealing with the Senate presidency or the speaker of the House of Delegates, frequently sit out balloting, in effect. They refuse to support any Democrat, instead voting for one of their own – who can’t possibly win.

This might be a good time for Republican senators to break with that tradition, swallow their partisanship, and help elect a Democrat – Kessler – to the Senate presidency.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at