Who Would Succeed Manchin?

No doubt some U.S. senators, both Democrats and Republicans, get tired of hearing Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talk about how we do things in the Mountain State.

The feeling is mutual, in a way.

Manchin has become terribly frustrated with the way things are done in Washington. If anything, a few people who know him well have told me, press reports about his impatience have been understated. No wonder. There doesn’t seem to be much bipartisanship on Capitol Hill and at the White House. Congresses and presidents of both parties have spent like drunken sailors during the past decade or so. A rational energy policy has fallen victim to special interest politics. It’s virtually impossible to get anything done.

Not at all like when he was governor of West Virginia.

Coming home has been on Manchin’s mind. I’m told he’s thinking very, very seriously about running for governor in 2016.

In a way, I hope he doesn’t. He’s been more than a good senator for West Virginians. His talent at crafting bipartisan coalitions has been good for the nation. His refusal to toe the party line on critical issues is important. He has a national profile – something very few freshman senators manage.

But that has come at a cost. His party’s president and leaders in the Senate don’t like mavericks.

It could get worse, and that is on Manchin’s mind. If Republicans win control of the Senate this fall, a distinct possibility, Manchin, as a Democrat, loses at least some power. My guess is it wouldn’t be as bad as he might think, simply because GOP leaders would see him as a swing vote they might want to cultivate.

Let’s assume Manchin does decide to run for governor in 2016, when incumbent Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is not permitted by law to seek re-election. First, remember that Manchin remains secure in the Senate. He’s not up for re-election until 2018.

But job security really isn’t a consideration. Who in his or her right mind thinks they can beat Manchin for governor?

That brings up an intriguing question. Who takes over Manchin’s Senate seat?

Answer: Whomever Gov. Tomblin appoints. If Manchin wins the fall 2016 election, he’d be sworn in as governor in early 2017, creating a vacancy in the Senate. State law stipulates that until a special election can be held, the governor appoints someone to go to the Senate.

Now, remember that even as he is deciding how to fill the Senate vacancy, Tomblin is wondering where his career in politics goes after he leaves the governor’s mansion. He could appoint himself to the position, setting up a campaign to be elected to it in a special election, then the regular one in 2018. Or, he could appoint a “caretaker” senator who would, in effect, hold the place and perhaps pave the way for a run by Tomblin. It’s been done before.

Depending on any number of variables, the U.S. Senate isn’t a shoo-in for Tomblin. But there’s no doubt he would be a formidable contender. And, because most of his career was in the Legislature, he might feel more comfortable than Manchin in the U.S. Senate. His years as president of the state Senate show he’s effective in the legislative branch.

Back to Manchin: One question that arises is who on earth would want to be governor of West Virginia during the next few years.

General fund budget projections show a $126 million gap between revenue and spending for the 2016 fiscal year, with a $44 million shortfall in FY 2017. And those estimates are based in part on some optimistic revenue projections, including no more drop-off in gambling income.

Manchin’s tenure as governor was one without major fiscal challenges. State officials were deciding how to handle surpluses, not deficits.

And there are other challenges. Public school reform, anyone?

When will Manchin make up his mind? Again, he has lots of time. If there’s a turning point, it’ll be the elections this fall.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.