Ensuring Best People Are Appointed to State Posts

Since the Republican majority took over the West Virginia Senate in 2015, media in the capital city have been fond of using words like “unprecedented” or “protocol” or “courtesy.” Make no mistake: Those are just code words the establishment likes to use any time they get bothered that the Republican-led Senate isn’t, well, the establishment.

Last week, one media outlet in particular took exception with the Senate’s handling of the Confirmations Committee during the Second Extraordinary Session, and couldn’t resist the urge to pant breathlessly about how we — especially how I, in my role as the committee’s vice chairman — somehow failed the citizens of West Virginia by actually doing our jobs.

In Article 7, Section 8 of the West Virginia Constitution, it reads: “The governor shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, (a majority of all the senators elected concurring by yeas and nays) appoint all officers whose offices are established by this constitution, or shall be created by law, and whose appointment or election is not otherwise provided for …” Furthermore, the phrase “advice and consent of the Senate” appears more than 180 times throughout West Virginia Code.

I would say that doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity. It’s clear that the Senate is intended to be an active part of this process, and not simply a rubber stamp for the executive branch. While, yes, it is a privilege of the governor to make these appointments, we have a system of government that has a foundation rooted in checks and balances. It’s not only our right to advise the governor on these appointments and ask critical questions, it’s our constitutional responsibility to the taxpayers of this state.

But, if you read the news accounts, rejecting a person the governor has suggested for a position that requires confirmation from the Senate has just never happened. Until we came along in 2015, all appointments were given welcome parties instead of hearings before the Confirmations Committee, and the red carpet was rolled out for them without a single uncomfortable moment.

To hear the entrenched liberal columnists tell the story, we’re the first Senate in West Virginia’s nearly 155-year history to ever reject a gubernatorial appointment, and not only that, we’re rejecting them at an absolutely dizzying pace.

How about some hard facts instead of distorted half-truths? Since our first legislative session as the majority in 2015, Governors Tomblin and Justice have submitted 1,256 appointments. Of those, the Senate has outright rejected just 15. That’s right. About one percent. Additionally, some of those 15 were appointed to other positions, either before or after their rejection. On more than one occasion, the Senate confirmed every nomination on the list without hesitation.

Ready for some more truth? It seems some people in Charleston have short memories. In 2004, a Democrat-controlled Senate rejected 47 of Democrat Governor Bob Wise’s 132 appointments in the Third Extraordinary Session — a whopping 36 percent of his nominations. That’s right: In one single day, that Senate rejected more than three times the number of people our Republican-controlled Senate has rejected in three years.

We decided in 2015 that we would fulfill the full, intended constitutional purpose of the Confirmations Committee. We wanted to ensure that any person the governor appointed to a job, board, or commission was not only legally qualified to serve, but also someone the state would be proud to have as a representative. Public officials simply must be held to a higher standard, and the Senate — through its constitutionally prescribed duty — has every right to ensure that the best people possible fill these roles. These appointments for decades have been nothing more than political patronage handouts and good-old-boy favors, and it’s natural that people would be uncomfortable once that pipeline was cut off. It may be hard for some people to accept, but these appointments — and confirmation of an appointment — are not a right.

Looking at the bigger picture, I think the faux outrage over our Confirmations Committee proves that the Democratic Party and its media machine down here are looking for anything they can find to grab headlines. Since their policies aren’t getting the job done, they’ll create these little isolated moments of despair to distract West Virginians from what’s really going on: West Virginia is on the rise. Our efforts of the last three years are paying off, and we are moving forward stronger than ever. No amount of circus-like distraction ploys could change that truth.

Ferns is majority leader of the West Virginia State Senate. He represents the First Senate District. A licensed physical therapist, he is owner of The Ryan Ferns Healthplex Inc. in Benwood.