GOP loses leaders, maintains majorities in W.Va. Legislature

In this Feb. 23, 2018 file photo, West Virginia teachers, from left, Christi Phillips, Cody Thompson, Sam Brunett and Kristie Skidmore discuss a teachers strike at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Thompson, a Democrat who is a high school social studies and civics teacher, won a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates in Tuesday's election, eight months after a statewide teachers strike ended. (AP Photo/John Raby, File)

By JOHN RABY, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia teacher Cody Thompson has worked second jobs over the years to help make ends meet. He has another one to look forward to — as a state legislator.
The Democrat was the top vote-getter Tuesday in a House of Delegates district race that represents Randolph and Pocahontas counties. Thompson had defeated a Democratic incumbent in the May primary.
Thompson was part of the wave of thousands of teachers who took over the Capitol during a nine-day strike last winter. It ended with lawmakers passing a 5 percent pay raise and the formation of a task force to seek a long-term funding solution to an insurance program for teachers and other public employees.
A social studies and civics teacher at Elkins High School, Thompson has shared his story many times about having side jobs — selling pizza, serving tables, working at a discount store, and being employed in a federally funded outreach program to help prepare students for college.
Thompson, who didn’t immediately return a telephone message Wednesday, has said he’ll work to promote a better quality of education in West Virginia and “would like to see a better input from people in the classroom.”
He told The Inter-Mountain he believed voters saw similarities between him and themselves.
“I struggle to pay my bills, I struggle to pay my house insurance and I’m just like they are,” he said.
Raleigh County bus driver Christopher Toney scored another win for public employees. Toney, a Republican, defeated two other candidates Tuesday in a House race. Toney has been employed by the county school system for 12 years.
While other teachers who ran as first-time Democratic candidates were unsuccessful Tuesday, teachers unions did declare victory on several fronts.
Republicans will maintain control of the Legislature but lost their majority leaders in the House and Senate. Both were opposed by the unions.
“In a state where (President Donald) Trump came so many times to energize a base, those wins are very important,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said Wednesday.
Senate Majority leader Ryan Ferns was unseated by Democrat Bill Ihlenfeld, a former U.S. attorney. Ferns is a Republican from Ohio County who came under scrutiny during the teachers strike. Ferns had made a motion to table a vote on the pay raise negotiated by Gov. Jim Justice and union leaders. The Senate adopted the motion, but the raise was later approved.
The other ousted incumbent was Kanawha County Republican Ed Gaunch, who lost to union-backed Democrat Richard Lindsay.
The GOP won nine of the 17 Senate seats up for grabs Tuesday night. The other 17 seats were not on the ballot.
Republicans will enter 2019 with a 20-14 Senate majority, down two from this year, and a 59-41 majority in the House, down five seats.
In the House, newly appointed Majority Leader Riley Moore, a Republican from Jefferson County, was defeated by former Delegate John Doyle in a close race. Moore had been appointed by new House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, who had taken over after Speaker Tim Armstead resigned to run for the state Supreme Court.
Also ousted was Monongalia County Republican Delegate Joe Statler, vice chairman of the House education committee. Dale Lee said Statler was a longtime supporter of eliminating seniority protections for teachers.
Ferns and Upshur County Republican Sen. Robert Karnes, a union critic, were the “two biggest opponents of educators during the work action,” Lee said. “And they’re no longer there.”
Karnes was ousted in the May primary.