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West Virginia House Finalizes Delegate District Map; Pethtel Says He Won’t Seek Re-Election

Del. Dave Pethel embraces Del. Lisa Zukoff after announcing he will not run for reelection, choosing instead to help Zukoff run in the new district created by the House of Delegates Wednesday. (Photo Courtesy/WV Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON — Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates finished work Wednesday on a new delegate district map, though final vote for the senatorial districts map was delayed until later today.

The House of Delegates voted 79-20 in favor of House Bill 301, reapportioning 100 delegates representing 67 delegate districts into 100 single-member districts starting in 2022.

A bill passed in 2018 required the House to switch to single-member districts. Of the current 67 House districts, 11 are two-member districts, six are three-member districts, two are four-member districts and one is a five-member district in the Morgantown area.

“We’re dealing with population loss, and we also had population shifts,” said Gary Howell, R-Mineral, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee. “Both of these factors are reflected in the plan before you … we took care to keep municipalities as whole as possible where it has been requested. We also tried to be mindful of communities of interest as much as possible.”

Members of the House Democratic Caucus did not agree, accusing the Republican majority of splitting out counties among multiple districts needlessly, violating the one-person-one-vote principle, and political gerrymandering to benefit incumbent Republicans.

Several Democratic lawmakers offered amendments to the bill with all amendments being shot down largely along party lines.

Del. Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, offered an amendment similar to an amendment rejected Monday by the House Redistricting Committee.

The amendment would have the northern and rural eastern part of Marshall County in one district, while connecting Marshall County’s western Ohio River communities from Moundsville down to New Martinsville, moving east across northern Wetzel County. Her amendment was rejected.

“It seems to me that combining the highest population centers – Moundsville and New Martinsville, the county seats – and keeping the rest of Wetzel County with its major population base of New Martinsville makes the most sense for redistricting,” Zukoff said. “My community is really not being taken into consideration, the people. It’s about politics, and that’s what this is not what supposed to be about.”

The map approved by the House Wednesday puts Moundsville, Glen Dale, McMechen, and Benwood in a northern Marshall County district where Del. Charlie Reynolds, R-Marshall, lives, while combining the rest of Marshall County and northern Wetzel County until its own district. This would cause Zukoff and Del. Dave Pethel, D-Wetzel, in a Democratic primary.

House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty attempted to ask Reynolds about how the district came about, but Reynolds declined to answer questions.

“I think the fact that he will not yield to questions really says everything about this process,” Fluharty said. “When you have someone who won’t even speak to the area being talked about and won’t meet with colleagues to discuss the area and won’t even stand on the floor and tell us why this is a bad idea … it’s not a good look for our state, and it’s not a good look for the process.”

In an emotional floor speech, Pethel said he would rather retire and support Zukoff for the new seat. Pethel has served in the House of Delegates representing Wetzel County and the western portion of Monongalia County for 30 years.

“I prayed about it and asked the Lord to give me a clear sign as to what I should do,” Pethel said. “When I saw the first draft map that put Wetzel into four districts and (Zukoff), who I have great respect for, and I in the same district, I knew that was my sign to retire and I will not seek re-election in 2022. I made a pledge to her that I will do everything to support her and see that she wins the Democratic primary and the general election next year.”

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, also announced he would not seek re-election in 2022 based on the current map. Doyle offered an amendment that would have kept more of the Shepherdstown area together in a district, something he said would not have benefited him either way. His amendment failed.

“I’m not running no matter what,” Doyle said. “The district as it is now in the bill makes it impossible for me to win. This change will also make it impossible for me to win, so there is no difference there. But what we will be doing is keeping the core community of Shepherdstown together.”

HB 301 now heads to the state Senate. Traditionally, both the House and Senate do not interfere with each other’s delegate and senatorial district bills. Senate Bill 3034, its senatorial redistricting bill, was laid over one day. It will be on third reading with right to amend today.

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