Statehouse shakeup shifts power from Third District
The West Virginia Statehouse has been in a state of flux since the beginning of the Legislative session on January 12.
With the ouster of State Senators Truman Chafin (D-Mingo) and Walt Helmick (D-Pocahontas) as Senate Majority Leader and Senate Finance Chair, respectively, power in that chamber shifts from Rep. Nick Rahall's Third District, which spreads from Cabell to Pocahontas counties, to the First and Second Districts which encompass northern and eastern portions of the state.
Helmick said Monday that the most heated issue is constitutional-and whether the State Senate can "go around the constitution with a rule."
The rule change involves the senate creating the position of acting senate president, while electing a senate president, as well.
Longtime senate president Earl Ray Tomblin was appointed governor when the sitting governor, Joe Manchin, III, was elected to the United States Senate to fill the late Robert C. Byrd's term. Byrd died last summer.
According to the state's constitution, when the governor's seat is vacated, the senate president is acting governor until the next election.
Helmick said he would like to see a special election for governor-and soon.
"I'd like to see a primary on April 15, a general election on June 20 and the new governor take office on July 4," he said.
That wish was partially granted Tuesday when the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that Tomblin must call for a special election for governor within the guidelines set forth by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
Helmick opposed a rule change which allows the appointment of an acting senate president; however, he was in the minority and the senate elected Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) to the post. Helmick was one of only three senators who voted against Tomblin as senate president.
Kessler took swift action toward the opposition, appointing John Unger (D-Berkeley) as majority leader and Roman Prezioso (D-Marion) and Doug Facemire (D-Braxton) as co-chairs of finance.
Unger, Prezioso and Facemire are in the First and Second Congressional Districts.
With redistricting for the state slated for this year, Helmick said he is concerned that none of the leadership comes from the southern portion of the state.
Rahall said he shares Helmick's concerns for the Third District, but is confident that the new leaders in Charleston will not "forget about the needs" of his constituents.
"I'll work with whoever is in leadership," Rahall said. "We'll leave redistricting to them."
Preliminary projections say that Rahall may pick up at least two counties, likely in the eastern part of the state, because of population shifts.
Helmick said he has served as chair of finance for eight years, longer than anyone else.
During that time, he said, the state moved toward more financial stability and made some significant changes such as privatizing workers compensation.
"I'm proud of what we did," Helmick said. "The senate was a body of stability."
He said the future for state government remains unclear since the senate and the house of delegates no longer have joint rules to follow.
Helmick still serves on the finance committee, agriculture, natural resources and economic development committees.