State resident challenges Helmickﾒs candidacy
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals quickly answered a challenge to State Senator Walt Helmick's candidacy for Commissioner of Agriculture. The high court refused to hear the case against Helmick (D-Pocahontas), instead ruling that the case is more properly heard in a lower court.
L. Joe Starcher filed an emergency petition for a writ of mandamus to bar Helmick from running for the state office because, the petition says, Helmick does not meet the requirements.
A Kanawha County circuit judge ruled Thursday that sections of the code which placed restrictions on who could run for Commissioner of Agriculture were unconstitutional and "not relevant" to Helmick's candidacy.
ﾓThe West Virginia Constitution does not establish authority for the Legislature to prescribe by law additional qualifications for the office of Commissioner of Agricultureﾅﾔﾠ Judge Louis Duke Bloom ruled.
The Saturday Gazette-Mail reported Saturday that the 1911 law which created the office states that the commissioner shall be a "practical farmer learned in the science of agriculture, and shall have made agriculture his chief business for a period of 10 years immediately preceding his election."
The Gazette-Mail also reported that Helmick's primary occupations, according to his financial disclosure filed with the state Ethics Commission, are state senator and owner of Allegheny Lodge LLC, a company which produces bottled spring water and rents vacation cabins.
Helmick said last week that Commissioner Gus Douglass could not have served his 11 terms under the law, and that women would not be allowed to run under a rigid interpretation of the 100-year-old statute.
The high court's order said, in its entirety:
"On a former day, to-wit, February 24, 2012, came the petitioner, L. Joe Starcher, by Christopher T. Pritt, Pritt & Pritt PLLC, his attorney, and presented to the Court his petition praying for a writ of mandamus to be directed against the respondents, Natalie E. Tennant, Secretary of State, and Walter Helmick, as therein set forth.
"Upon consideration whereof, the Court is of the opinion that a rule should not be awarded, and the writ prayed for by the petitioner is hereby refused as premature, without prejudice for the petitioner to file an appropriate action in circuit court to permit development of an adequate factual record to allow a full and complete consideration of the issues."
Starcher had refiled his case in Kanawha County Circuit Court Monday.
A spokesperson for the Secretary of State's office said Tuesday that there were some pressing time issues.
"I would only like to point out that ballots are to be sent to overseas voters and other absentee voters beginning March 23, and the process of designing, proofing, programming, and printing will take a minimum of three weeks. This means a decision as to whether the candidate should be taken off the ballot needs to be made by March 2, if at all possible," Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said in a media release on her website.
A media release from Tennant's office did not say if Starcher would appeal.