New governor talks about issues facing state
With only three days in office under his belt, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin held a conference call with six West Virginia weekly newspapers last week, fielding questions about state, regional and local issues.
Somewhat an enigma to regions outside the southern coalfields, Tomblin pointed out that former Governor Joe Manchin's publicly exuberant style is not his, but the two share a common commitment to fiscal responsibility for the state.
In fact, Tomblin said financial responsibility is what makes him "best for West Virginia."
"I promise I will do everything in my power to move West Virginia forward," Tomblin said. "That is my complete goal."
Manchin took the Oath of Office to take his seat in the United States Senate last week. He was elected this month to fill the unexpired term of longtime Senator Robert C. Byrd, who died in June. As president of the West Virginia State Senate, Tomblin is governor, but for how long may be up to the courts.
On Friday, West Virginia Citizen Action Group filed a writ of mandamus to compel Tomblin, House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant to call a special election "to fill the office of Governor as soon as an election may practicably be held."
Tomblin said Thursday he is confident he'll remain in the office until the 2012 election because the state vacancy occurred after the General Election this year.
Remarking on issues facing the east, the new governor from the western portion of the state said the mountains of West Virginia have a lot to look forward to.
Tomblin said broadband access is "absolutely essential" to economic development all across the state, but said for the eastern mountains the technology enhancement is "going to be a lifeline."
He had a similar outlook about drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation, which would require implementing "hydrofracking." That process allows several gas wells from one vertical hole, as water and a mixture of other substances are forced into the hole to fracture the ground and open the way for gas to be released. Studies have estimated that billions of gallons of natural gas lies under the Appalachian chain from New York to West Virginia.
Tomblin said the discovery of natural gas could be a "great windfall" and something that will have to be addressed in the legislature; however, he was not eager to comment on how the legislature might handle water quality regulations.
Hydrofracking can require several thousand gallons of drilling fluids per well; generally, area surface water is used from streams.
Tomblin said he would address the issue in his State of the State speech in January.
"It's complicated," he said. "It's new technology. It's uncharted waters."
The governor said he wants to get the best information he can as the state continues to explore drilling in Marcellus Shale.
One issue, though, could affect Pocahontas County politically rather than ecnomically.
Tomblin favors single-member districts, agreeing with Manchin that West Virginia counties would be better served by delegates from smaller geographic areas.
"Our constitution requires one man, one vote," Tomblin said. "I would be in support of [that]. I'd sign a redistricting bill."
Each chamber of the legislature redistricts itself when the time comes. Once Census figures from 2010 are available, the legislature will begin that task.
And the Eastern Panhandle will likely see more representation in Charleston as a result, Tomblin said, as Berkeley County now has the second largest population.
"The Eastern Panhandle will have additional seats in the house and the senate," Tomblin predicted. "The Eastern Panhandle will have a bigger voice."
Tomblin said he'd stay in touch with local newspapers and wants to have future calls with local media.