By HOPPY KERCHEVAL
Gov. Joe Manchin's appointment of Carrie Webster to fill a vacant Kanawha County Judge's seat opens up one of the most influential positions in the West Virginia legislature while triggering lots of political speculation.
Webster will be giving up her chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee to take a seat on the bench.
Judiciary and Finance are the two most powerful committees in the each chamber. All major legislation flows through one or both of those committees. Membership is valued and the positions of chairman and vice-chairman are highly sought after.
The chairman of Judiciary is typically a lawyer, but doesn't have to be. Just about any attorney serving in the House of Delegates likely covets the Judiciary chairmanship, but here are the names of a half-dozen Democrats who I have heard are interested in the appointment that will be made by House Speaker Rick Thompson.
They are: Tim Miley from Harrison County; Barbara Fleischauer from Monongalia County; Bill Wooten from Raleigh County; Alex Shook from Monongalia County; Mark Hunt from Kanawha County and Tim Manchin from Marion County.
Miley would have to be at the top of the list, if for no other reason than he's currently the vice-chairman. Logic suggests a vice-chair is chosen with the possibility in mind that he/she could take over the committee.
Interestingly, Miley is pro-life while Webster is pro-choice.
Wooten would bring chairmanship experience to the position. The Beckley attorney previously served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee before losing a re-election bid. He returned to the legislature when he was elected to the House of Delegates in 2008.
Fleischauer has paid her dues as a member of the Judiciary Committee and chair of the Constitutional Revision Committee. She's considered one of the most liberal members of the House.
Tim Manchin's name came up in a couple of conversations. Governor Manchin's cousin would be a long-shot because he now serves on Finance, not Judiciary. Jumping over other Judiciary members to get to Manchin would ruffle feathers.
Speaker Thompson, who is known to keep his cards close to his vest in these matters, is expected to meet with his leadership team during interims next week and begin sorting through the names.
These are interesting times under the Capitol Dome: Webster's appointment to a judgeship; the vacancy of the House Judiciary Chairmanship; Larry Puccio's resignation as Gov. Manchin's long-time chief of staff.
None of these things happen in a vacuum, especially when many West Virginia politicians are trying to position themselves for 2010 and beyond. They have given the political wags in our state, including me, something to gossip and speculate about during the holiday season.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.