CHARLESTON - Three potential candidates for West Virginia's governor's office have filed briefs in lawsuits before the state Supreme Court that request a special gubernatorial election in 2011.
Current Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who took the position after Joe Manchin was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, says an election should be held in 2012. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the state's chief elections officer, said she has no authority to call for an election and only requests that her office receive enough time to prepare.
House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson's brief says 2012 is too long to wait.
The lawsuits were filed by West Virginia Citizen Action Group and attorney Thornton Cooper.
"As I have indicated before, there appears to be a consensus that our current statutes provide for the new election in 2012," Tomblin says. "Moreover, in my view, the determination of when an election should be held lies with the people, as expressed through the Legislature, as an entire body.
"Thus, if there is an overwhelming sentiment for an election, I would be happy to work with the Legislature to accomplish that goal and arrange for an election prior to 2012."
It isn't the first special election controversy in West Virginia this year. The Legislature passed a law that allowed for the special election eventually won by Manchin.
Manchin had appointed former general counsel Carte Goodwin to the seat formerly occupied for decades by Robert Byrd, who passed away this year.
Tennant said the entire election process was compressed into a timeline of a little more than a month, and that she would like to see the timeline for any gubernatorial special election that includes a primary election increased to at least 90 days.
"In our brief we gave a general timeline – with no dates set in stone," Tennant said. "We wanted to show how it would progress if there were a special election for governor in 2011. Our goal in the Secretary of State's Office is to protect voters and third-party candidates to make sure they have access to the ballot."
Silas Taylor of state Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office wrote Tennant's brief.
Tomblin ascended to the Governor's Office after 15 years as President of the Senate. He has been a lawmaker in the state since 1974.
Cooper recently ran for Kanawha County Clerk and lost to Vera McCormick.
"If I don't pursue this action, Tomblin will be our acting governor for more than 700 days," Cooper said. "I think we need a special election, and I want to see our new governor sworn in by Memorial Day."
In Cooper's notice, he said the first 30 days after the date of Manchin's vacancy would be the filing period for candidates to file for the office; the special primary election should be held within 90 days; and the special general election should be held within 150 days of the vacancy.
House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, has stressed that he believes such an election should occur as soon as possible. He is named as a respondent in the lawsuit, too.
"I believe the fact that the West Virginia Constitution calls for the Senate President to act as governor pending an election indicates the temporary nature of the Senate President's role in the transition and the need for an expedient election," Thompson said last month.
"If Gov. Manchin's replacement is not chosen until November 2012, for the next two years, more than one half of the term, the people of West Virginia will have a governor they did not select. I don't believe that is what the framers of the state Constitution had in mind."