CHARLESTON – And so, the battle begins.
Lobbing grenades from opposite ends of the state Capitol, two high-profile gubernatorial hopefuls have begun a war of words about whether the state should have a special election.
During a press conference Monday to discuss his transition to acting governor, state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin said current laws "clearly provide" that the election to replace Joe Manchin as governor should be in 2012.
"Legal experts agreed on this point unanimously before a legislative committee studying this subject only a few weeks ago," he said.
But Tomblin, D-Logan, did acknowledge that he knows many people want an election before that.
"I am well aware of the strong desires of some wishing to have an election prior to 2012," he said. "For me, it comes down to what the people want. If my fellow West Virginians express an overwhelming desire to have a quick election, I will work with the Legislature to make that a reality.
"We must, however, take a reasoned and thoughtful approach to our decision-making process. We must keep in mind the potential costs, timing, and what is in the best interests of West Virginia."
House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, again on Monday stressed that he believes such an election should occur as soon as possible.
"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. "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."
Thompson said the people of West Virginia "want, deserve and expect" to have a governor they elected.
"I think the Legislature is obligated to redraft the state statute to address these muddled circumstances, and just as we did to fill the unexpired term of (U.S. Senator Robert) Byrd, we should trigger a special election to quickly resolve this matter," he said.
Thompson also noted that Tomblin said he would not be presiding over or voting in the state Senate while serving as acting governor.
"So not only will he not preside over the Senate, but the people of the 7th Senatorial District ... will be represented by only half of their senatorial delegation."
Last week, Tomblin did name a few people to his gubernatorial team:
* Rob Alsop will be his chief of staff. A lawyer, Alsop served as chief of staff to Sen. Carte Goodwin and was deputy general counsel to Manchin, general counsel for the West Virginia Department of Revenue and Secretary of Revenue.
Alsop was involved with the privatization of the workers compensation system in West Virginia and changes to the state's tax system. As a partner in the law firm of Jackson Kelly, he focused on the representation of public utilities and represented clients in business transaction and government relations.
* Kurt Dettinger is a lawyer and CPA. He works at the Charleston law firm of Lewis Glasser Casey & Rollins. He will be Tomblin's general counsel.
Dettinger's practice has focused on corporate and transaction matters, particularly in the finance and mineral industries. He has represented clients in regulatory and administrative proceedings and been involved in proceedings before the state Legislature, including drafting legislative proposals and advising clients on legislative proceedings.
Dettinger counsels clients on issues facing West Virginia's energy industries, particularly those involving the production of coal and natural gas. He also has represented clients in mergers and acquisitions.
* Erica Mani will be deputy chief of staff. A lawyer, Mani is currently the Executive Director of the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board and oversees the administration of the state's nine retirement systems.
Mani has served as general counsel and deputy cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Revenue and as general counsel to Gov. Bob Wise. As an associate lawyer at Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, she specialized in government relations and employment law, representing state agencies and advising clients on governmental issues.