CHARLESTON -- An activist group has asked the state Supreme Court to decide if a special gubernatorial election is needed.
West Virginia Citizen Action Group filed a petition for a writ of mandamus Friday afternoon with the state Supreme Court arguing that state code says such an election should occur.
On Monday, Joe Manchin resigned as governor to become a U.S. Senator. State Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin took over as acting governor.
WV-CAG says the special election is needed because more than one year is left in Manchin's gubernatorial term. Tomblin has said he and his staff believes state code says he can wait until the next regular election in 2012.
The petition lists Tomblin, House Speaker Rick Thompson and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant as respondents.
Tomblin spokeswoman Jacqueline Proctor said late Friday afternoon that his office had just received the petition and had no comment yet.
In a press release, the Supreme Court said it will take this matter up in the normal course of events and that no date for any action has been scheduled.
But WV-CAG Executive Director Gary Zuckett wants action now.
"The clock is ticking on this issue," Gary Zuckett said on Monday's MetroNews Talkline radio show. "We thought it was prudent to get this issue before the Court in a timely manner."
Zuckett wants the Court to weigh in on a petition before the end of its fall term this week.
"The people of West Virginia have the right to choose who will govern them," Zuckett said in a press release. "One of the cornerstones of our democracy is the concept that our leaders only govern through the consent of the governed. Two years is too long to wait to elect a new governor.
"We took this issue to our highest court because the conflicting directives that exist between our state constitution and state code have created an impasse in setting up a special election for governor. This is the type of situation where the Court needs to step in to advise us how to proceed. We need an election as soon as possible."
On Friday, Thompson filed a motion to expedite the petition with the Court. Thompson has been outspoken in saying he believes there should be a special election held as soon as possible. He's also said he plans to run for governor in that election.
"Speaker Thompson believes that the issues raised in the petition are of paramount importance as they involve constitutional questions that go to the organization and operation of both the legislative and executive branches," he wrote in his motion filed by Charleston attorney Anthony Majestro. "There are significant differences in opinion regarding the constitutionality and interpretation of West Virginia's gubernatorial succession statutes.
"The resulting uncertainty threatens public confidence in governing bodies and potentially threatens the legality of actions taken by the state's elected officials."
South Charleston attorney Thornton Cooper had planned to file a similar petition, and he actually had filed a notice of intent in August.
On Friday, he said he'd look over the WV-CAG complaint before deciding his next move.
"What I was contemplating would have been three times as long," he said. "I go into extreme detail when I do stuff like this. On first glance, I don't get exactly what kind of election they want.
"Do they (WV-CAG) want a school board-style election, one with no primary, or do they want a primary and general? Or party conventions? You have to tell the court what you want them to do.
"Monday, I will call Supreme Court and see if they've decided to do anything," Cooper said. "And I'll decide if I'm going to intervene. I was waiting for new rules of appellate procedure take effect. It has more transparency."
Tennant stressed that her office only oversees election and has no authority to call an election.
"We'll do what is proclaimed," she said. "We are ready, willing and able to do that ... as we have shown."
When U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd died earlier this year, state officials decided to have a special election to name his permanent replacement. That, of course, was Manchin.
Tennant seems to favor another special election for a permanent governor.
"I think we need to remain consistent," she said. "That's what leadership is about. If it were important enough to have a special election for U.S. Senate, it's important enough now."
And Tennant said she wouldn't rule out running for governor herself.
"People ask me that every day," she said. "They say, 'Natalie, we'd like to see you run.' I've seriously looked into throwing my name into the hat."
She also cited a Mark Blankenship Enterprises survey released earlier this week that showed her among the top Democrats named if there were such an election.
"That makes me feel good," she said of the survey. "I think I've shown what kind of leader I can be in the last five and a half months. Maybe that's translating to the public."
As for the WV-CAG suit, Tennant takes it in stride.
"This is just an opportunity," she said. "What it does is clarify our legislation. It shows the exercise of the three branches of government. It's an opportunity for citizens."
Princeton lawyer Kathryn Reed Bayless is representing WV-CAG.