Cooper

CHARLESTON -- Another petition asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in on a special gubernatorial election has been filed.

South Charleston attorney Thornton Cooper filed his petition Thursday afternoon. His is similar -- but much longer and more detailed -- to the one filed Nov. 19 by West Virginia Citizen Action Group. They argue that state code says such an election should occur.

Cooper filed a notice of intent in August about the issue, but waited until now to file the actual petition after former Gov. Joe Manchin was sworn in as a U.S. Senator. State Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin is 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.

Cooper's petition lists the same respondents as the WV-CAG petition: Tomblin, House Speaker Rick Thompson and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

Also on Nov. 19, 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."

While Tennant stressed that her office only oversees election and has no authority to call an election, she 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 told The West Virginia Record on Nov. 19 that 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."

As for the petitions before the Supreme Court, Tennant takes them 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. Cooper is representing himself.

In the WV-CAG case, Chief Justice Robin Davis has recused herself.

"Please be advised that, because I have announced publicly my intention to be a candidate, in some capacity, on the 2012 election ballot, I have determined that, out of an abundance of caution, it is appropriate that I voluntarily recuse myself from participating in this matter," Davis wrote on Nov. 22. "Participation in the election process is a cherished and guarded right of the citizens of the State of West Virginia.

"In order to promote confidence in the integrity of the system by which our citizens choose their elected officials, I believe it is of the utmost importance that even appearances of conflicting interests should be avoided whenever possible."

Preston Circuit Judge Lawrance S. Miller Jr. will hear the case in place of Davis, according to a Nov. 22 order from Acting Chief Justice Margaret Workman.

Also on Nov. 22, Perry said WV-CAG's case would not be expedited, despite a motion from House Speaker Rick Thompson to do so.

Thompson, who is one of the named defendants along with Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, has said he plans to run for governor in the special election.

Perry wrote that respondents in the case have until Dec. 27 to file their responses. Motions to intervene must be received by Dec. 15, and the same goes for motions for leave to file a brief as amicus curiae.

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