Unions want special election for governor soon

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Dec 16, 2010


CHARLESTON -- West Virginia's largest teachers' organization and one of the state's largest labor unions urge the Court to order a special gubernatorial election be held.

In amicus briefs filed with the state Supreme Court of Appeals on Wednesday, both the West Virginia Education Association -- in a five-page brief -- and Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO -- in an 18-page brief -- argue on behalf of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group. The group filed a petition last month asking for a prompt election to replace Gov. Joe Manchin, who was elected in November to fill the late Robert C. Byrd's U.S. Senate seat.

During a press conference last month to discuss his transition to acting governor, state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin said current laws "clearly provide" that the election to replace 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 at the time.

But Tomblin, D-Logan, did acknowledge that he knows many people want an election before that.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, has 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.

The citizens group agrees with Thompson, contending that Tomblin's dual role as governor and lawmaker indeed violates the state constitution.

The AFL-CIO, in its brief, agrees and points to specific articles in the constitution -- including Article V, the separation of powers clause; Article VII, which says the governor "shall not hold any other office during the terms of his service"; and Article VI, which says "no person holding any other lucrative office or employment under this State ... shall be eligible to a seat in the Legislature."

An "expedient resolution," it argues, is needed to provide "legal certainty" in the operation of the state's government.

"During the period of time from December 2010 until November 2012, there will be two regular sessions for federal and state legislative redistricting, at least two budget extra sessions, one special session for federal and state legislative redistricting, and most likely additional special sessions," the union wrote.

"The approval or vetoing of legislation enacted during these sessions as well as appointments of state officials, legislators, and judges by a sitting senator acting as governor, many of which require Senate approval, is an invitation for serious additional constitutional challenges which may prove to be expensive and destructive of the efficient and reasonable operation of the state in conducting its normal business affairs."

The WVEA argues that to elect a governor "is basic to our democratic form of government."

"Instead of having the vacancy filled for nearly two years by an ex officio substitute, the two-year vacancy should be filled by a person specifically elected by the populace of the entire state to be governor," the union wrote.

The union goes on to point out that the governor plays a "critical role" in the legislative process. "One of his or her most far reaching powers is the power to approve or disaprove of legislation, including appropriations," it wrote.

The governor, it argues, also controls most of the spending process and appoints members to such public agencies as the state Board of Education and those boards governing higher education.

"The political process and its mechanisms of accountability -- which must absorb, resolve and mold a resolution of those dynamics -- should be fully functional," the union wrote. "Two years is a significantly longer period than on year for an acting governor who was never elected to the position to leave a more permanent impact on the state."

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