Thompson

CHARLESTON -- Those groups and individuals who called for a special gubernatorial election sooner rather than later say they are pleased with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals' ruling on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court ruled that Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin must issue a proclamation calling for a special election sometime later this year.

According to the Court's opinion, West Virginia code states that no one can serve as acting governor for more than one year.

Tomblin, who had argued an election didn't need to be held until 2012, said in a press conference late Tuesday that he would abide by the Court's ruling.

Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, which first filed the action in November, said the Court made the correct decision.

"We're pleased the Court granted our writ of mandamus and directed the acting governor to call for an election this year, rather than waiting until next year," he said.

Zuckett said the group was confident all along that they had a "pretty strong case."

"We felt the citizens of this state deserved to have a governor sooner rather than later, and the Court agreed with us on that," he said.

Now, he said it's up to Tomblin, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and the Legislature to "make it work" for the voters.

"And I feel they are very capable of doing that," Zuckett said.

House Speaker Rick Thompson, who had argued that Tomblin's dual role as governor and lawmaker violated the state constitution, issued his own statement Tuesday.

In it, he commended the high court for upholding "the most basic tenet" of the West Virginia Constitution.

"From the very beginning I believed that the best course was for the voters to be able to decide," he said. "This decision ensures that the people will have a governor they elected to deal with the critical issues of economic development, job creation, education and energy."

Thornton Cooper, the South Charleston attorney who filed his own action in the case, said he wasn't surprised at the Court's ruling.

"Now I'm hoping the Legislature will quickly act to pass a bill that will make it so we have a special primary election and a special general election," he said Wednesday.

Cooper, who had vowed in August to challenge the state's gubernatorial succession laws, said it's key for lawmakers and state officials to cooperate and move things along -- especially if the state goes the way of a primary.

The Court, in its 19-page opinion, said state code calls for a nominating convention.

While a convention is "within the legislative prerogative" and does not violate the state constitution, the Court said the Legislature may amend the procedure "if it deems appropriate to do so."

Cooper said it is, indeed, appropriate.

"I agree that the convention system isn't unconstitutional," he said, "but I'm very much for protecting people's rights to vote in private."

He said conventions were "something from the past" and is urging the state to get away from them.

"What you do is out in the open," Cooper said of the procedure. "People can be more easily intimidated."

He also pointed to the logistics of a convention.

"It's inconvenient to people who just don't have the time to spend hours and hours there, whether it's because they have kids or someone to take care of or because of their jobs," he explained.

"And then where do you hold that many people?"

Meanwhile, West Virginia Republican Chairman Mike Stuart said Tomblin should have called a special election from the start.

"Unfortunately, rather than do the right thing, the Acting Governor stonewalled, hid behind outrageous legal interpretations, and attempted to hold the people's seat without the will of the people," he said in a statement.

Stuart said Tomblin should "immediately return" to his post as Senate President.

And like Cooper, the state's GOP is calling for a special primary election.

Stuart said those who are against a primary "and for smoke-filled rooms filled with political elites to select our governor" shall pay a heavy price.

Now, he said, lawmakers must get to work -- and focus on "doing the people's business."

"This crisis has continued too long due to the lack of leadership and lack of respect for our citizens," he said of the case.

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