Hall's resignation could alter party control of state Senate

By Chris Dickerson | Jan 6, 2016

CHARLESTON – The resignation of a state senator could mean big changes in the state Legislature.

Wyoming County Senator Daniel Hall submitted his letter of resignation Monday. He is taking a job as a state liaison for the National Rifle Association.

Typically, such a resignation means the party's executive committee of that representative’s district selects nominees for a replacement. Those names are sent to the governor for him to pick the replacement.

Hall was elected as a Democrat in 2012, but he switched affiliation to Republican after the 2014 election. In doing so, he broke a 17-17 deadlock in the state Senate, giving the GOP a majority for the first time in more than 80 years.

With Hall’s resignation, however, both parties say they are the one that should be able to fill his position. The Democrats say because Hall was elected as a Democrat, the seat belongs to them. Republicans, however, say it’s theirs because Hall was a Republican when he resigned.

The state Supreme Court likely will decide who is right.

State law says members of the political party executive committee for that district are to submit three nominees to the governor to appoint a replacement when a senator resigns. It says the executive committee is to be from the “party of the person holding the office,” but it also says the party executive committee is to be “of the senatorial district in which the vacating senator resided at the time of his or her election or appointment.”

The executive committee of the senatorial district has 15 days from the start of the vacancy to submit three names to the governor’s office, which has five days to name the replacement. This year’s session starts Jan. 13.

On Jan. 5, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said his office thinks Hall’s seat should be filled by a Republican because that is the political party he belonged to at the time of his resignation.

Morrisey, a Republican, said state Senate President Bill Cole, also a Republican, requested the written opinion.

Morrisey says the Legislature’s intent was “for a replacement senator to come from the political party from which his or her predecessor was affiliated at the time of vacancy.” He also says the Legislature knowingly chose “not to tie the replacement candidate to the former senator’s party affiliation at the time of his or her election or appointment.”

He says the reference to “at the time of his or her election or appointment” addresses the location of the appropriate executive committee as opposed to its political affiliation.

“This sentence shows that the Legislature knew how to (and did) specify ‘the time of .. election or appointment’ when it saw fit to do so,” the opinion states. “The Legislature specifically did not include that same qualifier when referring to the vacating senator’s party affiliation in subsection (a), and our Supreme Court of Appeals has made clear that ‘we are obliged not to add to statutes something the Legislature purposely omitted.’”

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