CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston City Council became the first elected government body to endorse a special election as a means of selecting a replacement for Sen. Robert Byrd.
The resolution, which passed with only one member of council voting against it at a meeting Tuesday, urges Gov. Joe Manchin and members of the state Legislature to authorize a special election when state lawmakers meet in special session later this month.
The resolution states, "The mixed messages coming from state leaders about West Virginia's election laws, quirks in succession rules and other confusion about the future of West Virginia's representation in the United States Senate would be resolved most effectively through legislative action to settle the matter once and for all with a special election this year by the citizens of West Virginia.
"The citizens of Charleston and West Virginia deserve to have their say as soon as possible in determining who represents our city and state in the United States Senate."
Councilman Jack Harrison introduced the resolution, and said he thinks it is important that voters be allowed to select the strongest leader possible to represent the state's interests.
With Byrd's passing, Harrison said West Virginia has lost a "powerful asset" and that the senator's replacement should be someone who is willing to fight as passionately as Byrd for the state's interests.
"We would like to see a strong advocate there," Harrison said. "And we think it should be voted on."
Harrison cited the city's plans for a massive overhaul of its sewage and wastewater treatment facilities. The city's current system -- like many others throughout the nation -- collects rain water and sewage waste in a single pipe and dumps millions of gallons of raw sewage into local waterways during periods of heavy rain.
City officials have developed a multi-million dollar proposal to revamp the system to make it more environmentally sound.
Harrison said that project and many other services could only happen with help from the federal government. Byrd was well known for using his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to steer billions of federal funds to his home state.
Whoever takes the position would be a relative newcomer to the Senate and would lack Byrd's seniority. That's why Harrison said Byrd's replacement should be sent to Washington with the backing of voters.
"By authorizing a special election on the November ballot, the West Virginia Legislature will prevent potential legal challenges to our state's next member of the United States Senate and empower that person to more effective leadership more quickly and with more authority than a political appointee would have under the current circumstances," the resolution said.
Secretary of State Natalie Tenant has already called on state lawmakers to revise the law to allow for a special election.
"For me, there is a distinct line between how I personally feel and what I can legally do," Tennant said on her website late last week. "I personally believe that the voters of the state should be allowed to elect a successor to Senator Byrd sooner than November of 2012."
But as the law is currently written, Tennant has said Gov. Joe Manchin must appoint a successor to serve out the remainder of Byrd's unexpired term.
Councilwoman Cheryle Hall was the only dissenting vote. She believes that the law is settled, and that council should not interfere.
"The law is what it is," Hall said before casting her vote. "It was passed, it was interpreted, it's there and I will respectfully vote no."
She also said she does not believe that an election is necessarily going to produce the best candidate.