Replacing state senator becomes a complex proposition
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Harrison County politics is muddying the effort to replace former state Sen. Joe Minard, complicating Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's political life and leaving a top leadership post in the state House up in the air.
Minard, D-Harrison, resigned his Senate seat last week to become Senate clerk. The position pays about $95,000, which is more than three times what Minard made as a senator, according to 2011 payroll records.
Minard, along with Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, represents a four-county district in North-Central West Virginia.
The particulars of Harrison County politics make efforts to replace Minard interesting to watch. The county is traditionally divided between a Bridgeport faction and a Clarksburg faction; among Italians; and between Italians and non-Italians.
There are also significant ramifications on the leadership of the House of Delegates because one of the candidates to go to the Senate is currently chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.
An eight-member Democratic Party committee - with one man and one woman from each county in the district - assembled last week to find three candidates to replace Minard.
The committee met Thursday in Flatwoods and picked three Harrison County Democrats: House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, Delegate Sam Cann and Harrison County Commissioner Mike Romano.
The names were sent to the governor.
But the process hit a hitch when the president of the Harrison County school board, Mike Queen, said the head of the search committee cheated. Queen was hoping to be one of the three names.
Queen, in a series of emails and Facebook posts following the vote, said search committee chairman Martin Shaffer manipulated the process to make sure Romano's name was one of the three sent to Tomblin. Shaffer cast three votes for Romano.
"Allowing one member of the committee (Mr. Shaffer) to cast three votes for the same person circumvents the 'one person one vote' mantra of the Democratic process," Queen said in Friday morning email to the Secretary of State's Office, among others. "Not only is it unfair, allowing this kind of voting to control who gets nominated to continue will serve only to discourage qualified individuals from placing themselves before these committees in the future."
"Some will suggest that by calling this matter to your attention that I'm a sore loser for not being nominated," Queen said. "That is not the case. I'm just asking for everyone to have a fair and equal chance at the nomination."
Shaffer said one other member had also cast multiple votes for Cann and said that even without his own three votes, the same three candidates would have won.
Queen also said Shaffer had a conflict of interest because Shaffer made calls before the meeting to try to get appointed to the county commission if Romano left it to join the Senate.
"I was just disappointed that the committee got bullied and bulldozed by Martin Shaffer," Queen said in a telephone interview.
Shaffer freely admits he is seeking Romano's county commission seat but said it presents no special conflict because he is also seeking Miley's House seat if Miley is chosen and Cann's House seat if Cann is chosen.
"That's just politics, you see an opening, you call," Shaffer said. "There's nothing nefarious about that."
Both he and Romano accused Queen of being a troublemaker during telephone interviews on Monday.
"It's a guy who if you don't agree with his position, he attacks unrelentingly," Romano said.
Shaffer accused Queen of being a stalking horse for Cann.
"I think he's trying to raise a lot of trouble trying to hurt Mike Romano's chances," Shaffer said.
Queen rejects this and points out he ran a campaign against a family member of Cann's. Besides, Queen said, he supports Miley - unless, of course, Tomblin would pick Queen himself.
"I know Sam Cann. We're not friends, we're acquaintances. Of those three I would wholeheartedly support Tim Miley," Queen said.
Queen, a former state delegate, thinks he would make a good senator for the next two years of Minard's unexpired term. First, he's a school board president and this is the year everyone agrees the Legislature will take a serious crack at education reform. Second, Queen said he has promised not to run for the Senate in 2014.
Romano said the whole thing is probably giving Tomblin fits.
"If I was the governor I would climb under a big rock until it's all over, except the inauguration's today and he probably can't do that," Romano said Monday.