Changes are afoot for state's two major parties
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When West Virginia Republicans and Democrats face off in the 2014 midterms, both state parties will have new top strategists.
Derek Scarbro, the longtime director of the state Democratic Party, said Thursday he is stepping down in March.
The Republican Party hired a new executive director, Ward Wyatt, earlier in the week to replace Chad Holland, who left in late December after about two years.
The 2014 elections will be high stakes in West Virginia: U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is not running again, so his Senate seat is open for the first time in more than a quarter century.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has already entered the race to replace Rockefeller, so her seat will be open, too. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., is also toying with the idea of running for Rockefeller's seat, meaning two U.S. House seats could be open at once.
Republicans are also five seats away from taking control of the 100-member state House.
Scarbro has been on the party's staff since August 2003 and has held its top paid position since February 2009, working under two party chairmen, Nick Casey and current Chairman Larry Puccio.
Scarbro said his departure had nothing to do with last year's election results, which were mixed for Democrats. The party held control of the Governor's Office, for instance, but lost 11 seats in the House of Delegates.
"People can add to it whatever they want to, but the bottom line is I'm ready to move on," Scarbro said in a telephone interview shortly after his departure was announced late Thursday morning. "I've told the chairman and the vice chair that I want to move on and that's all it is. Nine and a half years is a long time, and I'm proud of what we've done. No regrets."
He said he didn't want to comment yet on what he would be doing next.
Scarbro said he is the second-longest currently serving Democratic executive director in the country. The longest serving, from Washington state, has him beat by a month, he said.
"It's been in the works for a while. I need to move on. I'm ready," Scarbro said.
In a statement, top elected Democrats, including Rockefeller, Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, praised Scarbro's time with the party.
The Democratic Party remains, by far, the state's largest. There are about 640,000 registered Democrats and about 360,000 Republicans, although the number of independent voters is growing and the state has voted for a Republican presidential candidate the past four election cycles.
Republicans consider themselves to be an ascending force in the state. They now control two of the three U.S. House seats, the attorney general's office and have their largest share of the House of Delegates since the Great Depression.
Wyatt is a Texan who came to West Virginia last year to manage Kent Leonhardt's unsuccessful campaign for state agriculture commissioner. He is the son of former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Wyatt Jr., R-Texas.
His goal is simple: take control of the House of Delegates.
"I am honored with the opportunity to help Chairman Conrad Lucas and the West Virginia Republican Party elect a Republican to the United States Senate and gain a Republican majority in the West Virginia House of Delegates for the first time since 1928," Wyatt said in a statement this week.
Wyatt served as an aide to Stefani Carter, the first female African-American Republican in the Texas House. He was also a legislative aide to the head of the Texas House Ways and Means Committee.
Wyatt will start his work before the beginning of the state legislative session.
Scarbro is a former chairman of the Marshall University Young Democrats and the West Virginia Young Democrats. He got his start at the state party as a field organizer in August 2003 when Mike Callaghan chaired the party.
In a 2009 interview with the pro-Democratic Party website West Virginia Blue, Scarbro said he got interested in politics as a kid at the breakfast table when his father reached for the sports page and his mother reached for the life and style sections, leaving him with the news pages.