Evan Jenkins changes party, seeks Nick Rahall's House seat
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, announced today he is switching parties to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. House seat currently held by Democrat Nick Rahall.
Jenkins made the announcement in Huntington.
Senate President Jeff Kessler announced late Tuesday he was stripping Jenkins of all leadership positions, saying Jenkins had failed to dispel rumors he planned to switch parties and run.
"Refusing to dispel rumors that he is switching to the Republican Party in order to possibly run for Congress shows that he has no allegiance to his democratic colleagues or the constituents that elected him," Kessler said in a statement.
"I do not want anyone on my leadership team or in a leadership position that does not show decisiveness or loyalty."
Jenkins was serving as chairman of the Minority Affairs and Pensions committees and was vice chairman of Health and Human Resources.
Kessler said he would name a replacement at a later date.
In two separate earlier interviews with the Daily Mail, Jenkins said he had made no decision about his future.
"No decision has been made on what I may or may not do," Jenkins said. "So it's probably best to not rule anything in or out, and make a decision and announce that decision on what and how I feel I can be . . . of greatest service," he said.
Jenkins, 54, is a trained lawyer and works as the executive director of the West Virginia Medical Association. He originally joined the House of Delegates in 1994 before making an unsuccessful bid for the state Supreme Court in 2000.
In 2002 he won his current seat in the state Senate, representing Cabell County and parts of Wayne County.
Rahall was first elected to Congress in 1976. In a Monday article on the political website Politico.com, Rahall said he expected Jenkins to switch parties and try to run for the seat. In 2010, former Democrat state Supreme Court Justice Elliot "Spike" Maynard flipped to the GOP in an unsuccessful bid against Rahall.
"I'm not going to run away from those that brought me to the dance and renounce my party because I disagree with our president," Rahall told Politico. "But I've dealt with traitors before, and I'll deal with traitors again."
Jenkins said he's been outspoken in his recent criticism of Washington politics. He opposes the Affordable Care Act and believes Obama and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are waging a "war on coal."
Jenkins donated $500 to Rahall's campaign in 2010. Monday Jenkins said he did not contribute in 2012, which reflects his current view of Rahall's performance. Rahall's campaign also donated $1,000 to Jenkins in 2010.
A campaign spokesman did not return a call for comment Monday, but the following statement was sent on Rahall's behalf Wednesday morning:
"Flip-flop. How many times is Evan Jenkins going to switch parties? Not for public service, but for self service. Clearly, this time his new found Republican bosses in Washington have promised him the world. Yet his promises to West Virginians now ring as hollow as his word."
Check back later today for an updated story.