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In the state Senate, a Rubik's Cube of politics

Gov. Tomblin and the Legislature are facing a Rubik's Cube of politics because of a couple of pending vacancies.

Longtime state Sen. Joe Minard of Clarksburg is in line to be the next Senate clerk following the retirement of Darrell Holmes. Minard's move creates a vacancy in the 12th district.

Thursday, the 12th Senatorial District Democratic Executive Committee, with representatives from Braxton, Gilmer, Harrison and Lewis Counties, will meet in Flatwoods to determine a list of possible replacements. Tomblin will choose the replacement from those nominees.

Here are some names expected to be on that list:

Current House of Delegates members Tim Miley, Sam Cann and Richard Iaquinta; Ron Fragale, who lost re-election in 2012; and Harrison County Commissioner Mike Romano.

Some statehouse observers believe Tomblin will go with Miley, who wants the opportunity to be in the state Senate, but that creates other complications for the governor.

The Tomblin administration has a good working relationship with Miley, who serves as chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Miley's departure would create uncertainty heading into the Legislative session, which starts in February.

Possible replacements for Miley as chairman of Judiciary include vice-chairman Mark Hunt, Delegates Tim Manchin and Barbara Fleischauer.

The administration has butted heads with the strong-willed Manchin, and Fleischauer is one of the most liberal members of the House, while Tomblin is a conservative Democrat.

Tomblin could leave Miley where he is and choose Sam Cann. Cann is a business-friendly Democrat, but perhaps more importantly, he is a longtime friend of Tomblin's.

But if Tomblin chooses Cann, it could set up a bitter primary battle in the next election between Cann and Miley if Miley decides to run for the Senate.

Or Tomblin could surprise everyone and choose someone other than Miley or Cann.

Meanwhile, another state Senate vacancy is about to be created. Longtime state Sen. Walt Helmick is resigning to take over his newly elected position as state agriculture commissioner.

The 15th Senatorial District Democratic Executive Committee will meet Jan. 18 to come up with a list of possible replacements for Helmick. Here are some of the likely names:

Mike Ross, a former state senator and friend of Tomblin's; Tom Hawse, another Tomblin friend and former senator; Harold Michael, a former House of Delegates member; Donald Cookman, a circuit judge from Hampshire County; Brenda Hutchinson, who lost re-election to the Morgan County Commission in 2012; Jim Spears, former Gov. Joe Manchin's chief of staff; and Margaret Beckwith.

This appointment is further complicated by redistricting following the 2010 Census.

The appointment is to the seat as it existed in 2010 when Helmick was re-elected. However, in 2014, the person chosen will have to run in the newly drawn district.

That means several of the possible candidates could find themselves in a tough election battle against an incumbent in 2014, and Tomblin does not want to pick a favorite just to see him or her get beat in the next election.

Yes, it's good to be governor, because that's where the power resides, but the execution of that power is fraught with risk.

Tomblin is about to advance the careers of two politicians by appointing them to the Senate.

But in doing so, he's going to disappoint at least 10 others, and possibly even make life more difficult for himself as he tries to push his agenda through the Legislature.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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