MCT REGIONAL NEWS
By David Beard
The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
Feb. 01--CHARLESTON -- The House and Senate both expect to pass bills today authorizing a special primary and secondary gubernatorial election.
But they differ on the election dates. The Senate bill, SB 261, sticks to acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposed dates: June 20 and Oct. 4.
The House bill, HB 2853, moves both up by several weeks: To May 14 and Sept. 13.
"In offering the earlier dates for the election," House Speaker Rick Thompson said in a press conference, "we have taken to heart the Supreme Court's order that the election take place 'as soon as practicable,' as opposed to as late as possible."
He cited two other reasons for moving it up: County clerks told his office they'd prefer a May primary, and he thinks more voters will turn out on a May Saturday than on that June Monday -- a state holiday, West Virginia Day, when families will be on vacation.
Senate Finance passed its version Monday and will report it to the floor today. House Judiciary passed its version and will do the same. Both chamber leaders -- Thompson and acting Senate President Jeff Kessler -- expect to suspend their three-day reading rules and pass their versions of the bills today.
Unless the Senate adopts the House changes, the bills would likely go to conference committee -- either under some form of new joint rules likely coming out of the Senate today, or under the Jeffersonian rules used by Congress and in effect while the Legislature has no joint rules.
Thompson said members considered the cost savings of a convention to nominate candidates -- about $3.5 million based on the secretary of state's estimates -- but decided people deserve the right to select their party nominees.
Delegates of both parties surrounded Thompson during the conference,and Minority Leader Tim Armstead said GOP members support the changes to the bill.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant told House Judiciary members on Monday that the Legislature would need to pass a bill into law by Feb. 14 in order to give her office the 90 days it would need to prepare for a May 14 primary.
Thompson isn't worried. "Hopefully we'll get this issue resolved in the next couple of days." OPEB, firefighters' worker's compensation and Marcellus regulation are all hovering out there for action.
The early primary date may inconvenience some legislators running for governor, including Thompson, but he said that wasn't an issue. "This bill is not about anyone's intention to run for office." It's about complying with the Supreme Court's order.
So far, four candidates have filed to run for governor in the special election, according to the secretary of state's office: Tennant, Thompson, Tomblin, all Democrats; and former Secretary of State Betty Ireland, a Republican.
Kessler offered mixed reviews of the House's action. He's encouraged that the delegates who favored party conventions abandoned that, but isn't clear why they changed the dates.
"I haven't really thought about it. I'll have to see what the rationale is," he said.
While the House Judiciary counsel said the Legislature has the right to change the governor's proclaimed general election date and have him issue another proclamation, Kessler isn't sure that's correct.