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Special election date is finally set

February 11, 2011
Delegate John Doyle

On Feb. 7, Acting Gov. Ear Ray Tomblin signed the bill authorizing a special election for governor. This was the 27th day of our 60 calendar day regular session.

The primary will be held on May 14 and the general election Oct. 4. The former is a Saturday and the latter a Tuesday. We took almost the first half of our regular session to agree on these dates. Now that we've settled the matter I hope we can get down to the real business of the session.

We will elect a governor on Oct. 4 who will serve until January of 2013. We will again elect a governor in November of 2012. That governor will take office in January of 2013.

We could conceivably have three different governors (counting the current acting governor) during a space of just over two years. I think this is nonsense. We could be looking like France or Italy in the years after World War II, when each of those two countries had a new prime minister every six months or so.

The special election will cost us about $14 million. The primary will cost only $3 million, since it's on a Saturday. The general election, being on a Tuesday, will cost $11 million. The difference is the pro-rated cost of giving state and public school employees an extra day off (which we must do when we have a statewide election on a weekday).

This is part of why I have been agitating for a lieutenant governor. A lieutenant governor would take office immediately upon the early departure (for whatever reason) of the governor. The lieutenant governor would BECOME governor, not ACT AS governor (as the constitution says the president of the senate must do now).

It is that pesky phrase "act as" that is the source of much of the problem. Had the state constitution been written to say that the president of the senate was to "become" governor upon a vacancy, we would not now be required to spend $14 million on a special election to choose a governor for one year.

A lieutenant governor elected as a running mate of the governor would guarantee us general continuity in policy should the governor die or otherwise leave office.

Eleven delegates, including me, have introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would give us a full-time lieutenant governor at no cost to the taxpayers. We accomplish this by requiring the lieutenant governor to hold a full-time cabinet position.

Some legislators object to the lieutenant governor occupying such a policy post. OK, fine. If we had a lieutenant governor paid $100,000 per year, with another $100,000 for the expenses of the office, it would take 70 years to cost us the $14 million this special election is costing us.

The current procedure (to have the president of the senate "act as" governor until a special election is held) dates from the "horse-and-buggy" days of West Virginia's founding. This is the second time this procedure has had to be used.

The first time was in the 1880s (still "horse-and-buggy"). The president of the senate only had to "act as' governor for eight days and the legislature was not in session. It's taken until now for the calamity that was always our destiny to hit us, making clear how stupid is our current procedure.



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