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Tomblin wants lieutenant governor post

By Staff | Jan 6, 2011

CHARLESTON (AP) – Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Thursday he wants West Virginias constitution amended so an elected lieutenant governor takes over when its chief executive departs.

Tomblin announced the formation of a working group of lawyers that would help formulate a proposal to present to the Legislature. He didnt give a timeline but said it shouldnt be done in haste and that all angles should be looked at.

The constitution now assigns the job to Tomblin as Senate president.

The longest-serving Senate president in state history, Tomblin had gained the title lieutenant governor through 2000 legislation but the office does not exist within the constitution.

Tomblin said he had three goals behind the proposal – to give clarity to the state constitution, to add as little cost as possible to taxpayers, and avoid creating a figurehead position with no powers until called upon.

Vacancies do not occur that often, and so we need a structure that is beneficial to the people all of the time, said Tomblin, a Logan County Democrat. I want to get this done right.

Its going to take some time for serious thought, not only for the working group, but also to give the Legislature the opportunity to have their input. Whether it will come in a special session later or down the road, Im not sure.

Tomblin said the working group will assist his general counsel, Kurt Dettinger. The group consists of lawyers Charles McElwee and Marty Glasser of Charleston, West Virginia University law school dean Joyce McConnell, WVU law professor Bob Bastress, and Bill Powell of Martinsburg.

Each chamber of the Legislature would have to adopt any proposed constitutional amendment by at least a two-thirds margin. A majority of state voters must then ratify it.

Forty-three states now elect a lieutenant governor, including all five of West Virginias neighbors. Only three other states put a legislator next in line for their top executive branch post.

Mike Stuart, chairman of the state Republican Party, called the proposal a bad idea.

Rather than creating a single new job, why dont we focus on creating tens of thousands of new jobs by reforming our economy, focusing on things like tax reform and tort reform, and getting our unemployed workers back to work, Stuart said. So its very disappointing that his first proposal happens to be growing government as opposed to reining in government.

A lieutenant governor is not going to do anything to put food on the tables of hard-working West Virginians.

But House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, said Tomblins call is a clear recognition of the fact that the current system is not working.

The solution is a new election this year, which the Constitution clearly envisions and the people absolutely deserve, Thompson said.

The proposal would not resolve the pending state Supreme Court challenge triggered when Tomblin succeeded a newly elected U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin. The case seeks an election for governor this year.

Its all about taking a fresh look at how our constitution should be amended to deal with future gubernatorial vacancies, Tomblin said.

Among other arguments, the court case cites constitutional language separating the powers of the three branches of government. While remaining Senate president, Tomblin has pledged to set his legislative duties aside while he acts as governor. A target of the legal challenge, he has also concluded that the constitution sets the next election for governor in 2012 when the office is already scheduled to be on the ballot.

The Supreme Court has set a Tuesday hearing for that case.