Jefferson County delegates discuss 2021 Legislative Session
SHEPHERDSTOWN — On Thursday evening, Jefferson County’s delegates gathered together on Zoom, to discuss the West Virginia Legislature upcoming 60-day session, beginning on Feb. 10. The forum was moderated by Matthew Umstead and facilitated by Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communications Director David Welch.
According to Welch, the event was planned by the institute’s bipartisan Community Engagement Committee, consisting of Jefferson County and Berkeley County residents.
“The purpose of the Stubblefield Institute is to study and improve the level of political discourse, civility and civic engagement in today’s somewhat divisive nation,” Welch said, as he opened the forum. “Tonight’s event, featuring delegates John Doyle and Paul Espinosa, is presented by the institute’s Community Engagement Committee.”
Umstead then began the forum by welcoming Doyle (D-67th District) and Espinosa (R-66th District and House Majority Whip) to the discussion.
“I’ll give a little bit of an introduction, just to remind everyone where the lay of the land is politically in Charleston, heading into the first session of the 85th Legislature. Republicans now hold 77 of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates and 23 of the 34 seats in the state Senate,” Umstead said, asking the delegates to discuss how the Democratic minority could deal with being “vastly outnumbered” by the “GOP Supermajority.”
Espinosa looked at the GOP Supermajority position as being a chance to create “comprehensive, wide-ranging reform” in the state government.
“It’s been so long since we’ve had supermajorities,” Espinosa said of the Republican Party in the state. “It really provides us an opportunity to think big, by having supermajorities passing resolutions — for example, considering constitutional amendments, which are some issues that we’ve looked at in the past. Those require two-thirds of the votes from the House and the Senate to change. By having 77 seats in the House and 23 seats in the Senate, it does provide the necessary margins in order to take up some of those items. It allows us to really think big!
“Certainly, we still will welcome the opportunity to work with our colleagues across the aisle. We’re looking for good ideas for West Virginia, wherever they come from!” Espinosa said.
Doyle recalled when there was a Democratic Supermajority, during his 25-year career as as a West Virginia delegate.
“I was in, on-and-off, a number of years when we had supermajorities,” Doyle said. “When you have a supermajority, you can do anything you want, if you can hold your caucus together. Now that’s not always the easiest thing to do, because the bigger your caucus gets, the more opinions there are in it, and the more difficult it is to keep everybody behind a particular opinion. There were times when we needed Republican support, to get things through.”
According to Doyle, during the majority of the supermajorities he has been a part of, the Speaker of the House would make a point to maintain a good relationship with members of the minority party — a practice he hopes to see replicated in the coming session.
“They thought it made sense to do that. And, they thought that, on occasion, they might need them!” Doyle said. “That’s the dynamic. Now we’ll see how it plays out!”
The panel forum also discussed a potential reduction of the personal income tax, increase of teacher’s pay and reversal of the state’s population decline. To view the entire recorded forum, visit the Stubblefield Institute YouTube and Facebook pages.