New faces, longtime statewide officers take oaths
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the first time in 20 years, West Virginia has a new agriculture commissioner and attorney general.
On Monday, Patrick Morrisey was sworn in as attorney general, replacing Darrell McGraw, who held the post since 1992.
And former state Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, replaced Gus Douglas as agriculture commissioner. Douglas served from 1964 to 1988, and from 1992 to this year.
"It's a changing of the guard," Helmick said. "It's a time to reflect on my years in the senate, but also a time to look forward. This is a significant job, and it's going to be an exciting challenge."
Helmick spent 24 years in the state senate before deciding to run for agriculture commissioner. Douglas announced plans to retire last year.
Helmick's primary campaign was heated, as Democratic candidates alleged that Helmick didn't qualify for the top agriculture post. State law says the agriculture commissioner must be a farmer. Helmick heads a water bottling company in Pocahontas County.
After Monday's inauguration, Helmick held a reception for staff members and others who work closely with the state Department of Agriculture.
"Our office touches every home in West Virginia -- whether it's food quality, soil issues or the extension services at West Virginia State and West Virginia University," Helmick said. "This job is going to take a lot of time and effort."
Morrisey already has created a buzz at the attorney general's office, after announcing staff changes and a new public integrity unit last week. Morrisey hired a solicitor general, with plans to file lawsuits against the federal government, challenging regulations that negatively affect West Virginia.
"I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and doing great legal work for West Virginians," said Morrisey, West Virginia's first Republican attorney general since 1933. "I'm eager to get to work."
Within days, Morrisey is expected to appoint an acting chief for the office's consumer protection division.
"We're to build on the division's successes and improve on weaknesses," Morrisey said Monday. "We're going to be very thoughtful about this."
The state Supreme Court also gained a new face Monday, as Allen Loughry was sworn into a 12-year term on the court. He replaces Thomas McHugh, who did not run for the seat.
Justice Robin Davis took the oath for another term on the court after her election victory.
Other West Virginia constitutional officers sworn in Monday were also familiar faces.
State Treasurer John Perdue stands to become West Virginia's longest-tenured chief financial officer. Perdue was first elected to office in 1996.
"I am very honored and humbled that the voters have once again entrusted me with the state's finances," said Perdue, who defeated Republican challenger Mike Hall, who serves as state Senate minority leader. "I have always strived to bring the Treasurer's Office up to current technological and professional standards."
If Perdue completes his term, he will have served 20 years -- two more than former state Treasurer Richard E. Talbott, who held the office from 1932 to 1950. Only five state treasurers have served for 10 years or more.
"It's been a good 16 years, but we don't rest on our laurels," Perdue said.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant was sworn in Monday by Penney Barker, a notary public who oversees the office's business licensing division.
Tennant, who started a second four-year term, said Barker and other employees have helped the division make it easier for businesses to locate and operate in West Virginia.
"Business and licensing has been completely reworked in the past four years, and it was because of hard work from people like Penney and members of her division," Tennant said. "It is now easier to start and run a business and be successful in West Virginia because of streamlined processes like online annual report filing."
West Virginia Auditor Glen Gainer also is no stranger to the state Capitol. Gainer, who took the oath of office Monday after winning re-election in November, started as state auditor 20 years ago.
Gainer said West Virginia's $110 million Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP, project should be up and running by July 2014. The project will connect state agency computers so they can share personnel information and financial data.
"We will be streamlining and modernizing how we do state government," Gainer said Monday. "It will make state government run much more efficiently." Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.