CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Like gubernatorial succession, legislative vacancies occur infrequently enough that no one bothers to examine whether the process of selecting replacements is critically flawed.
However, with three (and now, four) legislative vacancies in a short period of time, it's clear that the system is in need of a major overhaul.
State Code provides only a couple of sentences of guidance: It says that, in the event of a legislative vacancy, the party executive committee for the particular legislative district is to meet and submit the names of three nominees to the governor within 15 days of the vacancy. Then, the governor has five days to appoint one of the nominees to the Legislature.
The only other guidance is that executive committees can meet only after public notice "is given according to party rules," that meetings must be open to the public, and "all official actions shall be made by voice vote."
State Democratic Party rules are equally non-specific, simply stating that public notice "shall be as reasonable as possible," and that no secret ballots are permitted.
So as much as Mike Queen may complain, when the 12th Senatorial District executive committee met on one day's notice to select nominees to replace Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison, and when committeeman Martin Shaffer cast all three of his votes for County Commissioner Mike Romano, assuring Romano's nomination -- as unsavory as it may seem, no laws or party rules were broken.
Queen contends that Shaffer was banking on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin selecting Romano to avoid a controversy of having to chose between the two other nominees, Delegates Sam Cann and Tim Miley, both D-Harrison. (Shaffer then would have been the front-runner to fill the commission vacancy ... )
Of course, Queen had used that same logic in seeking the nomination himself -- along with the fact that as president of the Harrison County Board of Education, he had worked closely with Public Works LLC on the state public education audit, since Harrison was one of the three county school systems audited.
There's an old statehouse saying that when the governor makes an appointment, he creates one friend and 10 enemies.
Which makes Tomblin's selection of Cann to succeed Minard as wise a choice as he could make under the circumstances. With 17 years' tenure, Cann is well liked and respected by other legislators. Had Tomblin appointed Miley, it would have thrown an already tumultuous House into even more chaos, having to replace a Judiciary Committee chairman just three weeks before the session begins. A Romano appointment, meanwhile, would have resulted in the above-mentioned controversy in Harrison County.
While the 12th District appointment process was unsavory, it looks like child's play compared to selecting a successor for senator-turned-Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick.