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Statehouse Beat: Who can run for state office

With four full-time state employees running for statewide office this year, I've had numerous inquiries about whether state law prohibits state employees from running for public office.

The answer is yes, but state code 29-6-20 specifically applies only to classified employees, more commonly referred to as civil service employees.

It doesn't apply to will and pleasure employees -- such as deputy agriculture commissioner Bob Tabb, assistant agriculture commissioner Steve Miller, or Supreme Court law clerks Louie Palmer and Allen Loughry.

(Similarly, state law prohibits state employees from serving in the Legislature, but not from running for the House or Senate -- although if they win election, they would have to resign from state employment.

That's why there are public schoolteachers in the Legislature -- under the legal fiction that they are county employees -- but no public college or university professors.)

While it may look improper for Department of Agriculture staff to be running for the commissioner's post, or for Supreme Court law clerks to be running to replace their bosses as justices, the law doesn't forbid it.

There was a rumor last week that Tabb and Miller had taken leaves of absence from their Ag department jobs for the remainder of the primary campaign.

Actually, they both requested permission from Commissioner Gus Douglass for more liberal use of their annual leave time during the campaign, and Douglass granted their requests, according to department spokesman Buddy Davidson.

What isn't as clear is whether Tabb and Miller are in the clear on the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from participating in any partisan political activity.

The Hatch Act also prohibits state and local government employees from running for public office if their positions are even partially funded from federal funds.

About 14.5 percent of the Department of Agriculture's operating budget, or about $8.9 million a year, is federally funded. Whether that trickles up to administrative salaries is somewhat doubtful.

It's worth noting, however, that another commissioner candidate, Joe Messineo, retired from an administrative position in the Ag department before filing for office, although he already has a healthy federal pension after a long career at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

• • •

Speaking of the Department of Agriculture, Arden Curry

is on the department's payroll as general counsel, receiving a $30,511 salary in 2011, while concurrently maintaining a private law practice as senior member of the Pauley Curry law firm on Charleston's West Side.

• • •

Keeping to his character, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin downplayed any political ramifications from the announcement that he had landed a deal to bring $100 million-plus of investment and up to 700 jobs to the Charleston Stamping and Manufacturing plant in South Charleston.

However, consider this: In the 2011 special gubernatorial election, Tomblin carried Kanawha County by a razor-thin margin of 18,376 votes to Republican challenger Bill Maloney's17,780. Tomblin got 49.49 percent of the vote to Maloney's 47.89 percent.

The Gestamp announcement should help Tomblin in Kanawha County in 2012, particularly with the likelihood that Tomblin will get to stage a couple more media events promoting the plant between now and November, including welcoming new employees going to work there this fall.

Ironically, there were no announcements from the state Republican Party or from Maloney praising the jobs announcement -- a sharp contrast from March, when both berated the Tomblin administration for failing to land the Shell Chemical ethane cracker plant.

(By the way, when did the owners of the South Charleston stamping plant drop "South" from the plant's name?)

• • •

Speaking of the governor's race, in my haste to analyze campaign financial disclosures in the half hour between their postings and my deadline last Friday, I stated last week that Tomblin raised more than $400,000 at campaign fundraisers in March, and said all the fundraisers took place in the three weeks after the regular session ended March 10.

Actually, upon further review, two of the 10 fundraisers that month took place on March 2 and 5, raising a total of $132,550.

• • •

Finally, Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, is lobbying his friend and CEO of the Tudor's Biscuit World chain, Oshel Craigo, to name a breakfast biscuit for Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, upon his retirement from the Senate at the end of the year.

There's a bit of irony to that request, since health advocate Foster pushed for a bill in 2009 to require fast food and chain restaurants to post calorie counts for menu items -- a bill that infamously met its demise during a morning meeting of the House Government Organization Committee, as delegates gorged themselves on Tudor's biscuits.

(Doc Foster will eventually have the last laugh, since an identical calorie count requirement is part of the federal Affordable Care Act.)

The question would be whether the Foster should be something healthy, perhaps an egg white and tomato slice on wheat toast, or should go for the other extreme, like maybe a double bacon, sausage, ham, egg and cheese biscuit. Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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