CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's legislative leaders saw signs Wednesday of a power grab as well as unintended consequences in Gov. Joe Manchin's upcoming special session proposal for filling the seat held by the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
The lawmakers also cast doubts on Manchin's hope that the special session will finish in one day, and were mixed on his decision to wait until at least 5 p.m. Friday to name a temporary appointee to the seat.
Manchin is calling the Legislature into session today<co thurs> to revise the state's process for resolving Senate vacancies. His measure would require an election when at least 30 months remain on the seat's six-year term, to be held within a year of the vacancy arising.
Byrd, 92, died June 28 with just over that time left in his term. A senator for more than half a century, Byrd is history's longest-serving member of Congress. He was a Democrat, as is Manchin.
The legislation would allow for both primary and general balloting, with waiting periods of at least 60 days before each. But it would also skip a party's primary if just one candidate files to run, and instead declare that candidate the nominee. That's troublesome to Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler, whose committee is expected to review the bill.
"If we make a decision to have a special [primary] election, we have a special election," said Kessler, D-Marshall. "We don't have a special election lite. That opens it up to mischief."
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, called that provision "creative but odd."
"I think that opens up a whole set of possibilities for creative minds to think of ways to manipulate the process," Hall said.
Both Kessler and his House counterpart also raised concerns about the measure's overarching theme of granting significant power to the state's governor, and through that office to the secretary of state, over declaring and scheduling special elections. That's the legislative branch's domain, argue Kessler and House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley.
"We're trying to work with the governor's staff to get a bill that accomplishes the governor's goals while maintaining the proper separation of powers," said Miley, D-Harrison, of his committee's staff.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, shares their view.
"That does give me some heartburn," said Armstead, who like Miley and Kessler is a lawyer.