Click here to see a timeline, videos and more on Robert C. Byrd.
Under provisions of West Virginia law, the fate of Robert C. Byrd's seat in the U.S. Senate now rests with one person: Gov. Joe Manchin. West Virginia voters cannot choose their replacement senator until the fall of 2012, the law decrees. For the intervening two and a half years, the powerful national post in Washington must be filled by Manchin's designee.
"It's a continuation of Manchin, rather than Byrd," political science professor Robert Rupp told The Associated Press. The Mountain State's voice in the world's foremost legislative chamber hinges on "loyalty" to Manchin, Dr. Rupp said.
The governor could appoint himself to the vacancy and begin acquiring crucial Senate seniority now, before the November general election alters the body's makeup. But Manchin has said he won't do so.
Instead, most observers expect him to appoint a minor "placeholder" to fill the seat until he wins it nearly 30 months from now. Speculation is focusing on a laundry list of little-known, lesser prospects. But West Virginia deserves better.
As we said before, the governor should choose a major appointee, well-grounded in national and international matters. We suggested former governors Gaston Caperton and Bob Wise. Another worthy appointee would be Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., soon to lose his post in Congress. He has served 14 terms -- 28 years -- dealing with tough Washington problems.
Speculation is rampant. Some insiders say Manchin may ask the July 19 special legislative session to revise state law, so Byrd's successor could be elected this fall, instead of two years hence. Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said on the radio Wednesday that he has it "from the horse's mouth" that the succession question will be raised at the July 19 session.
Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper told political writer Phil Kabler it would be absurd for an unelected placeholder to hold the Senate seat two and a half years -- longer than a term in the House of Representatives. Others say a challenge could be filed with the U.S. Senate, objecting to seating of a long-term temporary appointee.
As for now, the governor will do a disservice to West Virginians if he lets the state's void in the U.S. Senate languish. An appointee should fill it rapidly. If the appointee becomes the state's permanent senator, all-important Senate seniority will start immediately.
During the half-century tenure of Sen. Byrd, West Virginia enjoyed the benefits of a powerhouse in Washington, a dynamic force. It will be sad if his replacement has tiny stature and no chance for accomplishments.