CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia needs two strong representatives in the U.S. Senate -- soon. Muddling over the vacancy created by last week's sad death of aged Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., shouldn't drag on for months, which would be unfair to West Virginians.
The quickest solution would be for Gov. Manchin to move to Washington immediately as an interim senator -- then for a special session of the Legislature to revise the state's election laws, so a replacement can be elected this fall.
The state AFL-CIO wants Manchin in the Senate quickly because "one less vote on the Senate floor is critical when it takes 60 progressive votes to break a conservative filibuster stalling important pro-working family legislation." Further, the union said, Senate seniority would start now for Manchin as the state's next senator.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Darrell McGraw evidently opposes waiting until November 2012 -- as current state law appears to require -- for West Virginians to elect a replacement. Such a long wait would leave state residents with an unelected senator for nearly two and a half years. "The right of voters to elect a public official is the most fundamental right of a democracy," McGraw told investigative reporter Paul Nyden.
The state Chamber of Commerce, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and the state Republican chairman all want the July 19 special session of the Legislature to revise election laws so Byrd's successor can be elected this fall -- two years sooner than anticipated. Presumably, party conventions would nominate candidates this summer, one to be elected in November.
Frankly, we think the governor should convene the special session sooner than July 19, so the necessary changes can be finished swiftly.
All the burial rituals for Sen. Byrd are over. It's time for decisive action regarding his successor.
As we've said before, it will be dismal if the governor chooses an inexperienced, little-known, unqualified "placeholder" to fill the seat until Manchin wins it by election. That would be a severe letdown in the wake of Byrd's powerhouse Senate role. We suggested former governors Gaston Caperton or Bob Wise, or departing Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., as potential temporary appointees -- unless Manchin himself takes the seat.
In addition, we hope the special legislative session makes law changes enabling the Senate election to occur in November, without two years' extra wait. Also, other revisions are needed: As Kabler pointed out, current law would require the Senate president to serve both as governor and state Senate leader after Manchin leaves. Holding both seats shouldn't be mandated by law.
The long, long Byrd era has come to its sad close. Now, steps must be taken to prepare the next era.