(Update for 8:45a: Hall has notified Senate leaders that he is, in fact, resigning effective today.)
State Senator Daniel Hall (R-Wyoming) announced last week his intention to resign from office and accept a position as a State Liaison with the National Rifle Association. That would create a vacancy in the 9th District, requiring Governor Tomblin to appoint a replacement.
Legislative vacancies, whether by resignation or death, are not uncommon, and state law provides replacement procedures. However, Hall’s planned departure has caused a partisan debate under the Capitol Dome.
Charleston attorney Tony Majestro, a Democrat loyalist who practices election law, argues that Hall’s replacement should be a Democrat. Hall was elected as a Democrat in 2012, but switched his registration to Republican after the 2014 election, giving the GOP an 18-16 advantage and the leadership of the Senate.
Majestro’s argument centers on a section of the code specifying that the list of possible replacements “shall be submitted by the party executive committee of the state senatorial district in which the vacating senator resided at the time of his or her election or appointment” [emphasis added], thus, a Democrat.
However, Richie Heath, legal counsel for the Senate Republicans, says Majestro is misinterpreting the statute. Heath says two earlier sections of the code make clear the replacement should come from the party of the person at the time he or she vacates the position.
Heath contends the later code sections Majestro is using to base his contention on simply specifies that the party committee nominating possible replacements must be from the district the senator represents.
Majestro counters that if there is any ambiguity, there should be a default to the will of the voters, which in 2012 was to elect a Democrat.
Governor Tomblin, who would make the appointment, has refused to get involved in the controversy. “Until there is a vacancy, the governor has no role in any decision with regard to the appointment process,” read a statement from the Governor’s office.
Meanwhile, Hall has rendered the issue moot, for the moment at least, by putting a hold on his resignation. He said on Talkline last week that he’s hopeful the issue can be resolved quickly, but that may not happen because the leadership in the Senate hangs in the balance.
Republicans will never yield their majority because of what they believe is a misapplication of the law, while at least some Democrats see the peculiarity of the situation as an opportunity to regain a lost seat and force power sharing in the Senate.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version said Hall was elected in 2014. He was actually elected in 2012 and changed his registration after the 2014 election.)