CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lobbyist Paul Hardesty, a Democrat who had Jim Justice’s Greenbrier Resort among his clients, was sworn in Friday morning as West Virginia’s newest state senator.
“A very humbling experience,” Hardesty told reporters. “I have a great deal of respect for this institution. I’ve been working in this building for the better part of two decades. I’m glad to be here. Time to roll up our sleeves and go to work.”
As Hardesty shook hands and received well-wishes from fellow senators, he confirmed resigning Thursday from his lobbying work.
“I’m done lobbying at 5 p.m.,” he said. “I submitted to the Ethics Commission. I terminated my lobbyist representation. It’s time to go and give something back to the people of this 7th District.”
Hardesty also served on the Logan County school board and resigned that position as well.
The Logan County resident was named to the open seat by Governor Justice on Thursday afternoon. He was one of three recommendations submitted by the local Democratic executive committee.
Hardesty replaces Richard Ojeda, a firebrand active in last year’s teachers strike. Ojeda resigned to pursue a run for U.S. president.
“I feel the people of this 7th senatorial district deserve someone over here to — and I want to use the word again — work. Not fight. Not kick. Not scream,” Hardesty said. “Someone to work. Someone who knows how to navigate the process and get things for the 7th District.”
Ojeda cited frustration when he resigned, saying few of the bills he supported gained traction. He also responded to rumors that Hardesty might be named to the seat by saying he hoped the governor would not appoint his own friend or lobbyist.
Hardesty contended his remarks were not meant to be critical of Ojeda.
“I’m not trying to be critical. I’m just trying to be factual. That might have been his approach and he’s surely entitled to it,” Hardesty said. “I’m not throwing rocks at him, although he in the past few days has used numerous opportunities to throw rocks at me.”
Paul Hardesty joins the Senate https://t.co/6IIYyAvaJG
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) January 18, 2019
The Senate’s Democratic caucus issued a statement supporting Hardesty.
Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, will represent the district with Hardesty, who lives in Holden.
“I respect Paul and I will work with him to the best of my ability to serve the 7th Senate District,” Stollings said in an interview.
“It’s an area that needs a lot of work. We’ve lost up to 40 percent of our economy, and it’s no time for divisive politics.”
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said he intends to work with Hardesty just as he would anyone else in the caucus. Prezioso welcomed Hardesty to the Senate during Friday morning’s floor session, eliciting a standing ovation.
“I will take whoever the governor sends up to me, try to position the person in our caucus to be part of us and provide him with the same courtesies that I do every one of our members,” Prezioso said Thursday evening.
Hardesty responded to media questions about his party loyalty. The question was prompted by the professional ties to Justice, who was elected governor as a Democrat but who switched parties to become a Republican.
Hardesty said promised to remain a Democrat.
“Absolutely. Definitively. No leopard spot switching here,” Hardesty said.
He said he intends to run for the seat he now holds as a Democrat in 2020.
“Standing here today, I think that seat will remain a Democratic seat in 2020,” he said. “I still think there’s a place in southern West Virginia for a blue dog, conservative Democrat, someone who holds conservative values.
Hardesty noted that he now occupies a Senate seat that was held for many years by Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin, a Chapmanville resident who went on to become governor.
“I think the district still commands respect, and I think a blue dog Democrat still works in southern West Virginia.”