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Delegates cross a line and lose their House committees

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Delegate Pat McGeehan has lost all his committee assignments, and he’s proud of it.

“Because I didn’t vote the way they wanted me to,” McGeehan, R-Hancock, said prior to a floor session in the House of Delegates last week.

McGeehan and Delegate Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, each received letters this month that they would be removed from their committee assignments.

Each had made several votes against an omnibus education bill during in special session this spring. But what seemed to cinch their committee removals was their votes to table the bill or adjourn the session before ever considering it.

At the same time, Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, who had been vice-chairman of the House Education Committee, received notification that he would no longer serve in that role.

Dean, an elementary school principal, had been outspoken against aspects of the omnibus education bill, particularly a provision allowing charter schools in West Virginia.

As the bill was on the edge of passage, Dean offered a flurry of amendments, which would have ranged from removing the charters provision entirely to establishing a referendum allowing county residents to vote on allowing charter schools.

The three delegates, speaking this past week about their removals, did not act surprised by the penalties.

McGeehan, for one, has been removed from legislative roles before. He lost his right to attend Republican caucus a couple of years ago. During the regular session this past year, he received a letter removing him from the prestigious Judiciary Committee.

With committee assignments in the House of Delegates, sometimes things happen.

Last year after then-House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, twice challenged Delegate Roger Hanshaw for the open House Speaker’s role, Nelson lost the powerful Finance leadership position.

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, was removed from his assignments late in the regular session after angrily kicking open the chamber door, which knocked into a doorkeeper. He is listed now with assignments again.

And sometimes things don’t happen.

When Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, roiled the House with anti-LGBTQ comments last year, he met privately with Speaker Hanshaw but kept his committee assignments.

Hanshaw was invited to comment this past week about the guidelines for when delegates may lose their committee assignments or committee leadership positions, but he declined to talk about it.

Pat McGeehan

McGeehan alluded to crossing a line where delegates may vote independently on bills but are expected to not vote against the caucus on procedural matters, such as a motion to adjourn sine die before the legislation had even been considered.

That point was likely underscored during the regular session when Caputo, the minority whip, made a motion to table the omnibus education bill that was under consideration then.

At that point, the issue was contentious to the point that enough Republicans voted along with the Democratic minority to kill the bill.

As the most recent special session was underway, The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that Hanshaw warned Republican delegates they could lose their committee assignments if they cast votes to end the session.

“Leadership in the GOP since they took over this chamber in 2015 have always tried to force this top heavy rule that makes some sort of distinction between voting on an actual bill and voting on other different types of motions or amendments or procedural votes that aren’t directly on a bill but indirectly affect policy,” McGeehan said.

“So I’ve always rejected that narrative. That’s been no secret because I believe every vote is more or less a policy vote and, as Thomas Aquinas always believed, that every action you take has some sort of moral worth. And so I make no apologies for the pursuit of excellence.”

Asked if he is any less effective at representing the citizens of Hancock County without the committee assignments, McGeehan contended this is actually a sign that he is more effective.

“No, because typically punishments like these are only doled out to members who are very effective at putting up strong opposition to establish policies and the established agenda that they find either wrong-headed or immoral,” he said.

“So the fact that they doled this punishment out to me, I think, indicates that they’re a little bit worried about myself and some others’ ability to persuade other members not to go along to get along with the establishment’s agenda that we might not agree with.”

McGeehan said casting his votes as he did was worth it.

Tony Paynter

So did Paynter, who said his constituents opposed the omnibus education bill.

“That is what my district wanted. They were wholeheartedly against the bill, and being a representative I’ve got to represent their will,” he said.

“Whatever the punishment is for that, I’ll take it because that’s our jobs here.”

Mark Dean

Dean said he is sorry to have lost the vice chairman’s role but also believes had had to vote as he did. He said he understood the potential repercussions.

“It was important for my constituents. They spoke loud and clear that they were not for any version of the bill. So I was definitely against it,” he said. “I understood that was not the traditional role of the vice chair and I kind of knew what would probably happen. But it was still worth it.”

“Standing up for the people who vote for you is more important than standing up for what’s going on here.”

Since being removed from the leadership role, Dean said he had a productive meeting with Hanshaw.

“It was a really good meeting. Good communication went on, so I think we’re ready to just keep working together,” he said. “And I’m still on the education committee, which is my favorite committee, of course.”

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