CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Roman Prezioso, who has served in West Virginia’s Legislature for three decades, says he won’t be running again.
“It wasn’t an easy decision. I struggled with this thing for months,” Prezioso, D-Marion, said in a Monday evening telephone interview.
Prezioso, 70, discussed the decision with his family over the weekend. Then he told his staff and the rest of the Senate’s Democratic caucus on Monday afternoon.
Most recently, Prezioso has been the minority leader in the Senate, presenting the caucus’s views and, often, serving as the loyal opposition. When Democrats were in power, he served as chairman of the finance, education, health and military affairs committees.
“I feel like I’ve had a great career. I’ve certainly been blessed,” he said. “In all the years I’ve been down there. I’ve probably chaired more major committees than any other legislator.”
His decision was because of a mix of factors. His age was one. Family and grandchildren were another. And politics has changed, both as a result of now being in the minority and, he said, because tone and cooperation are different than they used to be.
“The family thing, being in the minority, just politics in general,” he said. “People now think the art of compromise is showing weakness. It was a pleasure to work with both sides and try to come up with a reasonable piece of legislation, but that’s not the way it is. And I’m not sure it’s going to change for a while.”
Former Senate President Jeff Kessler, a Democrat from Marshall County, called Prezioso a diligent and capable legislator.
“He was extremely dedicated, just the epitome of a public servant,” Kessler said on the telephone.
Kessler added, “He was opinionated and sometimes stubborn — but oftentimes right.”
Ron Stollings, who has served in the Senate with Prezioso since 2006, said the Democratic caucus will miss his leadership and institutional knowledge.
“Frankly, we’re not going to be able to replace him. He’s irreplaceable,” said Stollings, D-Boone.
“He knew that budget inside and out. He was the go-to person for everyone over there. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, he was the go to person for many issues, particularly the budget.”
Prezioso had to be nudged toward running 30 years ago.
He spent his working life in the public school system, particularly as an administrator. He recalled being frustrated about issues like teacher salaries and educational attainment. He was venting to his younger sister, Marie, when she told him to put up or shut up.
“Do you think you could do any better?” he recalled her asking. “Why don’t you come down?”
“So I ended up running,” he said.
But Prezioso quickly discovered he was having trouble getting his name around. He recalled calling members of the county executive committee and hearing ‘click.” Marie told him to call back until he was heard out.
He was elected to the House of Delegates in 1988, right as Gaston Caperton was starting his first term as governor. Education reform was a major push in Caperton’s first years.
Then-House Speaker Chuck Chambers asked Prezioso if he would be interested in being vice chairman of the Education Committee.
“To be a committee chair or vice chair was an important thing,” said Prezioso, who felt satisfaction in work to promote cooperation between K-12 education and higher education, as well as promoting teacher involvement through faculty senates.
Prezioso ran for the state Senate in 1996 and has served there ever since.
Not everything has been fun.
Over about a decade, state officials dealt with the workers compensation system, which was facing a $3 billion deficit and possible bankruptcy. In 1995, the Legislature tightened eligibility rules, angering labor unions. In 2005, legislation passed to privatize the workers comp system.
“It was difficult to go to the labor folks and tell them ‘This workers comp is going down the tube. It needs to be revisited, reconfigured.'”
Prezioso won’t be running for office again, but he still has another year in the Senate. He and other caucus members have been working on priorities.
“I’m fired up about one more year and then it’s time to do something else,” he said.
Others have made similar decisions. Minority Whip Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, announced a couple of weeks ago that he won’t run again after 18 years in the Legislature. Another Democrat, Paul Hardesty of Logan, says he won’t run again after being appointed to an open seat last year.
On the Republican side, Greg Boso left the Senate a few weeks ago to focus on his business.
Prezioso says he intends to make the most of his remaining year under the dome.
“I’ve got one year left. I haven’t lost any of my fight, that’s for sure. I’m going to be proud to lead these guys for one more year,” he said. “I want to walk out that door the last day and say I did the best I can do.”