The Republican supermajority in West Virginia’s House of Delegates just got bigger.
Delegate Mick Bates, who had served as a Democrat, announced that he will switch to become a Republican.
“I expect that this decision may disappoint and upset some,” Bates, who represents people in the Beckley area, stated in an announcement about the party switch. “I believe that a greater number will welcome it and see it as the right thing to do at the right time for the people I represent.”
The number of Republicans in the House of Delegates now stands at 78.
There are now 22 Democrats in the chamber that used to be dominated by that party.
“This is surprising and disappointing,” said state Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore, in an emailed statement of reaction.
“It seems Delegate Bates has public service confused with self-service. Delegate Bates has propped himself up on Democratic ideals and his constituency put their faith in him. He’s turning his back on them. It’s odd but telling that someone who is so outspoken against the majority party has decided to join them to benefit himself politically.”
Republicans already had an enormous numbers advantage in the House of Delegates, coming out of last month’s election with 76 of the 100 seats. That was an 18-seat pickup for House Republicans.
Then in December, Delegate Jason Barrett announced he would switch his registration from Democrat to Republican.
With Bates now saying the same, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, welcomed another member.
“Mick has always been a pro-business Delegate, and we certainly welcome his credentials and his experience as a small business owner to the party,” Hanshaw stated.
“This is an unprecedented time for the House of Delegates, with the largest Republican majority the state has ever seen, and as we continue to do the work of making West Virginia the easy choice for people and businesses to call home, the Republican party will only continue to grow.”
Bates changed his party affiliation to Republican at the Raleigh County Courthouse on Wednesday morning. He had served as a Democrat since being elected to the House of Delegates in 2014, when he defeated Republican incumbent Linda Sumner.
Bates competed for the role of House minority leader last year, but Doug Skaff of Kanawha County won the Democratic caucus’s support for the role.
Shortly after that, when it was time to vote for the House speaker for this past regular session, Bates was the only Democrat to vote for Hanshaw rather than Skaff.
Bates had been the lead Democrat on the House Finance Committee, but he was not named to the committee at all after that.
“Following his failed attempt to run for minority leader, Delegate Bates announced to members of our caucus that his future political plans meant a party switch. He did not believe that he could win as a Democrat, so he decided that he would leave the Democratic Party,” Skaff stated today.
“Delegate Bates must have decided that now is the right time for him to turn his back on the constituents who elected him to prioritize his future political ambitions. He is more focused on the next election than the next generation of West Virginians.”
House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty was also publicly critical of Bates.
“Bates just served as Democratic Party House Caucus Chair. We went from 41 members to 23 under his leadership. Then he ran to be Minority Leader. Lost. Now he’s switching parties. What a profile in courage,” Fluharty, D-Ohio, wrote on Twitter.
Bates wrote in his statement that his decision is in line with many constituents in the district he has served.
“I am far from the first person to make such a change and I will not be the last. Over the past 3 years there has been a 30 percent swing in registrations in Raleigh County from Democrat to Republican. The line often used, and attributed to President Ronald Reagan, is that ‘I didn’t leave the party, the party left me,'” he stated.
The West Virginia Secretary of State now shows that Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state 433,287 to 408,572.
In Raleigh County, where Bates lives, the numbers are 18,668 Republicans to 15,272 Democrats.
The same month in 2017, Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the state 542,237 to 389,916. The numbers in Raleigh County at that time were 16,284 Republicans and 22,034 Democrats.
Bates wrote that as politics have become more nationalized, West Virginia has reflected that.
“There used to be a difference between the way West Virginia Democrats and Washington Democrats were viewed. People no longer see that difference,” he stated.
“At a national level, the controlling interests and leadership of the Democratic party continue to pursue positions that alienate and anger voters in rural parts of the country and don’t reflect the priorities, values or beliefs of the people in West Virginia. This is not changing and appears to be getting worse, not better.”
Bates is a physical therapist and the owner and chief executive of Bodyworks as well as the president of Praxis Corp. He is a member and former chairman of the Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce, a former president and member of the Board of Directors of the West Virginia Physical Therapy Association and served on the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Committee. Bates and his wife, Pamela, are the parents of four teenagers.
“I have many friends that are registered Democrats and a number of independent friends,” he wrote. “I have an equal number of friends and supporters that are registered Republican. We are all West Virginians who need to work together to move this State forward and address its many problems.”