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Rucker Challenges Blair for Senate President

Senators Craig Blair and Patricia Rucker (Perry Bennett/West Virginia Legislative Photography)

Republicans dominate the West Virginia Legislature. The GOP holds supermajorities in both the House of Delegates and the Senate.

But these Republicans are not of one mind. Far from it. Increasingly, the GOP lawmakers are splitting into two factions.

One group is made up of conservative to moderate members. These Republicans are typically more interested in economic issues, like lower taxes and the state’s business climate.

They currently hold the leadership positions—Speaker Roger Hanshaw in the House and President Craig Blair in the Senate. Most—but not all–of their leadership teams and committee chairs are philosophically aligned.

The second group is comprised of Republicans who lean farther to the right. They, too, are for lower taxes, but they are also more concerned about social issues, like abortion.

The right wing of this group is making a play to overthrow the current leaders.

The latest move came yesterday when Senator Patricia Rucker (R, Jefferson) announced on Talkline her challenge to Blair for the Senate President’s position.

“I believe this is the right time to essentially work towards ensuring that the voters know we will be moving in a new direction and in a much more positive direction,” Rucker said on Talkline.

That is reminiscent of the comments made by Delegate Brandon Steele (R, Raleigh) last month when he declared his challenge to Speaker Hanshaw.

“I believe our progress is stalled under the current leadership and a new direction and a new focus is necessary,” Steele said.

Unseating the existing leadership is typically a long shot. However, the very public challenges are reflective of the philosophical divide. I suspect the issue came to a head during the recent special session when Republicans could not agree on a bill restricting abortion.

The far right of the GOP wanted to outlaw abortion with no exceptions, while more moderate Republicans were willing to consider exceptions in cases of rape or incest. In fact, a few of the Republican leaders were more aligned with conservative Democrats than with the right wing of their own caucus.

Far right candidates have made gains in the Legislature in the last few elections. They believe they more accurately reflect the views of the voters as West Virginia moves deeper red.  Rather than compromise with more moderate Republican leaders, they are mounting a push to take control.

But as is often said in these power struggles, if you are going to go after the king, you better not miss. The current Republican leaders do not strike me as the kind who seek retribution, but at some point, they will grow weary of attempting to placate their right flank.

This may all seem like palace intrigue, but there is a much deeper issue here. The very soul of the West Virginia Republican Party—what it is now and what it is going to be in the future—is at stake.


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