By Steven Allen Adams
A legal battle deciding when to elect the next Governor of West Virginia made its way to the state’s highest court Tuesday.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals heard arguments from all parties in a case calling on the high court to require the state Legislature set dates for a special election for governor.
The plantiffs – Citizen Action Group and local attorney Thorton Cooper – say the state Constitution and state code disagree, and a special election for governor is to be called quickly. Attorneys for Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and House Speaker Richard Thompson disagree whether an election should be called. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant‘s legal counsel took a neutral position.
Kathryn Bayless, counsel for CAG, said only the court could require the Legislature and Tomblin to act, and that an election is needed as soon as possible. Bayless argued that article 7 section 16 of the Constitution is clear there “shall” be a “new” election for governor in event of an absence.
“The people of West Virginia want a new election, and that is what the Constitution provides for,” Bayless said.
“What would you have us do in respect to President Tomblin and the Speaker,” asked Justice Brent Benjamin. “What would you have us mandate those two individuals do? You have us mandate those two individuals to legislate?”
“No sir, I would mandate a new election be conducted as soon as practical, and I believe the court has the authority to do that,” Bayless said.
Justices continued to raise concerns over requiring the Legislature pass bills for a special election. Instead, Justices steered the debate to what passage in state code violates the Constitution. Thomas Maroney, counsel for the AFL-CIO, said Tomblin is supposed to serve as acting governor for a short time. Tomblin, as senate president, became acting governor upon the election of Joe Manchin to the U.S. Senate in November.
“(Tomblin) is not the governor of this state; He only acts as governor,” Maroney said. “He should…issue a proclamation calling for a special election. The Constitution is very specific….that if there is more than one year left in the term that there will be a new election.”