MARTINSBURG, W.Va.—The Eastern Panhandle retained “prime seats” at the table of legislative power with the election of Sen. Jeff Kessler Monday evening as president of the West Virginia Senate, according to state Sens. John Unger and Herb Snyder.
Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, was named Senate Majority Leader and Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, was tapped to chair one of the Senate’s four major committees in January when Kessler took charge of the chamber in January as acting president after Earl Ray Tomblin became acting governor.
With Tomblin’s election in October to complete the unexpired term of Gov. Joe Manchin and the new governor’s swearing-in on Sunday, the Senate had to convene to replace Tomblin, who had held the title of Senate president while serving as acting governor.
“We got rid of all the actors and made it official,” Snyder quipped after the Senate voted 28-5 along party lines to elect Kessler as the Senate president.
Earlier Monday in a closed-door caucus of 28 Democratic senators, Kessler received 17 votes to fend off a challenge from Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, who received 11 votes for president, according to Snyder, who has chaired the Government Organization Committee under Kessler.
“I give (Kessler) a lot of credit for spreading out his leadership team (across the state),” Snyder said.
Unger, who replaced Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, as majority leader, said that his and Snyder’s rise in leadership at the same time could very well be a first for senators representing the region in state history.
Legislative power is “truly shifting to the Eastern Panhandle with Sen. Snyder and myself in leadership roles,” Unger said.
While they must look at issues from a statewide perspective, Unger said, “we are at the table, no question about it.”
Aside from being close to the Senate president, Unger said he and Snyder have good working relationships with Tomblin.
Snyder, who served as vice chair of Government Organization for two years before being tapped to head the committee, said the unanimous vote by Democrats on the Senate floor for Kessler was a good sign for the future after what he described as “a very tough year.”
Snyder’s and Unger’s new leadership roles came at the expense of Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, who represents part of Berkeley and Morgan counties. Helmick was ousted from his post as chair of the powerful Finance Committee by Kessler, who replaced him with Sen. Roman Prezioso of Marion County.
Helmick’s four-year term expires in 2014.
Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, was picked by Kessler to chair the Judiciary Committee, which is the post that the new Senate president had held.
Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, retained his post in the Senate shake-up.
After Monday’s floor vote, Kessler said in brief remarks that were broadcast on the Internet that he hoped he “learned a thing or two” from Tomblin.
Kessler, of Marshall County in the Northern Panhandle, became the state Senate’s first new president in 17 years, according to the Associated Press.