By Jared Hunt
Charleston Daily Mail
The Republican Party is set to control both houses of the state Legislature for the first time since the Great Depression after Democratic state Sen. Daniel Hall switched his party affiliation Wednesday.
A source close to Hall confirmed he switched to the Republican Party at the Secretary of State’s Office about 5 p.m. Wednesday. A formal announcement is expected today.
The state GOP saw unprecedented gains in Tuesday’s midterm election. Unofficial results had put the balance of power in the Senate as a 17-17 tie Tuesday evening. Hall’s switch to the Republican Party should put that body in firm GOP control in the upcoming legislative session.
With Republicans gaining an unofficial 64-36 majority in the House of Delegates on Election Day, Hall’s move would give the GOP control of both houses of the Legislature at the beginning of next year — the first time the party has had complete control of the Legislature since 1931.
State GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas had yet to speak with Hall as of Wednesday evening, but said his switch was a sign that the GOP has fundamentally changed the partisan dynamics of the state.
“The message of our party has resonated with West Virginia,” Lucas said. “We’re excited to have growth in our ranks and look forward to making major differences to improve the state of West Virginia in this next legislative session.”
Hall, who lives in Wyoming County, currently serves in the 9th Senatorial District with Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, who lost re-election Tuesday to Republican Jeff Mullins by a 57-43 margin.
A source close to Hall said the results in Green’s race and other races across southern West Virginia made it clear that voters there no longer wanted the Democratic Party to represent them at the statehouse.
“This election was just anti-Democrat across the board,” they said. “Democrat numbers were horrible everywhere you went.”
While Lucas had not talked to Hall about switching parties, he said Sens. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Bill Cole, R-Mercer, had been lobbying Hall to switch.
This is not the first time Hall has been a Republican, however.
He initially ran as a Republican in 2006 when he first sought a seat in the House of Delegates. He switched to Democrat when he ran again in 2008 and won, later earning re-election in 2010 and his current seat in the Senate in 2012.
Hall had widely been rumored as one of several lawmakers that might switch parties should the GOP gain seats in this year’s election. A source said further party defections could occur in coming weeks.
Political leaders were already beginning to adjust to plan for a more Republican Legislature, even prior to Hall’s switch.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made a commitment to work in a bipartisan manner in the upcoming 2015 session.
“Throughout my career I have supported bipartisan, collaborative solutions to meet the challenges we face, and I am committed to working with members of both parties to do all we can to move West Virginia forward,” Tomblin said in an emailed statement.
State Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts — who was often at odds with House Democratic leadership — said Tuesday’s election could only be described as a “game-changing election.”
“The people of West Virginia spoke with a sure and strong voice that they desire a different direction for our state,” Roberts said. “The West Virginia Chamber has tremendous appreciation for the historical significance of this election.”
In total, 11 Republican state senators were elected, compared to six Democrats, eliminating the Democrats’ current 24-10 majority. That brought the total for both parties to 17 members. Seven incumbent Democrats lost to Republicans, which helped trigger the results that experts did not expect going into the election.
Hall’s switch further tipped the scales to the GOP’s favor.
Current Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall — who is not related to Daniel Hall — said he was surprised at the Senate results.
“24 hours ago I wouldn’t have anticipated this,” Hall said Wednesday afternoon prior to Daniel Hall’s party switch. “None of us ever thought Truman Chafin would lose.”
Chafin, D-Mingo, lost by just 389 votes. In addition, Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio, Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, Mike Green, D-Raleigh, Gregory Tucker, D-Nicholas, and Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire, all lost to Republican challengers.
Two incumbent Republicans, David Nohe, R-Wood, and Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, defeated their opponents while Mike Hall, R-Putnam, faced no opposition.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.