Daniel Hall to resign from Senate, creating 'unique situation'

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Daniel Hall to resign from Senate, creating 'unique situation'
By David Gutman, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

State Sen. Daniel Hall, whose party switch days after last year’s elections shifted the Senate to Republican control, is resigning to become a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, leaving some doubt about which party will control the West Virginia Senate.

Hall, of Wyoming County, was elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 2012, but he switched parties last year after November’s election left the Senate deadlocked, with 17 Republicans and 17 Democrats.

His switch gave the Republicans the majority for the first time in more than eight decades, and Hall was named the Senate majority whip and chairman of the Agriculture and Labor committees.

His resignation puts some doubt, at least temporarily, on which party will control the chamber leading up to the 2016 elections. Normally, when a legislator resigns, that legislator’s local party committee nominates replacements, and the governor chooses from among those nominees. 

But with Hall’s party switch, which party will nominate the replacements?

State code appears at least somewhat ambiguous, and Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office offered no clarification Tuesday.

“Senator Hall’s resignation certainly presents a unique situation, and the governor’s legal team is reviewing state code,” Shayna Varner, a Tomblin spokeswoman, said.

State code says that when there is a vacancy in the Legislature, the list of nominees comes from “the party executive committee of the party with which the person holding the office immediately preceding the vacancy was affiliated.”

When Hall resigned, he was a Republican, so that would be the Republicans. But a different section of state code, just two paragraphs lower, is less clear. It says, that when a state Senate seat is open, the list of nominees comes from “the party executive committee of the state senatorial district in which the vacating senator resided at the time of his or her election or appointment.”

Hall was a Democrat at the time of his election, so that could be taken to mean that a local Democratic committee would choose the list of replacements.

If a Republican replacement is chosen, the Senate will remain in Republican control, 18-16. If a Democratic replacement is chosen, the Senate would be deadlocked at 17-17, with no clear route for determining which party controls the chamber.

After his resignation, effective Jan. 3, 2016, Hall will become a state liaison for the NRA, covering multiple states. He said he wasn’t sure which states those would be yet, but they would certainly include West Virginia, after the one-year “revolving door” ban on former legislators becoming lobbyists expires.

“It is with mixed emotions that I leave to take this job, but I am excited about helping the NRA continue to advance Second Amendment rights for not just West Virginians, but for all Americans,” Hall said in a prepared statement.

Hall served two terms as a Democrat in the West Virginia House of Delegates. He ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2006, as a Republican.

He said he has no regrets about his party switch and said he is proud of having helped move the state in a new direction.

Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, called Hall a “tremendous asset” to the Senate.

“It’s fair to say we wouldn’t be able to look back on the accomplishments we made during our landmark 2015 session without him,” Cole said, in a prepared statement. “While I hate to see Daniel go, I’m very excited for this new and exciting opportunity for him and I know he will be a wonderful representative for the NRA.”

The seat, which covers all of Wyoming and Raleigh counties and part of McDowell County, is up for election in 2016. Mike Goode, a Democrat, is the only candidate, other than Hall, to file pre-candidacy papers for the seat.