Hall quits; Supreme Court likely to rule on replacement
By Phil Kabler, The Charleston Gazette-Mail
After wavering last week, Sen. Daniel Hall, R-Wyoming, has followed through on his announcement that he would resign his West Virginia Senate seat to take a job as a state liaison with the National Rifle Association.
Hall submitted his letter of resignation, dated Sunday, to the Senate president, governor and secretary of state on Monday, likely setting up a scenario where the state Supreme Court will be asked to rule on which political party has authority to submit nominees to the governor for his replacement.
“That’s the question the Court will have to determine,” Senate Clerk Clark Barnes said Monday.
As of Monday afternoon, Republicans and Democrats were proceeding with plans for their respective executive committees in the 9th Senatorial District to select nominees for Hall’s replacement.
Hall was elected from the 9th District in 2012 as a Democrat, but he changed his party affiliation to Republican after the November 2014 elections, breaking a 17-17 deadlock and giving Republicans control of the Senate for the first time in 83 years.
Hall was rewarded with the title of majority whip and with appointments as chairman of the Agriculture and Labor committees.
Under state law, when a senator resigns in office, members of the political party executive committee for that district are to submit three nominees to the governor to appoint a replacement.
The state code (3-10-5) pertaining to legislative vacancies alternately states that the executive committee is to be from the “party of the person holding the office,” but also that the party executive committee is to be “of the senatorial district in which the vacating senator resided at the time of his or her election or appointment.”
Hall was elected to the Senate in November 2012 as a Democrat, defeating Republican Epp E. Cline by an 18,502 to 15,970-vote margin.
Initially, following debate over which party should submit nominees, Hall said he would remain in the Senate until the issue of his replacement was resolved, to avoid “putting the Senate into chaos” with another 17-17 tie.
However, on Monday, Hall submitted a three-sentence letter informing officials of his resignation, effective Sunday, and declaring that it has been an honor to serve.
The Governor’s Office, which has said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has no role in the matter until there is an actual vacancy, said Monday that it will not comment on Hall’s resignation until nominees to fill the vacancy are submitted.
“Any action necessitated by the governor would not occur until after names for the vacancy are submitted, and there will be no announcement regarding potential action until that time,” Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said Monday.
Meanwhile, state Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore issued a statement saying that 9th Senatorial District Democrats are proceeding with the process of selecting three nominees.
“As Democrats, our first priority is always the people of West Virginia, and this seat is their seat,” Biafore said. “We are taking the appropriate steps to ensure that the members of the Senatorial Executive Committee of the 9th District have what they need to complete the process to fill their seat.”
The party chairwoman added, “When hardworking West Virginians of the 9th District voted, they voted for a Democrat. I believe when Senator Hall changed parties for his own personal motivations, he turned his back on the voting process and the voters. With his resignation, our intentions are the same as they were then, to protect the integrity of the voter and the voting process.”
Likewise, state Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said Monday the GOP’s 9th Senatorial District Executive Committee also will proceed to submit three nominees to the governor.
“We plan to follow the law and party rules, and submit three names to the governor, despite any shenanigans the Democratic Party is interested in pulling,” he said.
Lucas said he believes state law is clear that Hall must be replaced by a Republican, since he was serving as a Republican at the time of his resignation.
“If the governor chooses to follow the law, he will appoint a Republican, but that remains to be seen,” Lucas said.
Under the law, a senatorial district executive committee has 15 days after a vacancy occurs to submit three nominees to the governor, who then has five days to appoint the replacement.
Hall’s resignation 10 days before the start of the 2016 regular session of the Legislature, on Jan. 13, poses a tight timeline, particularly with the likelihood of a legal challenge to determine which party is legally authorized to submit nominees.