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Legislators not optimistic about lieutenant gov position

Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposed constitutional amendment to create a new elected office of lieutenant governor in the executive branch of state government has cleared its first hurdle at the current legislative session.

But prospects for House Joint Resolution 108 making it to this year's general election ballot despite major surgery that was performed by the House Constitutional Revision Committee a week ago are still not good, according to a survey of some key legislators Tuesday.

Some members of the House of Delegates indicated they don't believe it will get the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass a House floor vote if the resolution manages to emerge from its second committee reference to the House Judiciary Committee where the resolution is now under consideration.

And both Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, indicated Tuesday that neither of them expect it to get the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate even if it should manage to pass the House of Delegates.

Kessler, the current lieutenant governor of the state by virtue of his position as President of the state Senate, said he is "not overwhelmed with the idea" of this suggested constitutional amendment. Unger said he has not taken a definite position on the issue personally if it should get to the Senate but added that he doesn't believe it survive on the Senate side this session.

Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said he would "really like to have a lieutenant governor" so long as that individual would be appointed to lead one of the current executive departments such as the Department of Finance and Administration or the Department of Transportation.

"This way we wouldn't be creating an additional cost," Plymale said following Tuesday's Senate floor session. "But I'm certain that I'm definitely in the minority with that position here in the Senate."

Even some of those in the House of Delegates indicated privately they don't believe the proposal will make it through the House this session. Delegate Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, a member of the powerful House Rules Committee which could stall the issue as well, said Tuesday he is one of those who doesn't believe House Joint Resolution 108 will get the two-thirds majority of 67 votes from the 100 members needed for a successful vote on the House floor.

These predictions come despite major surgery by the House Constitutional Revision Committee on the governor's initial plan that included new constitutional language to make Tomblin eligible to run for another term as governor in 2016 if he wins the 2012 election to a four-year term.

Article VII, Section 4 of the present constitution makes anyone who has "been elected or who has served as governor during all or any part of two consecutive terms" ineligible to seek a third term. This prohibits Tomblin from seeking a third term in 2016 if he wins a full, four-year term as governor in this year's election since he was elected to a 13-month term last November.

The proposal submitted to the Legislature in January by the governor included language to prohibit a governor from running for a third successive term only in instances where the incumbent has served in two consecutive "four-year" terms.