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Jenkins stripped of leader posts in Senate

Jul. 30, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Amid speculation that he will switch from Democrat to Republican and run for Congress in 2014 against Rep. Nick J. Rahall, state Sen. Evan Jenkins was stripped of his leadership positions in the West Virginia Legislature late Tuesday.

In a prepared release, Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said he removed the Cabell County senator from all of his leadership posts because Jenkins refuses to dispel rumors of the party switch and subsequent run for the Third Congressional District seat now held by Rahall, a Democrat.

"Refusing to dispel rumors that he is switching to the Republican Party in order to possibly run for Congress shows that he has no allegiance to his Democratic colleagues or the constituents that elected him," Kessler said. "I do not want anyone on my leadership team or in a leadership position that does not show decisiveness or loyalty."

The changes took effect immediately. Jenkins was chairman of the Minority Affairs and Pensions committees and vice chairman of Health and Human Resources. His replacements will be named at a later date, according to the prepared release.

Jenkins declined to comment Tuesday on his political intentions, but he said he will make an announcement Wednesday.

In related developments, Cabell County Delegate Kevin Craig has filed pre-candidacy papers to run for the Fifth Senate District seat occupied by Jenkins, adding to speculation that Jenkins will pursue other opportunities.

Craig, a Democrat, has represented parts of Cabell and Lincoln counties in the House since 2000. He filed his pre-candidacy papers with the Secretary of State's Office last week.

Craig said he was motivated to file the early paperwork because of news reports that Jenkins is considering switching his party affiliation and challenging Rahall. Jenkins' decision, however, will not factor into whether Craig runs for the state Senate seat.

"What I'm evaluating is what will be best for our area and how I can best represent it in the state Legislature," Craig said. "My experience serving on the Judiciary and Finance committees in the House would provide me with the experience I need to move to the Senate. Being one of 34 senators as opposed to one of 100 delegates also would give me an opportunity to have more influence in the legislative process."

The 52-year-old Jenkins, who is executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association, has served Cabell County and a portion of Wayne County in the state Senate since 2002. His current Senate term ends in 2014. He previously served in the House of Delegates from 1994-2000 before he lost in a state Supreme Court race.

Rahall could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but he told the online news publication Politico.com in a story published Monday that he expects Jenkins to switch parties and run against him.

If Jenkins runs and makes it through the Republican primary, it will be the second time in three elections that the 19-term Democratic congressman has faced a GOP candidate who switched parties. Rahall defeated former state Supreme Court Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard in 2010 after Maynard swapped his party affiliation.

"I'm not going to run away from those that brought me to the dance and renounce my party because I disagree with our president," Rahall said in the Politico.com story. "But I've dealt with traitors before, and I'll deal with traitors again."

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.

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