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State election results bring solid gains for Republicans

Nov. 11, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Despite the Democrat party's 2-1 voter registration edge, the Republican party is alive and well in West Virginia, as proven by last Tuesday's general election results. Among the GOP candidates who finished as winners were a new justice on the State Supreme Court, the next attorney general in the executive department and nearly a dozen new seats in the state legislature.

It's difficult to say which successful statewide Republican campaign proved to be the biggest surprise. Certainly the election of Allen Loughry to a 12-year term on the five-member State Supreme Court of Appeals was a stunner for many. But the win by Patrick Morrisey over Democrat incumbent Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw was also unexpected by most observers.

Finally, the executive director of the West Virginia Republican Party, Chad Holland, indicated before the election that the GOP hoped to pick up eight seats in the 100-member House of Delegates where Democrats now hold a 65-35 advantage. So even he had to be stunned when his party won 11 seats to narrow the Democratic majority in the lower chamber to a modest 54-46 edge.

Across the hall in the state Senate, where Democrats hold a 28-6 majority, Republican Bill Cole defeated incumbent Sen. Mark Wills, D-Mercer, in the 6th Senatorial District and Republican Chris Walters beat Democrat Joshua Martin to succeed retiring Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, in the 8th Senatorial District.

It might have been a bigger jump in Republican numbers in the state Senate if the GOP had not failed to even put a challenger on the ballot against the Democratic candidate in seven of the 11 races involving incumbent Democrats.

Of course, it came as no surprise that thousands of registered Democrats -- who voted for an inmate in a Texas prison in the May primary to avoid marking their ballot for President Barack Obama -- didn't change their attitude and helped give Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney a solid victory in this state as well last week.

Loughry was the first and only candidate to take advantage of the state's new public financing program and received about $350,000 of public money for his campaign before the state Supreme Court struck down a key section of this law. He currently is employed as a law clerk for the court and used his young son, Justus, effectively in his campaign advertising. Loughry is best known by many as the author of a book published in 2006 that was entitled "Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay for a Landslide" that was sub-titled "the sordid and continuing history of Political Corruption in West Virginia."

Charleston attorney Tish Chafin, the wife of longtime state Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, spent an estimated $1 million of her own money on the campaign but still finished last in the race behind Berkeley County Circuit Judge John Yoder -- a former state senator -- who was the other Republican nominee and spent less than $30,000.

No doubt GOP leaders in the state are already making plans to continue to build this base in the 2014 off-year election.

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A single constitutional amendment on last week's general election ballot in West Virginia gave voters an opportunity to remove the current provision in this state's constitution that limits a county sheriff to two successive four-year terms.

But the half million people who participated in this vote rejected it again by nearly 21,000 votes. It was the fifth time this amendment has been submitted to a statewide vote in the last 50 years.

The most recent time this amendment was previously submitted to voters was in 1994 when it was rejected by a count of 251,924 against to only 131,134 votes for the change. The three other previous attempts to remove this limit of two terms for county sheriffs were in 1982, 1973 and 1962 and it was also rejected on those three occasions by wide margins as well.

The limitation on county sheriffs holding office for only two successive terms is no different from the two-term limit for the governor's office. And that means Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will not be eligible to run again in 2016 because his win last Tuesday was for his second term even though his first term was for less than two years that he won after former Gov. Joe Manchin resigned to successfully run for the vacant U. S. Senate seat created by the death of longtime U. S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.

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Virtually lost in the attention devoted to last week's general election is the fact that state tax revenue collections in October exceeded estimates by nearly $4 million which all but wiped out a $4.6 million revenue deficit for the first three months of the 2012-2013 state fiscal year. Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow attributed the October numbers to a sizable jump in corporate and severance tax collections that were twice as much as during the same month a year ago.

Even more encouraging is the trend in state business tax collections for the first four months of the current budget year that ends June 30, 2013. Since July 1, 2012, when the new state budget year began, corporate tax revenues are running more than 20 percent higher than expected. Muchow said that figure currently is nearly $13.9 million ahead of expectations with one-third of the fiscal year completed.

Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.



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