Tom Miller: Jenkins has other hurdles to clear before facing Rahall
The announcement on the steps of the Cabell County Courthouse last week by state Sen. Evan Jenkins of Huntington that he was switching political parties to run as a Republican candidate for a seat in Congress now held by Democrat Nick Rahall was no surprise. There had been rumors for several days that he was leaving his current seat in the 34-member West Virginia State Senate to seek this national office.
But he may not even have a free ride in the GOP primary election next spring. He could very well face opposition in the May 2014 Republican primary election from Rick Snuffer of Beckley, who has indicated he may also run again in the Republican primary for the 3rd District seat in Congress that Rahall now holds.
Snuffer, who lost for a second time in his efforts to oust Rahall in 2012, still hasn't said he'll be a candidate for the GOP nomination in 2014 but he's certainly been dropping hints he may try again. And he seems confident of his chances.
He told his hometown newspaper last week that "given the difference between Evan's legislative record and mine, plus the large lead I have in the internal polls which Washington conducted between the two of us in a primary contest, our team is confident we can be more than competitive."
State Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, already had stripped Jenkins of his leadership positions as a member of the 25-9 Democratic majority there. Kessler said Jenkins' refusal 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 who elected him."
Jenkins had been serving as chairman of the Senate Minority Affairs and Pensions committees and was vice chairman of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee. As a Republican candidate for Congress in 2014, he'll be one of 10 members of the minority party in the State Senate where there are still 24 Democrats. And Delegate Kevin Craig, D-Cabell, has already filed as a candidate to run for the state Senate seat that Jenkins will be giving up in the 2014 election.
Back in 2010 Jenkins and Rahall were financial supporters of each other's campaign. Jenkins made a $500 contribution to Rahall's successful re-election campaign and Rahall in turn donated $1,000 to Jenkins' successful campaign for re-election to another four-year term in the State Senate.
Rahall, meanwhile, indicated early on that he might run for the U. S. Senate to succeed retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. But when 2nd District Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced she was giving up her seat in the House of Representatives to run for the Senate, that apparently made Rahall decide he had a better shot at maintaining his seat in the House of Representatives.
It's a seat he's held since 1976. Before that, Ken Hechler, also a Democrat, served for 18 years starting in 1958. So it has been more than a half a century since a Republican was elected to serve southwestern West Virginia in the House of Representatives -- an indication of Jenkins' task.
Coal production in West Virginia has declined in the last 12 years from 175 million tons in 2001 to only 129 million tons in 2012, according to the state's new five-year energy plan that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has recommended to the Legislature.
Director John Herholdt of the state's Division of Energy told members of a legislative interim committee last month that this decline in coal production is largely attributable to stricter federal standards for coal burning power plants. He said six state power plants will have to close within the next few years because they cannot afford to upgrade to cleaner-burning technology.
Natural gas production, meanwhile, has skyrocketed in the past 10 years with a 30 percent increase from 2010 to 2011 alone, going from 297 million cubic feet to more than 400 million cubic feet. And there has been an accompanying boom in natural gas processing facilities, with 13 plants being built or expanding in the next 11 months.
But with coal prices hovering around $3.50 per million British thermal units while natural gas is predicted to top $4 per BTU next year, power plants won't be converting to natural gas unless they are forced to do so by government regulations, Herholdt predicted during his presentation to the Legislature.
County commissioners from around the state will meet this week at the Stonewall Resort in Lewis County to discuss mutual problems in the state's 55 county governments. But clearly the two main topics on the table will be the issue of controlling the growing costs of regional jails and how each county government can cope with the Affordable Care Act.
Jail costs are rising for counties but that doesn't mean the rates per diem for prisoners has gone up. Instead, it is a result of the growing numbers of individuals who are incarcerated in these jails -- built starting in 1980 as a replacement for 55 individual county jails. And representatives from the state's Public Employees Insurance Agency will be there to answer questions about the new federal Affordable Care Act.
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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