W.Va. governor appoints ex-adviser to Byrd’s Senate seat

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West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III on Friday appointed fellow Democrat and former legal adviser Carte Goodwin to the Senate seat held by Sen. Robert C. Byrd who died last month.

Mr. Goodwin, 36, will hold the seat for at least several months, as the state legislature prepares to examine whether West Virginia electoral law allows for Mr. Manchin’s proposal to hold a special election in November so residents can pick a candidate to serve the remaining 2 1/2 years of Byrd’s term.

The appointment was no surprise, considering Mr. Goodwin’s name was on most shortlists and his family has a deep history in state Democratic politics and public service.

“I am genuinely confident that Carte Goodwin will look out for West Virginia,” Mr. Manchin said at a state capital press conference. “We passed this torch to another generation.”

Mr. Goodwin worked on Mr. Manchin’s 2004 gubernatorial campaign before becoming his general counsel. He was considered key in drafting mine rescue and safety measures that were passed after fatal accidents at West Virginia’s Sago and Aracoma coal mines in early 2006.

Mr. Goodwin left the administration shortly after Mr. Manchin — widely reported to be eyeing a run for Byrd’s seat — began his second term in 2009 to join his family’s law firm in Charleston. He accepted Mr. Manchin’s request last year to lead a review of the state’s judiciary amid complaints from business groups and conflict-of-interest scandals involving state Supreme Court justices.

On Tuesday, the 36-year-old Mr. Goodwin is expected to be sworn in — temporarily replacing the oldest senator with one who will be the youngest of the 111th Congress. 

“He’s the consummate insider,” said state Republican Party Executive Director Troy Berman. “He’ll keep that seat warm for the governor.”

The special legislative session that starts Monday is the next step in what has been a series of intense yet discreet debates, out of respect for the the 92-year-old Byrd, a Democrat and the longest-serving senator in U.S. history.

Early in the debates, Senate Democrats hoped for a quick replacement to keep a key party vote. They managed Thursday to get enough votes to pass their financial reform legislation and send it to President Obama. 

Still,  Mr. Goodwin says he will be  the 60th Democratic vote in the Senate, which would block a Republican filibuster and allow his party to pass unemployment compensation legislation.

Some state Democrats, however, privately had said they didn’t want a “placeholder” candidate to serve for roughly 29 months. 

GOP leaders had hoped for a vote to perhaps fill the seat with a Republican for the first time since 1958.

“The appointment further elucidates the need for voters to have a choice in who represents them in Washington,” Mr. Berman also said. “The sooner the better.”

West Virginia legal officials initially ruled that the deadline for a special election in November had passed and that Mr. Manchin could appoint a replacement to serve the remainder of Byrd’s term.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant appeared to put the issue to rest the day after Byrd’s death on June 28 by ruling the statute calls for the governor to appoint somebody to serve out the term until the next primary election cycle, which is in 2012. Voters would have simultaneously elected somebody to serve out the last five weeks of Byrd’s term and a senator to serve a full, six-year term.

Mr. Manchin then proposed holding a November 2010 special election, after getting an opinion from Attorney General Darrell McGraw, a Democrat.

Mr. Manchin, has said he would not appoint himself as the placeholder — a move that has proved politically disastrous for other governors.

The Republican candidate for the vacant seat will likely be Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore. She is now seeking a sixth House term.

“While I come from the other side of the political aisle, I am optimistic that together we can work to improve our economy, protect and promote our state’s vital energy industry, and find real solutions to getting people back to work instead of more borrowing and spending like the failed stimulus bill that passed in 2009,” Ms. Capito said. 

Meanwhile, wealthy businessman John Raese, who has lost twice before in West Virginia election, reportedly said Wednesday he is considering a run for the seat. Mr. Raese plans to make his decision after the state legislature finishes its review, which now includes examining the nominating process.

Among the other names on the shortlist of Democrats to take the Byrd seat were Larry Puccio, the governor’s former chief of staff; Nick Casey, who recently accepted a federal judiciary appointment; and veteran Byrd staffer Anne Barth.

Mr. Puccio called Mr. Goodwin a “brilliant attorney.”

“He’s very detailed and a disciplined individual,” Mr. Puccio said. “I think he’s a rising star. And West Virginians would do well if they involved such individuals in the process. I think so much of him.”

Like Byrd, the Goodwins have played a major role in West Virginia public service. Mr. Goodwin’s father was chairman of West Virginia University’s Board of Governors. An uncle is a federal judge and a cousin is the U.S. Attorney for the state’s southern federal court district.

Mr. Goodwin’s wife, Rochelle, is state director for Sen. Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat.

“He is a United States senator, pure and simple,” Mr. Rockefeller said. “Robert C. Byrd would want that known.” 

The state Chamber of Commerce was among the first to welcome Mr. Manchin’s choice.

“Anybody who knows Carte likes Carte, enjoys working with him and finds him extremely competent,” Chamber President Steve Roberts said. “He is somebody who will represent West Virginia well in Washington and make us proud.”

 

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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