- The Washington Times - Monday, July 19, 2010

West Virginia lawmakers reached a legislative compromise Monday night over a measure that would allow the state to hold a special November election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

The compromise also allows Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, to run both for Byrd’s seat and a sixth U.S. House term. She’s considered the GOP’s top prospect.

Under the measure, a primary will be held Aug. 28, and a general election will be on Nov. 2.

The measure was passed 83-7 by the House and 29-0 by the Senate.

The compromise comes after hours of party wrangling, with Republicans and Democrats accusing each other of trying to derail the effort.

Republicans wanted an amendment to structure the Nov. 2 vote so that Mrs. Capito could run for the Senate seat and also be on the ballot for re-election to a sixth House term.

GOP lawmakers said the negotiations had stalled because of infighting among Democrats - who control both houses of the Legislature - during the four-day, special legislative session, in which state lawmakers were trying to decipher ambiguous state electoral laws. The measure had to pass during Monday’s special session to apply this fall.

Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin III had pushed for quick action on a new electoral law, amid fears delay could make it impossible to organize the special election by November. Mr. Manchin has said it’s highly likely that he’ll also run.

Troy Berman, the state Republican Party executive director, blamed a power struggle between House and Senate leaders and disagreements among Democrats over whether the legislation gives Secretary of State Natalie Tennant too much authority over the special election. The bill limits the discretion allowed Ms. Tennant.

“The Democrats are fighting within themselves,” Mr. Berman said. “We’ve said all along [that] the people should have an election so they can decide.”

State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said the problem was Republicans playing partisan politics in a bid to protect Mrs. Capito’s House seat.

“Shame on the Republicans for turning this into a partisan vote to protect one of their own,” he told the Hill newspaper. “To have an individual run for two offices at the same time would confuse the citizens of West Virginia.”

Attempts to fill the seat began hours after the 92-year-old Byrd, the longest-serving senator in U.S. history, died June 28.

Ms. Tennant originally ruled that a special election could not be held until November 2012, when just weeks would have remained on Byrd’s term, with a candidate appointed by the governor serving for the next 2 1/2 years.

But Mr. Manchin then ordered a legal opinion from state Attorney General Darrell McGraw, a Democrat, who concluded the governor and state Legislature could amend state laws to move up the date of the special election to November.

Mr. Manchin on Friday appointed his former legal counsel Carte Goodwin, the member of a prominent state family, to fill the Senate seat for now. Mr. Goodwin, 36, is scheduled to be sworn in Tuesday on Capitol Hill. That will give Democrats in the Senate enough votes to overcome GOP objections to an unemployment-compensation bill.

A July 9 Rasmussen Reports poll of likely voters found 53 percent supported Mr. Manchin and 39 percent supported Mrs. Capito, the daughter of former West Virginia Gov. Arch Moore.

However, Mrs. Capito has yet to officially declare her candidacy and enter the GOP primary.

Capito spokesman Kent Gates said the congresswoman was “disgusted with the lack of leadership” among state Democrats, slamming their failure to deal earlier with the state’s confusing statutes on succession.

Mrs. Capito said late last week she was ready to work with Mr. Goodwin during his interim Senate tenure, but also criticized state Democratic leaders, saying the Legislature was working on a “Band-Aid solution for this crisis.”

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.