CHARLESTON – A bill that would automatically place elected lawmakers on the executive committees of political parties faced stiff opposition on Wednesday.
The House Judiciary Committee held a virtual public hearing on Tuesday morning on Bill 2354, relating to political party committees. The bill was introduced by Del. Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, and included House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, as a co-sponsor.
HB 2354 would allow any elected or appointed member of the State House of Delegates and Senate to automatically be a member of the State Executive Committee of the party with which they are registered.
The bill would also allow lawmakers to have multiple votes on the committee depending on whether he is also chairman of a county political party, state party officer, or elected member of the party’s executive committee.
“I believe this is illegal, unethical and reckless”, said Ben Anderson, president of Greenbrier County REC. “The choice of a political party among the different ways of determining the composition of the electorate of a state is protected by the Constitution. It would be an excess of government power at its best. “
The state code sets out specific provisions for political party committees, their composition and organization, with elections held every four years during a political party’s primaries. Voters choose a man and a woman to represent the senatorial districts, delegated districts and congressional districts of the state. The state code also allows executive committees of state parties to expand the number of voting members of committees through bylaws.
“If lawmakers want to have a say in the party’s executive committee, they should run for the post according to the procedure already defined by law,” Anderson said. “I have no problem with lawmakers sitting on the executive committee of their state political party, but I do have a problem with lawmakers doing a hostile takeover of semi-private organizations. “
One concern raised by opponents of the bill was that adding lawmakers to state executive committees would dilute the voices of volunteers and traditional grassroots activists who are active with the party and during election times.
“In the last election, members of the Republican state’s executive committee worked tirelessly and without pay to help elect a qualified majority in the House, Senate and the governor’s race. said Donna Holstine, a member of the state’s executive committee. “It would be put aside when the people they helped elect take control. “
Jay Taylor, president of Taylor County REC, disagreed with opponents of the bill. Taylor said having lawmakers on the committee would help the two groups better communicate and coordinate public policy messages.
“Opposition to this bill really confuses me. It’s almost amazing that elected officials are not members of the executive committee ”, Taylor said. “When the county presidents were brought into the executive committee, opponents made similar arguments against the proposal you heard today. But after several years of presence of the chairmen on the committee, communication has improved and awareness is better.
While the bill was introduced on February 12, the bill could be moved after Saturday’s controversial vote for the president of the West Virginia Republican executive committee. Raleigh County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Mark Harris was elected next chairman in a second vote on Saturday afternoon after concerns were raised about the first vote.
Harris, the disgraced former chief of staff at Beckley VA Medical Center who was fired after a former doctor at the facility was convicted of sexual assault, has been challenged by the former president of the state Conrad Lucas party. Harris won the first vote 57-55, but the vote count was contested by Senate Speaker and Berkeley County REC Chairman Craig Blair.
“All I can tell you is that I have followed the tally here and the tally you have is different from my tally” Blair said during the meeting on Saturday.
“As it was not on the record who voted for whom, I would like a recount” said Higginbotham, also an elected member of the committee. “I also want to point out that virtually all of the elected officials in this room voted for Conrad Lucas.”
After a motion for a new vote, Harris defeated Lucas 56-53. Lawmakers who voted for Lucas included Blair; Higginbotham; State Senators Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, and Mark Maynard, Wayne; and delegates Diana Graves, R-Kanawha, Gary Howell, R-Mineral, Phil Mallow, R-Marion, Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock (by proxy) and Amy Summers, R-Taylor.
Harris was supported by Del. Roger Conley, R-Wood. Of the. Marty Gearhart, R-Mercer, was a proxy vote for Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer. Although Ellington texted Conrad in support of Graves and attempted to participate by phone for the second vote, Gearhart’s proxy vote for Harris was allowed. Of the. Larry Pack, R-Kanawha, voted for Lucas in the first vote, but transferred his vote to Harris in the second vote.
While Republicans dominated the virtual public hearing, some Democrats also opposed the bill. Ryan Frankenberry of the West Virginia Working Families Party and activist Selena Vickers worked with the state’s Democratic Party executive committee to include more voices from grassroots activists, people of color, women and the LGBTQ community. They both said HB 2354 could hamper these efforts.
“Party structures in this state that have been around for some time are designed to allow grassroots people to enter.” Frankenberry said. “For years we have heard a party in this state scream that another party controlled everything for 80 years and I am truly shocked to see the party that now controls rush to create an equally bad atmosphere.”
“It is nothing more than a blatant takeover”, said Vickers. “If all House delegates and state senators in their party are automatically members, it would stifle the votes and, more importantly, the votes of other committee members and I suspect that is the point. “