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Reporter’s Notebook: The Great Exodus

By Steven Allen Adams

For The Inter-Mountain

The 2020 races for the state Senate and House of Delegates have gotten more interesting due to the announcements by several senior lawmakers that they won’t seek re-election.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, announced last week that 2020 will be their final year in the West Virginia Legislature.

Miley, the former House Speaker from 2012 to 2014 – when the Republicans took the majority in the House – and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is someone who has always been available to the press, especially me during my first year in 2010 covering the Legislature.

Shott, a country attorney, is largely considered to be a well-respected legal mind. He was first elected to the House in 2008, was appointed to the Senate in 2010 to fill an unexpired term, and went back to the House in 2012. Between Miley and Shott, they have 28 years of legislative experience.

I’m surprised by Miley’s announcement, but not Shott’s. He was treated rather disrespectfully by some in his caucus when Shott tried to fix substantial issues with the Campus Carry bill earlier this year. A good part of his time in 2018 was spent investigating the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and bringing articles of impeachment against its justices. He took the role seriously, but he didn’t make many friends.

Their announcements are just the latest. Over the last several weeks both Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, and Senate Minority Whip Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, both announced they would not seek re-election.

Prezioso, the former Senate Finance Committee chairman when the Democrats held the majority, was known as a fiscal hawk. The retired teacher and school administrator was first elected to the House in 1988 and later elected to the Senate in 1996. Palumbo, the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is known for working across the aisle to create better legislation.

Palumbo, whose father was attorney general, was first elected to the House in 2002 and after a two-year hiatus was elected to the Senate in 2008. Together, Prezioso and Palumbo have 46 years of legislative experience.

Combine all four of their years of legislative experience. That’s 74 years. Some might call them career politicians. I do not, as we have a part-time citizen legislature. One is a full-time lawyer in a firm. The other is a trial lawyer who owns his own company in his hometown and employs several people. One is a retired educator who served our children for decades.

They give up 60 days every year, plus several days at a time every other month, to come to Charleston and craft laws to help individual people and the state as a whole. They take time away from their businesses and practices – even their families – to serve.

No matter what your politics and party affiliation might be, these gentlemen deserve our thanks and respect.

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There are more in the Senate who have announced they’re not coming back.

State Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, announced several months ago he would not seek election to a full term. He was appointed to replace Richard Ojeda after Ojeda lost his race for the 3rd Congressional District to Republican Carol Miller. Ojeda resigned from the state Senate for a very short-lived run for president of the United States.

State Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, was the next to announce. The funeral home director and former local school board member was once the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. That changed earlier this year when he was replaced with state Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson.

Mann was an opponent of the education reform efforts pushed by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, especially any effort to create charter schools or education savings accounts. Mann – along with state Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur – consistently voted with Senate Democrats against the first education omnibus bill during the regular session, then later the second education omnibus bill (House Bill 206) in June during the first special session.

Lastly, state Sen. Greg Boso resigned in August after taking a new job opportunity. Boso, a lifelong engineer, was most recently the chairman of the House Government Organization Committee often tasked with trying to make government less wasteful and more efficient. He was replaced by John Pitsenbarger.

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So, that’s five senators who won’t be coming back in 2020. Half the Senate – 17 members – are up for re-election every two years for four-year terms. With five members not coming back, that’s 30 percent of the 17 seats that are open.

I said a few months ago that the Senate Republicans could be at risk of losing the majority in 2020 back to the Democrats, but with three Democrats not returning I think the Senate Republican majority is safe. I suspect that Prezioso’s seat is safe in Democratic Party hands, but Palumbo’s and Hardesty’s seats could easily go to the Republicans.

While Boso’s seat is occupied, it’s still susceptible to a challenge from the left flank. Mann’s seat was last occupied by a Democrat, so will it stay in Republican hands?

I haven’t even included state Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, in my analysis. He is facing a criminal trial for allegedly soliciting a prostitute. He hasn’t resigned, and as of yet hasn’t been removed as chairman of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee. But he also hasn’t been seen during the last two legislative interim meetings in September and November.

Keep your eyes on the Senate races next year.