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Government

Berkeley County Del. Jason Barrett Switching Parties To Join GOP

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Perry Bennett
/
West Virginia Legislative Photography

Republicans in the West Virginia House of Delegates gained another member, as Del. Jason Barrett of Berkeley County announced Friday he would switch parties to join the majority.

Barrett was first elected to the House as a Democrat in 2012 but lost re-election in 2014. He returned after winning back the seat in 2016 and has served ever since.

He said the decision was rooted in how to best serve the people of his district and West Virginia as a whole.

“I need to be in the Republican Party and focus on things like tax reform, to be able to help the people of West Virginia keep more of their hard-earned dollars,” Barrett said. “I'm not going to change who I am or my beliefs. I'm still going to be the same person. But, you know, my role as a legislator — representing the people of the 61st District — is to be as effective as possible.”

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, applauded Barrett’s plans in a news release.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Delegate Barrett to the Republican Party and House GOP caucus,” Speaker Hanshaw said. “Jason and I have always enjoyed a good working relationship, despite our different political affiliations, and I know we’ll be able to accomplish even more together now.”

As a Democrat, Barrett served on the Finance Committee as minority vice chair.

Barret’s switch will allow the GOP to expand its supermajority to 77-23 over Democrats. Republicans were poised to take 76 seats following the November election.

Del. Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, expressed disappointment in Barrett’s decision to leave the Democratic party.

“I'm not surprised by Jason's decision,” Skaff said. “I hope we're still able to work together and be friends and move West Virginia forward.”

Earlier this week, House Democrats named Skaff their new minority leader after Del. Tim Miley, D-Harrison, decided against running for another term. Skaff pointed to the intra-caucus race for minority leader as a potential motivator for Barrett’s party switch.

Although caucus votes — such as the selection process for party leadership — are held behind closed doors, several House Democrats confirmed to West Virginia Public Broadcasting that the two final contenders for minority leader were Skaff and Del. Mick Bates, D-Raleigh.

“It's kind of ironic that less than a week ago he was working within our minority caucus to help elect the next leader — and less than five days [later], he makes the switch, because his candidate didn't win,” Skaff said.

Skaff also questioned why Barrett would join the Republican party when there were opportunities to help lead Democrats. He also pointed to the possibility of a fractured supermajority within the Republican caucus.

“With only 23 members, you don't have that many different facets. You have to work together because there's so few of you,” Skaff said. “But when you become one of such a larger group, I think you have many facets and many different groups break apart within the larger majority. So I think the challenge is on them to keep their people together — way more so than it is on the minority caucus.”

Barrett acknowledged supporting Bates for minority leader and said he disagreed with the direction of the party. He said Bates, who serves as minority chair of the Finance Committee, was most equipped to lead the party.

“During this minority leader’s race in the House of Delegates — on the Democratic side — the past couple of weeks, the message out of that caucus has really been that this was about politics and optics, and not about helping the people of West Virginia,” Barrett said. “That really was concerning to me.”

Barrett said he did not want to air his grievances and those of other Democrats that came to light during the meetings to decide the party’s next leader in the House.

However, he did speak somewhat vaguely about them and acknowledged there were differences in opinion in regards to the direction of the party that lost significant ground in 2020 and other recent elections.

“It really came down to somebody that understands policy, somebody that understands the budget, as well as anyone, I believe — in Del. Bates — and a real commitment to helping the people of West Virginia versus politics, political future, grandstanding and those types of things,” he said.

Barrett also said he doesn’t believe the Republican supermajority will function much differently than what he experienced as a Democrat. He attributed that to his belief that he is a moderate.

“I hope that my point of view is welcome in the Republican Party. I think it will. And certainly when I was in the Democratic caucus, there were times where I disagreed with them — whether it be our Second Amendment issues, or maybe some pro-business issues,” Barrett said. “So, I was a moderate in the Democratic Party and I very much expect to be a moderate in the Republican Party.”

The West Virginia Legislature’s 2021 regular session is set to begin Feb. 10. An organizational meeting is slated for Jan. 13.


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