Former Lawmakers Reflect On Bob Kiss And His Legacy Of Service To W.Va.
Friends, family and many West Virginians will pay their respects Monday evening to former lawmaker and Speaker of the House of Delegates Robert “Bob” Kiss.
Kiss, who was 63, passed away on Friday after a battle with cancer.
A Democrat from Raleigh County, Kiss was elected to the House nine times, and was one of a handful of lawmakers elected in the late 1980s that one reporter referred to as the “young guns.” Kiss served as House Finance chairman from 1993 to 1996. Richard Browning was also on the committee.
“The sad thing about it is that a lot of people didn't know what he contributed,” said Browning, now executive director of the Coalfields Expressway Authority. “And what a statesman he was."
Another “young gun” of that era, Rick Staton, served in the legislature with Kiss for 18 years.
“There's no question that Bob was instrumental in turning the state's finances around,” Staton said. “When we came in 1989, we (West Virginia) were handing out vouchers for income tax refunds. PEIA cards were not being accepted by hospitals because we weren't paying our bills.”
Staton says Kiss was part of the team of legislators who put together a funding package for the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Staton also said Kiss never sought credit but was always part of important conversations that helped West Virginia financially.
“I think he didn't think of his service in that term,” Staton said about Kiss. “He just thought that he was trying to do the best he could for West Virginia.”
Kiss represented Raleigh and Summers counties and was the Speaker of the House of Delegates from 1997 to 2006. Kiss is credited for creating West Virginia’s ‘Rainy Day Fund’ or basically a financial safety net for the state.
“His legacy, I think, is righting the ship of state,” Staton said. “Putting us on a sound financial background and I think that we see things from it that will be felt for years.”
The fund has helped West Virginia weather several financial storms after coal severance tax revenue declined over the past decade.
Kiss was appointed in 2013 as the Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Revenue by then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Staton says he didn’t think of Kiss as fiscally conservative, but rather fiscally responsible.
“And so if there was something that we could do, that helps people, if we could afford to pay for it, then he'd go for it,” he said.
“We've lost a good voice for fiscal responsibility. I think that his tenure in the House, although we're several years removed from it, is going to be shown to be kind of a shining time and a turning point for West Virginia.”
Kiss received his law degree from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 1982 and his bachelor’s degree in economics from OSU in 1979. He worked as an attorney at the Charleston firm Bowles Rice at the time of his death, and is survived by a wife and two sons.
“We all brag about our kids, but he just was so proud of them, and just worshiped Melinda,” Staton said. “You could see a visible change in him if he started talking about his family.”
Kiss is also remembered as an advocate for southern West Virginia. He didn’t grow up in Beckley, but Staton says Kiss always remembered the community even while living in Charleston.
Visitation will be held from 5-7 p.m. Monday evening at the Snodgrass Funeral Home in South Charleston.
Gov. Justice has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff on Tuesday, November 9, in honor of the former West Virginia Speaker of the House.