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After Tuesday's Election West Virginia's State Senate Was Tied. Now, It's Not.

Martin Valent
WV Legislative Photography

Updated Wednesday, November 5, 2014 at 7:45 p.m. 

State Senator Daniel Hall has switched from Democrat to Republican, switching the balance of power. 
For more, see this story.

Original Post from Wednesday, November 5, 2014 at 3: 51 p.m. 

After Tuesday’s mid-term elections, Democrats in the West Virginia Senate are living with a new reality.  There are 17 of them and 17 Republicans, leaving the upper chamber in a dead even tie.

The results mean control of the Senate, and Senate President Jeff Kessler’s position of power, hang in the balance, but it’s not one that’s likely to be decided any time soon.

“At this point, I think the rules of the Senate are what you look to and, basically, we set our own rules,” Kessler said Wednesday. “There are some Constitutional provisions that we need to look at, but I’m comfortable and confident that working with our colleagues across the aisle, we’ll find a way to make the Senate work.”

Kessler pointed to the work Senators did in 2010 to create an acting Senate President position after Earl Ray Tomblin stepped in as Acting Governor. At that time, however, Democrats held a 26-8 majority.

Still, the parties will have to work together to negotiate how the Senate will be led in the upcoming legislative session. Looking to the history of the issue in the state, however, may not be helpful.

The first time the West Virginia Senate experienced a deadlock was after the 1910 election, and then again in 1912. In both years, there were 15 members from each party.

From the West Virginia Encyclopedia:

At the time, U.S. senators were appointed by the legislature. During the 1911 legislative session when the two parties deadlocked, Republican senators absented themselves from the state. They rode a train to Cincinnati where they stayed in a hotel and prevented the Senate from being able to meet in Charleston because of the lack of a quorum of 16 members. The tie was never broken, but a compromise was worked out whereby Republicans elected the Senate president and Democrats chose the U.S. senators. Much of the credit for the compromise is given to the clerk of the Senate at the time, John T. Harris of Parkersburg.

Such a compromise is no longer relevant in West Virginia. Instead, lawmakers could look to other states that have experienced similar situations more recently.

In Wyoming, the tied state Senate in 1974 decided control of the chamber with a coin toss. South Dakota and Montana have passed legislation to have the chamber leader selected from the party of the governor.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, though, the most common resolution is for both parties to come to a negotiated agreement which can take three forms.

  1. “Co” Agreement- Used most recently in the Oregon House in 2010, dual leaders of both the chamber and committees are appointed who alternate the times at which they preside
  2. Divided Power Contract- Used most recently by the Virginia House in 1997, one party names the leader of the body while the other appoints the chairs of all major committees. Minor committee chairs alternate by party.
  3. Negotiated Resignation- Used most recently by Maine’s Senate in 2000, one party elects a leader for a set period of time who agrees to resign after that period. The other party then elects a leader following the resignation.

Kessler said it was too soon to speculate what members of the West Virginia Senate would decide. 

Ashton Marra covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program. Ashton can also be heard Sunday evenings as she brings you state headlines during NPR’s weekend edition of All Things Considered. She joined the news team in October of 2012.

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