West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has selected a registered lobbyist working on behalf of the governor’s family companies to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of a state senator.
Paul Hardesty of Logan County will replace former Sen. Richard Ojeda in the state Senate’s 7th District, which covers Boone, Lincoln, Logan and parts of Mingo and Wayne counties.
The announcement came just hours after the West Virginia Democratic Party announced Hardesty was one of three names submitted to Justice to replace Ojeda, who is traveling the country seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.
Members of the 7th Senate District Democratic Executive Committee recieved nine applications in total before choosing a final three potential replacements. The other two choices submitted to Justice were former Sen. Art Kirkendoll -- who was defeated by Ojeda in a 2016 primary -- and former House of Delegates member Harry Keith White.
According to the West Virginia Ethics Commission’s lobbyist directory, Hardesty lobbies on behalf of James C. Justice II Companies, Inc. In addition to representing companies owned by the governor’s family, Hardesty’s firm, Capitol Concepts, also lobbies on behalf of others in the coal, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) January 17, 2019
A Tuesday evening news release from Gov. Justice announcing the appointment says Hardesty resigned Thursday from his position as president of the Logan County Board of Education, where he has served for the past 25 years.
Gov. Justice’s office did not include a statement from the governor or Hardesty beyond a short decription of the appointee's professional background. Attempts to reach both the governor's office and Hardesty for comment went unanswered.
Ojeda, whose resignation was effective Tuesday, confirmed those plans to West Virginia Public Broadcasting on the first day of the 60-Day legislative session. The following day, he spoke on the Senate floor about his time in the chamber and his intentions to depart.
When asked about rumors that Hardesty could be his replacement, Ojeda took aim at the governor’s office.
“If those rumors are true then, shame, shame on the supposed leaders of this state,” Ojeda said to West Virginia Public Broadcasting last week.
After retiring from the military, Ojeda was an ROTC instructor at Chapmanville High School in Logan County until 2017.
“I just hope that whoever is selected to be my replacement is somebody that the Democratic Party will be happy to have in that caucus with them -- and not lobbyists or anything like that -- not somebody that the governor picks because he just wants to have somebody that's going to do his bidding,” he also said about his then-looming replacement.
However, news of Hardesty's appointment was well received by leader of the Democrats in the Senate.
"We welcome Paul to our caucus and look forward to working with him to advance our priorities this session. Paul has proven to be an asset to Logan County, especially to their education system, and I am confident he will be a strong voice for his constituents on important matters like higher education, rural access to technology, and tourism," Senate Minority Leader Roman Presiozo said in a written statement following the appointment.
Hardesty will be sworn in Friday and take over all of Ojeda's former committee assignments in the Senate, including Agriculture and Rural Development, Interstate Cooperation, Judiciary, Military and Natural Resources.