CHARLESTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. Daniel Hall said he switched to the Republican party Wednesday, a move that will help the GOP secure a majority in the upper chamber of the West Virginia Legislature.
Driven by backlash against President Barack Obama, West Virginia voters ended eight decades of Democratic rule in the Legislature on Tuesday. They dumped Democrats from the state House of Delegates and deadlocked the Senate.
Hall quickly broke the Senate tie. The Wyoming County lawmaker confirmed his party change with The Associated Press on Wednesday evening.
For Republicans, it’s the first real chance to govern the Legislature since the 1930s.
Toss in Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, and West Virginia’s state lawmaking could be pretty jumbled come January.
“What you see occurring now has not occurred during the lives of anyone else that is alive,” said House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison.
So far, West Virginia Republicans only have a plan-in-the-making for their agenda.
However, GOP Minority Leaders Tim Armstead in the House and Mike Hall in the Senate are mulling some common conservative themes: cutting taxes, such as the one on equipment and inventory; potentially scaling back environmental and other regulations; and sharply scrutinizing state and federal education oversight, including the Common Core educational standards.
Tomblin said he has never been reticent to use his veto pen if undesirable bills hit his desk. But he also is convinced the oddly matched bunch of elected officials can coexist.
“There are a lot more things we can agree on than disagree,” Tomblin said.
The big statehouse switch Tuesday wasn’t unprecedented for West Virginia. In the 1930s, another unpopular president irked voters enough that they kicked out the long-ruling party.
Herbert Hoover’s handling of the Great Depression pushed West Virginians to clean-sweep Republicans from office, setting up decades of Democratic rule at all levels, said West Virginia Wesleyan College history professor Robert Rupp.
Starting in 2015, Republicans will have a majority of almost 30 seats in the House. They trailed by six seats heading into Election Day.
Despite a 24-10 Democratic Senate edge, the GOP also knocked off six incumbent senators, winning seven seats total and tying the chamber at 17 lawmakers per party. Hall’s switch Wednesday will tilt the chamber, 18-16.
Hall follows in the footsteps of Evan Jenkins, a senator who switched from Democrat to Republican to challenge and defeat longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall.
The change solves a challenge, since West Virginia’s laws, constitution and House and Senate rules are mum about how to break a chamber tie, according to the Senate clerk’s office.
The Senate was knotted up after the 1910 and 1912 elections. Officials never broke the tie, but decided to let Republicans pick the Senate president and Democrats pick U.S. senators, which the state Senate used to choose, according to state archives.
Minority Leader Hall said many conservative Democrats in the Senate aren’t that far off from the GOP mark.
“There are some guys over there that have a propensity to look at our side,” Hall, R-Putnam, said before Daniel Hall’s switch.
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