By Mannix Porterfield
A scramble for five House seats in Raleigh County, the first election since the hotly-contested redistricting became law, ended with Republicans taking all but one in Tuesday’s election.
“I feel like the Lone Ranger,” lamented incumbent Democrat Rick Moye, the only one of his party to survive the balloting.
Veteran Delegate Linda Sumner, one of the four victorious Republicans, held off Democratic challenger Bill Wooton, a Beckley attorney and former Senate judiciary chairman, in a three-way race that found Beckley businessman Tony Martin placing a distant third.
Before the county was carved like a Christmas turkey, the district embraced only Raleigh and Summers counties, and in the last election staged when that was the case, the GOP claimed three of the five positions.
At least one candidate from Summers had to be elected back then, and the top four vote-getters in Raleigh were awarded the seats in the former arrangement.
Republicans vigorously fought the redistricting plan, viewing it as a covert effort by the Democratic leadership to reverse their recent gains by setting up four new districts. If that was the strategy, it certainly backfired.
Attention was focused largely on the new 30th District, basically a Beckley one with 19,447 voters, featuring the Sumner-Wooton showdown.
Sumner, a retired school teacher, wound up with 3,591 votes with all 20 precincts in, while Wooton finished with 3,077, and Martin, who tried a year ago to unseat Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh, collected 568 votes.
One district — the 28th — actually will have two delegates and covers 15,990 people in Raleigh, 11,160 in Monroe, and 11,759 in Summers, and both are Republicans.
Incumbent John O’Neal led the way with 3,774 votes, while newcomer Roy G. Cooper of Summers County took the other seat with 2,419 votes.
The Democratic hopefuls were school principal Al Martine, who was third with 2,300 votes, and Jeffry Pritt, 940.
“I’m not going to put on my partisan hat and crow about the victory,” O’Neal said.
“But Raleigh County has emerged as a legitimate two-party county now. I’m proud of the candidates that won. I congratulate the candidates that won and I congratulate the candidates who competed and didn’t win. There were a lot of close races.”
In the new 29th District, Moye dusted off another Republican newcomer, small business owner and disabled veteran Ron Hedrick, 3,995 to 2,873. This district blankets Ghent, Crab Orchard, MacArthur, a portion of Beaver and Shady Spring, Rhodell, Coal City and Sophia, covering 19,453 residents.
“I faced things I never dreamed that I would in this race,” Moye said, saying he was targeted by misleading information, but emphasizing it didn’t come from his opponent.
“I want the people in the district to pray for me that I will represent their interests to the best of my ability. I feel very humbled by the victory and by the confidence the people have placed in me.”
No incumbents were on the ballot in the 31st District, and in that contest, newcomer Karen “Lynne” Arvon, a registered nurse, emerged with a 161-vote victory over retired coal miner Clyde McKnight.
This district trails W.Va. 3, engulfing 15,435 residents in Raleigh County, in the communities of Marsh Fork and Glen Daniel, and 4,016 in Wyoming County, taking in Kopperston and Oceana.
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