The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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September 3, 2011

Tomblin puts ink on House redistricting legislation

CHARLESTON — Now that it has become the law in West Virginia, is the Raleigh County Commission on the verge of challenging the controversy-ridden House of Delegates redistricting plan in court?

That question is to be answered Tuesday, when the three commissioners meet in Beckley to explore a number of options outlined by their attorney, Bill Roop.

As he vowed to do a day earlier, acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the bill Friday, saying it contained none of the technical flaws that led him to veto the first such piece of legislation in early August at the end of a turbulent, five-day session.

“Legislative redistricting is fundamentally a legislative process,” said Tomblin, who came under fire from Republicans for not being more aggressive in seeking 100 single-member districts.

“As I have made clear, my preference is for single-member districts. I am glad that the House of Delegates increased the number of single-member districts. Because our review did not uncover any technical errors in the bill, I decided to sign the legislation.”

Almost immediately, his Republican rival in the Oct. 4 special election, Bill Maloney, attacked Tomblin, suggesting his action on the bill should have been expected.

“This should not surprise anyone who has followed the 36-year career politician, Earl Ray,” Maloney said.

“He has never led on any issue and never stood up to the special interests who continue to control Charleston. These insiders have cut insider deals for decades to ensure they keep getting paid, while working families get over-taxed, over-regulated and eventually end up with no jobs.”

The first House redistricting plan was fatally flawed in that some 4,000 voters wound up in two, distinct districts in Morgan and Kanawha counties, effectively handing them double representation.

Republicans remained miffed over the final product because it failed to provide 100 single-member districts, although the number did increase to 47 — a gain of 11. Overall, there are 67 districts now, compared to the previous total of 58.

Tomblin was on record early as favoring exclusively single-member districts, and on the eve of the bill’s signing, said it clearly showed the Legislature is moving in that direction.

But some lawmakers, such as Delegate Rick Snuffer, R-Raleigh, whose district was sliced up like a pie and dished off to adjoining counties, said the governor should have done more to pursue that goal.

“Not only was the process a shame, and the product a shame, but now you have a politician acting shamelessly, saying he believes in one thing, but doing something contrary to what he claims he believes,” the freshman delegate said.

Snuffer said voters in Raleigh, Mason, Monroe, Mercer and Putnam counties need to show Tomblin “what they think of his complicity in this process by going to the polls and letting Earl Ray know they remember actions more than campaign slogans.”

“To say you support 100 single-member districts personally but will proceed to sign the bill means you didn’t really support 100 single-member districts,” said Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell.

“One can’t hide behind the argument that it was the will of the Legislature and then sign the bill. What, then, is the role of the executive branch of government? What if the Legislature passed a pro-choice bill and you were a pro-life governor? Are you going to sign it because it was ‘will of the Legislature?’ We have three, distinct branches of government, and it is the duty of the governor to express his/her will with the pen.”

A huge chunk of Raleigh County, including the Lanark-Stanaford area all the way through Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital, is going to Fayette County. Much of the Shady Spring-Daniels area is parceled to Summers County, and Bolt Mountain along Old Eccles Road is now in the hands of Wyoming County.

“I went through several different scenarios,” Roop said of his briefing for the Raleigh commissioners.

“I think they are thinking it over, trying to see what’s best for Raleigh County. I’ve given them a lot of different options. Suing on your own, or joining with other counties.”

The Putnam County Commission has voted to file a lawsuit over the plan, and a Charleston man, Thornton Cooper, has vowed to pursue his own legal challenge.

In the past, such lawsuits have been unsuccessful, but Roop suggested failures are no reason to be discouraged.

“You never know,” he said.

“Every case is different. Every case stands on its own. You just got to kind of go through the facts, and I think the court will look at it and see if all the t’s are crossed and all the i’s are dotted.”

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