The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 22, 2011

Tomblin proposes lieutenant governor

CHARLESTON — West Virginia would elect a lieutenant governor under a proposal submitted Monday by acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to the Legislature, following through on his call for the new office.

If approved by lawmakers, the measure would ask voters in the 2012 general election to amend the state constitution to create the new executive branch post. The resolution would also borrow from the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which oversees succession upon death, resignation or removal of a president, to update the state constitution’s succession process, Tomblin spokeswoman Jacqueline Proctor said.

The proposal draws from a study of the issue that Tomblin launched early last month, with the aid of several veteran state lawyers. This working group completed its review in recent days, Proctor said.

Candidates for lieutenant governor and governor would run together in both primary and general elections under the proposal. The elected lieutenant governor would then serve as a secretary of an existing cabinet department until needed to fill in, either temporarily or for the remainder of a term, as the state’s chief executive.

The governor would choose which cabinet office the lieutenant governor would head, Proctor said, adding that Tomblin believes this approach limits any additional costs from creating the new office.

“For him, it adds certainty to future gubernatorial vacancies,” she said. “His goal is that our citizens will elect a lieutenant governor and governor jointly, with the knowledge that the lieutenant governor they elected will stand ready to take up the duties of the office of governor when necessary.”

The West Virginia Constitution now has the state Senate president act as governor when that office becomes vacant. The longest-serving Senate president in state history, Tomblin began acting as governor Nov. 15 when now-U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin resigned. Tomblin had gained the title “lieutenant governor” through 2000 legislation but the office does not exist within the constitution.

The state Supreme Court has since ruled that an elected governor must take office within a year of that vacancy. The unanimous decision resolved a pair of legal challenges spurred by questions stemming from the state’s succession process. The special primary is May 14, and the general is Oct. 4.

Forty-three states now elect a lieutenant governor, including all five of West Virginia’s neighbors. Only three other states put a legislator next in line for their top executive branch post. According to the Lexington, Ky.-based Council of State Governments, 26 states that elect a lieutenant governor do so on the same ticket with their governor.

Manchin, a Democrat, had more than two years left in his second term as governor when he resigned after winning last year’s special U.S. Senate race. That election was triggered by the June death of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

Six Democrats, including Tomblin, and eight Republicans are running in this year’s special election for governor. The office will again be on the ballot in 2012, for a full four-year term.

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