By Mannix Porterfield
Imagine poring over a mountain of paperwork every day over the course of a two-month legislative session.
Now multiply that by 22 years, not to mention special sessions, and you can get an idea of what Darrell Holmes has coped with over his long career as clerk of the West Virginia Senate.
Holmes is calling it quits as of Jan. 9, ending his lengthy service under the Capitol dome that all began when he was elected in 1974 for the first of four terms in the House of Delegates, representing Kanawha County.
In 1982, he won a seat in the Senate and held the post for 71/2 years, until he became clerk in 1989.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Holmes said last Monday, as he began the transition for when the new Legislature is open for business in 2013.
In his role as clerk, Holmes oversees all the staff personnel.
“I look out for the senators and do whatever they want done,” he said.
“The clerk is responsible for helping them any way we can. We have 41 employees working for us full-time. Then, when we go into session, we hire about 120 part-time employees — secretaries and lawyers.”
No small job when senators are at their desks is the daily production of the Senate journal, a painstaking task that demands the utmost in proofreading so that every comma and other punctuation mark is in its proper place with the appropriate spacing.
“I’ve got a good staff that does that,” he said.
“We do a lot on the state level, but it’s nothing compared to Washington, D.C. That’s another world there.”
When the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was majority leader, he invited Holmes for a week-long visit to see how things are done in the nation’s capital. For Holmes, it certainly was an eye-opener.
“At that time, they had 16,000 registered lobbyists, and now they’ve got 36,000 in Washington,” the retiring clerk said.
“We have about 410 in West Virginia.”
Holmes has been a quiet and hard-working force behind the scenes of the legislative process, saying there were some humorous episodes at times, “but I just ignored them.”
To become a clerk, one must be nominated. In the recent Democratic caucus, Sen. Joseph Minard, D-Harrison, was nominated to succeed Holmes.
“Then the Senate has to vote you in,” Holmes said.
“You have to run every two years. After every election, you have to run for clerk.”
Holmes hopes to use some of his newfound leisure time to pursue a favorite avocation — deer hunting.
“I like hunting more than anything,” he said, “but that just happens a certain time of the year.”
So, to fill any void in retirement, Holmes is toying with the idea of re-opening a machine shop he once ran during his legislative career in his hometown of Sissonville.
“I repaired valves and sharpened drill bits,” he explained.
“I did enjoy working in my shop. After I became clerk full-time, I quit doing that. I still have all the enjoyment in that but haven’t done anything, so I might get back in the business.”
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