By Mannix Porterfield
All the familiar faces of leadership in the West Virginia Senate are staying on the team, but President Jeffrey Kessler apparently hasn’t made up his mind about the chairmanship of a minor committee — Energy, Industry and Mining.
That one is anchored by Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, one of two senators who pursued the presidency in the upper chamber this year and lost out to Kessler. The other candidate was Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha.
Kessler won the right to wield the gavel in the upcoming session in a party-line vote last week, but was non-committal in an impromptu news conference about the future of his leadership team, until Monday, when he announced that he wasn’t making any changes.
Which means Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, is staying on as majority leader, Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison, retains his role as president pro tempore, and Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, remains as majority whip.
Browning said he is “excited” to retain his role and hailed the Kessler team as the best to be leading the Senate.
Re-appointed to their committees were Sens. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, judiciary; Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, finance; Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, government organization; Ron Stollings, D-Boone, health and human resources; and Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, education.
“Over the last year, the members of my leadership team have proven to be capable and hard working,” Kessler said in a statement.
“They have demonstrated their willingness to work with me in any capacity and participate in open and frank discussions to move West Virginia forward.”
Browning applauded Kessler’s first year as acting president, saying he and his leadership team functioned with one goal in mind — doing the best job possible for the state.
“During this latest campaign for Senate president, he sought out the advice of his loyal group of senators every time an issue arose,” the 9th District senator said.
“His campaign was marked with an open, professional, methodical and business-like approach. During the past legislative session, his acting presidency mirrored what he promised in that campaign, which was to include everyone, even in turbulent times. Jeff believes in inclusion, and I know that his daily leadership meetings and frequent caucuses to ensure that all members of the Senate have a voice will continue.”
Browning said Kessler has “the right ideas” for putting the state in position to be strong two decades from now, both at the educational and economic levels.
“With a young family, Jeff has a personal stake in creating a better West Virginia and I want to help him do just that for all West Virginians,” he added.
Kessler served as acting president in the 2012 session after the Senate created the unique position so he could replace Earl Ray Tomblin who became acting governor with the departure of former Gov. Joe Manchin to the U.S. Senate.
In his first interview as president, Kessler said he wanted the Senate to get to work on major issues once the session begins, including efforts to find a resolution to the Other Post-Employment Benefits liability, projected to be around $8 million. The debt involves health care benefits paid to retired state employees.
As for Green’s chairmanship of EIM, the president said at the time he needs to “take a look at that.”
Then, he added, “Some of my discussions with Mike in the past were that he would like to maybe move on to something else, anyway.”
For now, Kessler is directing his attention to the 2012 session, adding, “I am confident that, given our successes over the past year, we can continue to work toward building a better future.”
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