No sooner than a delegate takes his seat after an election than it’s time to hit the campaign trail again.

Or so it seems to Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, one of several lawmakers who want to see longer terms in the Legislature.

For that reason, a resolution is before the House of Delegates that would double their terms to four years and add two years to the existing four-year term for a senator.

Any decision on increasing terms would be up to the voters since the West Virginia Constitution would have to be amended.

“Elections are just so expensive anymore,” says Caputo, a co-sponsor of the proposed constitutional amendment offered by Delegate Tim Ennis, D-Brooke.

Caputo says a freshman lawmaker hardly has time to learn the ropes, the ins and outs of getting legislation acted upon, until it’s time to face the voters again.

“You know, quite frankly, out on the campaign trail, I hear people say all the time, ‘I can’t believe you’re running. Didn’t you just run?’”

Caputo is the voice of experience, now in his 10th term and up for re-election this year.

“In the House, you really only have about six months after you win your general election that you’re not thinking about the next election,” he says.

“We win in November, we go in session in January for a couple of months, we get out of there and we go into the next session, then it’s right before the primary.”

While the resolution doesn’t specify this, one thought inspired by the Ennis resolution points to split terms in the House so that not every delegate is up before the electorate every two years.

That’s how it now works in the Senate.

An argument in support of this holds that some experienced hands will always be around. Conceivably, if incumbents either don’t run or lose, an entirely new House could be elected in the existing set-up.

“You’d be amazed at how fast two years go by,” Caputo said.

Caputo feels that proposals could get more deliberate attention if delegates knew they would have a longer term to serve and not have to bother with re-election every other year.

Again, this isn’t tied to the Ennis resolution, but Caputo says he would like to expand the idea by denying any lawmaker the right to seek another office while serving in the House.

“I think that’s fair,” says Caputo, an official with the United Mine Workers of America.

Some lawmakers, not up for re-election, tend to “play around” and toss their hats into a lot of rings to “see how much support they can get for a different office, knowing that they don’t have to give up a seat in the event they lose,” he says.

“If you want to be a candidate, I welcome that,” Caputo says.

“But you should be a serious candidate and take it seriously and run your campaign with respect and dignity.”

Caputo says West Virginia lawmakers are accountable to the folks who elect them, far more so than a member of Congress.

“We live in the neighborhoods that we run in,” he explained.

“It’s not like the folks in Washington. They’re kind of insulated. I’m not criticizing them. They have a job to do and that’s where it is. But we’re a part-time Legislature. We’re only down here two months a year. We live in the community. We see the folks that vote for us daily. I mean daily. We work with them. We go to the same grocery stores. Go to the same malls. For those reasons, I think continuity would still be there with our constituency base.”

Ennis’ resolution was on the agenda this past week in the Constitutional Revision Committee, but Chairman Joe Talbott, D-Webster, canceled the meeting before it could come to order.

“I don’t think we’ll see it this year,” Caputo said.

“I don’t know if we ever will. Sometimes things take a while.”

— E-mail:

mannix@register-herald.com

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