West Virginia Lawmakers Called to Meet On Byrd Seat

Senator Robert Byrd
Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, in Washington. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin called the state’s legislature into an emergency July 15 session to decide whether to hold a special election this year to pick a successor to late Senator Robert Byrd.

Manchin said in an e-mailed statement the state must make certain the election process is valid to ensure there is no delay in seating a new senator. The governor has said he may run for the seat himself. He can name an interim senator to serve until an election is held either this year or in 2012.

“We must have clarity in the law or we risk judicial intervention” that “could delay West Virginians from having representation,” said Manchin, a Democrat.

The confusion over choosing a successor to Byrd, a Democrat who died at age 92 on June 28 after serving more than a half-century in the Senate, has complicated his party’s efforts to pass financial-regulation legislation. Senate Democrats need 60 votes to win passage of the most sweeping overhaul of financial market regulations since the 1930s. After Byrd’s death, Democrats control 58 Senate votes.

State Attorney General Darrell McGraw said yesterday an election could be held in November, while the state’s top election official, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, has said an interim senator appointed by the governor should serve until 2012, when Byrd’s seat was up for re-election.

‘Last Thing’ He Wants

Manchin said today, “The last thing that I want is for a citizen to go to the polls to cast a vote, only to realize that his or her vote did not count because a judge had declared the election process invalid.”

The governor has delayed naming an interim senator during the dispute, and he has said he won’t appoint himself.

“It appears we’ve witnessed the start of Joe Manchin’s delicate dance to a Senate candidacy,” Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement.

Walsh said that if Manchin runs for Byrd’s seat, he will have to “balance his personal loyalty” to President Barack Obama “with the unpopularity of the Obama agenda among West Virginia voters.”

Manchin acted hours after his legal counsel, Jonathan Deem, issued a statement advising the governor to call a special legislative session to resolve the conflict.

Senate Action

When Congress returns next week from a week-long recess, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, will proceed with either the financial-regulatory measure or an extension of federal jobless benefits, “whatever we have 60 votes to do,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in an e-mailed message.

Democrats are courting four Republicans who voted in favor of a previous version of the financial measure, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine.

Collins told reporters June 30 that she was “inclined to support” the latest version that is the product of House-Senate negotiations.

Brown and Snowe said they were reviewing the latest changes. After Brown raised an objection to a fee on banks and withdrew his support from the measure, House and Senate negotiators reconvened to eliminate the provision. The House voted June 30 to approve the changes.

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, one of two Democrats who voted against the original Senate measure, said July 1 that she would support the latest version.

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