January 14, 2023: Charleston, WV.
Part One, Opening Day sees 31-3 Republican Majority in WV Senate, Craig Blair sworn in as President: Dems Woelfel, Plymale and Caputo given multiple roles.
(((Part Two: GOP Super Majority Suspends Rules, Fast Tracks Key 2022 Bills)))
On January 11th, 2023 the West Virginia State legislature convened in regular session. With the defeat of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Stephen Baldwin (Lewisburg, District 10) by Republican Vince Deeds, and the party switch by Senator Glenn Jeffries (Putnam) into the Republican Senate caucus, Democrats in the upper house are limited to three votes out of the Senate’s thirty four seats. On the House side, the Republican caucus majority is 88-12.
This Republican super-majority leaves the three Senate Democrats with extensive responsibilities in the 2023 session. For instance, Mike Woelfel (Cabell) is serving as House Minority Leader while also sitting on six standing committees, Rules; Agriculture and Natural Resources; Enrolled Bills; Government Organization; School Choice; and the Senate Judiciary Committee. His Democratic colleague Robert Plymale (Cabell) has a similar assignment, also serving on six standing committees, Transportation and Infrastructure; Health and Human Resources; Banking and Insurance; Economic Development; Education; and the Senate Finance Committee. The third Senate Democrat, Mike Caputo (Marion) also sits on six of the Senate’s 18 standing committees.
(((See Mike Woelfel commenting on the lopsided Senate balance here: *HNN video link*)))
The Wednesday January 11 opening day began with an invocation by Senate Doorkeeper Joe Bishop and the pledge of allegiance to the flag. It was immediately announced that Glenn Jeffries has officially left the Democratic Party and had joined the Republican Senate caucus. Then Secretary of State Mac Warner (who had announced his candidacy for Governor in the 2024 race the day before) went to the Senate well to verify the November 2022 election results. The roll was called, a quorum was present, and Senator Craig P. Blair (Berkeley) was nominated for Senate President by Charles Trump (Morgan) and Minority Leader Mike Woelfel assented and moved to close nominations.
After being sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Haley Bunn, Senate President Blair made brief inaugural remarks indicating that he intended to “work hard and work smart … to continue to have success exponentially for the people of West Virginia.” Senator Blair took offense to the WV Senate being described as a “swamp.” “We are anything but! I take strong exception to that. I do not believe a word of that statement. We are going to do great things together … For the first time in my lifetime more people moved in than moved out (citing recent US Census numbers) and we are going to provide jobs to our young people so they don’t have to move out of State.” He concluded by stating, “Senators, you drive that process, I do nothing but facilitate your will.”
President Blair’s remarks were followed by the unanimous election of professional Senate Clerk Lee Cassis, senior Sargeant at Arms officer David Lavender and the popular Doorkeeper Jeffery Brennan.