A day after the state Supreme Court required an election for governor this year, lawmakers appeared divided Wednesday over whether candidates should be nominated by party conventions or a special primary.
Tuesday's decision mandating a 2011 vote cited a state law that calls for nominating conventions. But the opinion also noted that the Legislature could change that as long as a general election winner can take office by Nov. 15.
The deadline is set one year after Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin began serving as acting governor when fellow Democrat Joe Manchin resigned to join the U.S. Senate. Although the state constitution provides for that succession route, the unanimous ruling concluded that it also requires an "elected successor within one year of the date when the vacancy occurred."
That and other legal findings in the opinion have revived questions over Tomblin's decision to focus on the role of chief executive while setting aside his legislative duties. The agenda Tomblin hopes to pursue during the 60-day session could suffer as a result, some key lawmakers said.
While expressing support for Tomblin, Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo said, "He knows that he's only guaranteed one session, where previously he thought he might be (acting as governor) for two sessions. He's automatically a lame duck, so to speak, so I think it may give him a little bit less juice."
The ruling has also stoked the debate over the new Senate office of acting president - created for when the actual president is acting as governor - and the election of Marshall County Democrat Jeff Kessler to that post.