Kessler retains Senate leadership post
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the second day in a row, a state elected official removed "acting" from his title.
The state Senate Monday evening elected Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, as Senate president, filling a vacancy created Sunday when longtime President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, resigned to be sworn in as governor.
Kessler was elected by the Senate on a partisan 28-5 vote, with one absent, over Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam. (Keeping with the tradition of the minority party nominating its leader for the presidency.)
"The time of acting is over," Kessler said in his acceptance speech, adding, "Members of the Senate, it's time to go to work."
Kessler told his colleagues he was honored to have their confidence and support, and said, "I'll promise you I'll do everything in my power to earn it and keep it."
Kessler, who had served as acting president since January, earlier Monday withstood a challenge from Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, for the Democratic nomination for the office.
During a closed-door caucus of the 28 Senate Democrats Monday afternoon, the vote reportedly broke 17 to 11 in favor of Kessler.
Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, currently on active duty with the Navy in Afghanistan, participated in the caucus and in the Senate floor vote via telephone.
"I gave it my best shot," McCabe said afterward.
McCabe said he had run for president in hopes of ending the divisiveness among senators that had marked the 2011 regular session.
"I think the key is, now we have to figure out how to drive forward in some rough waters," he said.
While McCabe promoted himself as being better able to lead the Senate through critical issues such as paying down the state's massive OPEB liabilities, enacting Marcellus Shale regulations, and attracting new business investments, he said a majority of senators concluded that stability in Senate leadership was a paramount concern.
"A majority of senators felt we needed to continue as we had started earlier in the year," he said.
Kessler, a Glen Dale trial lawyer, was elected to the newly created position of acting Senate president in January, after Tomblin opted not to preside over the Senate during the 2011 regular session, while acting as governor.
Kessler was first appointed to the Senate in 1997 and has won re-election four times. He had served eight years as Senate Judiciary chairman prior to his selection as acting president.
Earlier in the afternoon, Tomblin appointed former Logan County commissioner Art Kirkendoll as his successor from the 7th Senatorial District.
Kirkendoll, who like Tomblin is a Chapmanville resident, reportedly supported Kessler in the Senate Democratic caucus. He will serve the remaining 14 months of Tomblin's unexpired term as senator.
Kirkendoll was sworn in on the Senate floor Monday evening, prior to Kessler's election.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.