Gov. Jim Justice hired Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, as his chief of staff Tuesday.
Hall’s appointment comes a day after Justice fired Nick Casey, a former West Virginia Democratic Party chairman whose days were presumably numbered after Justice announced he was switching parties from Democrat to Republican two weeks ago.
Hall, a longtime state lawmaker, will start his new job in the Justice administration Monday.
In a written statement, Justice said he picked Hall because of his knowledge of the state budget.
“Mike Hall has a reputation for being able to work with everybody,” he said. “He has an analytical mind and knows the ins and outs of the budget and budget process. That, and the fact that there is not a more respected man in the Legislature than Mike Hall really helped me make my decision.”
Hall also gave a statement in the release.
“While it was an incredibly difficult decision for me to leave the Senate, I could not imagine a greater opportunity to use all I have learned during my time in the Legislature than this,” he said.
Although the announcement came just before 5 p.m., Senate President Mitch Carmichael said earlier Tuesday that Hall’s appointment was expected.
“Mike and the governor have a good personal relationship, and Mike has a good working relationship with the Legislature,” Carmichael said. “He has good conservative credentials.”
Hall, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, alerted fellow committee members about his pending job switch Monday night, according to multiple sources. He also notified members of his senatorial campaign committee.
Casey, who lasted eight months as Justice’s chief of staff, said the governor called him Monday morning and fired him. Casey was in New York at the time, celebrating his 42nd wedding anniversary.
Justice switched from Democrat back to Republican during a campaign rally for President Donald Trump earlier this month in Huntington.
Hall is widely viewed as a moderate Republican in the Legislature. He did not return a phone call seeking comment for this report.
Justice did not appear at the state Capitol on Tuesday.
The governor scheduled a news conference for this morning, but he canceled it in a separate news release sent after the announcement about Hall. He also postponed a scheduled appearance in the state’s Northern Panhandle today.
State Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said he supports Hall’s appointment.
“I think it’s a great pick,” Lucas said. “Senator Hall knows the ins and the outs of state government. He would be an expert in the budget process, he is a very seasoned individual, he obviously has strong relationships in the legislature and has certainly been a strong member of the Republican party for quite some time.”
During the budget debate earlier this year, Hall was mostly pushed to the sidelines because he wouldn’t support proposals to cut West Virginia’s personal income tax. The final budget did not include any reduction in income taxes.
“Throughout his time as our Senate Finance chairman, he has been a tremendous protector of the taxpayers’ dollars, and he will bring a fiscally conservative eye to the budget process,” Carmichael said. “His knowledge of our state’s finances will make him priceless to the Legislature as we prepare to deal with another difficult budget year.”
Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, and Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, have emerged as possible replacements for Hall as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, legislative sources said. Gaunch seems to be the front-runner.
With Hall vacating his 4th District Senate seat, the district’s Republican executive committee will nominate three potential replacements. The governor will pick one name from the three to take over the seat.
Two delegates’ names surfaced as candidates for the nomination Tuesday: Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, and Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason.
Foster said he spoke with Lucas about the nomination.
“I’ve told them I’d be interested, he knows that I’m interested in the seat,” Foster said. “From there, I don’t know.”
Butler said he’s received calls from people about taking the position.
“I did get a call from a couple of friends to ask me if I was interested, and I’ll say, certainly, I am interested in that,” Butler said. “I’ll probably be making some calls soon, to see if I can gain some support for it.”
Lucas declined to comment on who specifically is in talks for the position, deferring to the committee to work it out. He said the state party helps facilitate the decision-making process, although it ultimately leaves it to the senatorial district executive committee.
Hall has represented the Senate’s 4th District — which covers Jackson and Mason counties and parts of Putnam and Roane counties — since 2006. He also served six terms in the West Virginia House of Delegates, representing the 14th District.
In 2012, Hall ran for state treasurer, losing to incumbent John Perdue.
Hall, 68, lives in Winfield. He is a former Presbyterian minister. For the past five years, he has worked for Cetera Financial Specialists, in Nitro.
Hall will join a long line of former state lawmakers who have surrendered their seats to work in state government. The switch allows legislators to boost their state-funded retirement pay significantly. Hall could increase his retirement pay tenfold, if he stays as the governor’s chief of staff for three years.