Delegate Jason Harshbarger announced plans Wednesday to resign from the House of Delegates to take over as state policy director for a large natural gas producer.
Harshbarger, a Republican from Ritchie County, will officially resign at the end of the month. He will replace Bob Orndorff.
An employee of Dominion Energy for the past 14 years, Harshbarger said in a resignation letter he has decided to pursue a private-sector opportunity that “will unfortunately not allow me to continue my service in the House.”
According to a statement from Dominion, Orndorff will stay on as a lobbyist through the end of the 2020 legislative session before retiring, “mentoring Harshbarger for this new role.”
The state Ethics Act has a revolving door rule that prohibits legislators from registering as lobbyists within one year of ending their public service.
Harshbarger was among the sponsors of House Resolution 11, which praised the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a major natural gas project. The resolution also criticized citizen groups that have challenged the pipeline in court.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail, in partnership with the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, reported in July that Orndorff actually wrote the resolution before passing it on to a delegate to introduce. As it was being drafted, Orndorff spent $575 taking five lawmakers — including Harshbarger — out to dine on Italian food.
Harshbarger said he attended the dinner “more as a social thing than anything.”
In January, a constituent sued Harshbarger, alleging the lawmaker blocked him from an official Facebook page for writing comments voicing opposition to legislation favored by the natural gas industry.
The constituent, Scott Windom, is a lawyer who has represented landowners and gas owners in legal fights against gas producers. In June, U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh rejected Harshbarger’s motion to dismiss the case, which is currently scheduled for a bench trial in October 2020.
When Harshbarger steps down, the Ritchie County GOP Executive Committee will submit three names to Gov. Jim Justice, who will choose one to replace Harshbarger.
Harshbarger was first elected to the House in 2016. He could not immediately be reached for comment.