Two times within two years, I’ve had my House of Delegates member picked for me. Being that I was considered as a potential candidate and participated in the interview process in 2018, I have a recommendation for a better way to fill the seat. Why? So, the selected delegate ends up beholden to the community, and not just the party. Here are my thoughts.
In 2018, after primary candidate declarations closed but before primary voting, then-Delegate Ron Walters resigned from the 39th District seat. Sharon Lewis Malcolm was the only Republican registered to oppose him.
The replacement then began. When there’s a vacancy, folks submit resumes to the exiting delegate party’s executive committee (Republican, Democrat or others), which holds interviews. The only candidate requirement is to be a registered party member and live within the district for a set period. Then the executive committee sends three proposed names to the governor, who chooses one.
The executive committee also can recruit prospects, as one did with me. “No, thank you,” was my response. “Wait,” he wrote. “This is an interim appointment. The selectee won’t be eligible to campaign.” In this case, that was because Sharon Malcolm would, by default, be the party’s general election nominee.
So, the selectee wouldn’t be the candidate for the general election. Unless, that is, the person on the primary ballot is selected as the interim replacement, which is what happened. Generally, not a surprise to ole political types as it gives the selectee a leg up in the general election, but it was to me.
Then she won in the general election as a sitting delegate, just as the old hands said she would even though she was a relative unknown.
Now, nearly two years later, she was on her way to re-election when she passed away on Sept. 29.
And so, the process was repeated. I did not participate this cycle, but have been assured it was like the previous one.
What’s wrong with that?
The seat doesn’t belong to the party. It belongs to the people. The party doesn’t elect candidates. The people do. The delegate’s job isn’t to represent the party. The delegate should represent the people. So, why does the incumbent’s party executive committee do the exclusive selecting and give that person a “leg up” on being elected?
In Kanawha County, there are 122,195 registered voters. Democrats number 52,681; Republicans 38,290; No party (independents) 28,187; Mountain 269; Libertarian 781; and other 1,087.
So, in Kanawha County, the party representing 31.8 percent of voters selected a replacement to represent all the people?
Here’s my recommended process for your consideration.
Have the party representing the former incumbent’s party appoint two people to a selection committee. Have the largest, or next largest party by registration, appoint two more people. That’s four. Now, have the four select three others, regardless of registration, from the community. But require the three community members to have a majority vote of the original four (three out of four).
Won’t that take forever?
No. The executive committees can appoint members representing them (usually committee members) within three days of a vacancy. These appointed members can meet and take up to five days to select the remaining members. And then they may interview prospects and make their selection of three candidates to the governor within 15 days, as it is now. The governor then would be able to select among the three within five days, again as is the case now.
This has a replacement delegate, or whatever position, replaced within 28 days of a vacancy. Currently, the process happens within 20 days, so it would be elongating the process by eight days.
Nonetheless, this would more fairly represent the community being served, instead of a political party selecting a political partisan. After all, who does a delegate represent? The party or the community? Unfortunately, currently it is too often the party.