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Kessler Calling the Shots: Senate Leader Says He Won’t Hold Grudges

November 20, 2011
By JOSELYN KING Political Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler said he will make changes in the Senate's leadership before state lawmakers next meet in January.

None of these changes, though, will be "out of retribution" against the 11 members who voted against his bid to run the Senate during a Democratic caucus vote last week, he noted.

"I will place people in the best positions, though loyalty will play a role ...," Kessler said. "There are those who have demonstrated an unwillingness to work with me in any capacity, and they won't be a part of my leadership.

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"I have to look at where members stand, both friend and foe."

He said there were just "two or three" Senate members who most opposed him while he served as acting Senate president this year, mostly because "they have been displaced from prior leadership positions"

When pressed, he cited former majority leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo; former Finance Committee Chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas; and Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, as the members leading the charge against him.

Kessler said it was those three senators who urged his then-president pro tempore, Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, to challenge him for the Senate's presidency. The move forced Kessler to remove McCabe from his leadership team and replace him with Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison.

Kessler won the Senate president vote in caucus by a 17-11 tally over McCabe. After losing, McCabe encouraged his supporters to back Kessler in the vote before the full 34-member Senate.

Kessler termed the vote in the Democratic caucus "secret" under the rules of the Senate. But he reported he had four votes from Northern Panhandle senators (himself and sens. Orphy Klempa, Jack Yost and Larry Edgell), two from the Eastern Panhandle, four from North Central West Virginia, and another seven from the southern half of the state.

Kessler received the votes of all 28 Democrats in the Senate vote, with the five Republicans present voting for their nominee, Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam. Sen. Karen Facemyre, R-Jackson, was not present for the vote.

"There are folks who were supportive of (McCabe), but who hold no ill will toward me," Kessler said. "They have been supportive of me in the past, and have indicated they will be in the future.

"They have told me that if there were any other candidate than their senior senator, they would have been clearly in my corner. I'm happy with that commitment, that they will continue to work with me when they won't be under any geographic and political pressure to support their senior senator."

He said he would keep in his leadership team Minard as president pro tempore; Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, as majority leader; and Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, as majority whip.

As for McCabe, Kessler said he had always had his support up until his challenge for the presidency.

"It was a shocker," he commented. "But politics makes strange bedfellows, and he is the lead senator from Kanawha County. Others found it helpful to pull him in as a candidate, and to pull him into a coalition."

And Kessler noted McCabe will continue to have a role in the Senate.

"I will be meeting with him," he said. "I know his strengths - he knows about finance and about our (other post-employment benefits) debt. Those things come to mind.

"He has been involved with legislative initiatives with OPEB, and I would like to keep him engaged on those issues."

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