Tomblin sets Sunday ceremony to make win official

By Lawrence Messina

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Nov. 10 2011 4:42 p.m. MST

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin will trade in the titles "acting governor" and "governor-elect" on Sunday for just plain "governor."

Tomblin, who last month won a required special gubernatorial election to keep the job he's been holding on an acting basis, is aiming for a seamless transition with a series of Sunday events that finalize his victory, administration officials said Thursday.

For apparently the first time in state history, a governor will be taking office on a date other than the one set by the West Virginia Constitution. Sunday's planned special legislative session and inaugural ceremony will also satisfy the state Supreme Court decision that triggered the Oct. 4 vote.

As Senate president, Tomblin has been acting as governor since Democrat Joe Manchin stepped down as chief executive last year to become a U.S. senator.

Resolving legal disputes arising from West Virginia's succession process, the justices ruled that an elected governor must take office within a year of Manchin's Nov. 15, 2010 departure.

After convening separately at noon Sunday, the state Senate and House of Delegates will hold a joint assembly.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant will then deliver the Oct. 4 results.

Tomblin prevailed with just below 50 percent of the vote. Republican Bill Maloney trailed him by 2.3 percentage points, in a race that also featured six other candidates. Turnout approached 25 percent.

Tomblin will be declared the election winner at that point, prompting him to resign from the Senate and as its president. The 59-year-old has held that Logan County-based Senate seat since 1980, and his peers first chose him as their body's chief in 1995. Tomblin became the longest-serving Senate president in state history in 2003.

"Once that (resignation) letter is sent upstairs and received, the governor will take the oath in private," Tomblin spokesman Jacqueline Proctor said Thursday.

Proctor said the goal is for Tomblin to take the oath so that he immediately goes from acting governor to governor.

Tomblin plans to take the oath again during a 3 p.m. inaugural ceremony on the south plaza of the State Capitol, overlooking the Kanawha River. A light public reception is scheduled to follow at 4:30 p.m. in the nearby Culture Center.

Tomblin will have to run again next year, when the office is on the ballot for a full four-year term.

The state constitution sets the inauguration of West Virginia's governor's on "the first Monday after the second Wednesday of January next after their election." While just one other Senate president has acted as governor in the state's history, that occurred under a different constitution.

Daniel D.T. Farnsworth held the temporary job for about a week in early 1869, until the then-recently elected William Erskine Stevenson took his oath as scheduled. As with Tomblin, Farnsworth began acting as governor when Arthur Boreman — West Virginia's first chief executive — left office early to join the U.S. Senate.

The Democratic committee for the Logan County Senate district plans to meet Monday to recommend names to Tomblin for the successor to his legislative seat.

With lawmakers holding their monthly interim study meetings Monday through Thursday, the Senate is expected to reconvene during that time to elect a new president. Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, has been acting president, a position created while Tomblin acts as governor. It will expire Sunday. Kessler said Wednesday that he is seeking the Senate presidency. Other contenders include Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha.

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