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WV Senate awaits Helmick's replacement

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For the State Journal

ROMNEY — When Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, was elected to serve as the state's new agriculture commissioner in November, it left a vacant seat in the Senate for the remaining two years of his term.

To remedy that, two Democrat representatives from each county in Helmick's old 15th District — which includes all or part of nine counties stretching from Pocahontas to Berkeley counties — are required to form a committee that will in turn submit three names to the governor to select a new senator.

In a telephone interview, Helmick talked about the names being tossed around. 

"First there is no one from Morgan or Berkeley, Grant or Randolph counties. Judge Donald H. Cookman and Bob Mayhew have been named from Hampshire County, Tom Hawse have been named from Hardy County, Jeff Bowers has been discussed from Pendleton County, Charles Sheets from Pocahontas and Mike Ross from Upshur County," said Helmick.

"Wow, what a group of people. It's going to be a tough call for the committee and for the governor."

Mayhew said some people in Charleston, Martinsburg and Berkeley Spring talked to him about considering the position. He talked to his wife, and they agreed he would make the consideration.

"I am humbled and honored just to be asked," said Mayhew.

He said he respects Cookman and thinks he would be an excellent candidate for the appointment as well.

"As long as someone from Hampshire County gets elected I'll be a very happy person," he said.

The list of names won't be finalized until Helmick resigns from his senatorial position on Jan. 14 and is sworn in as the new agriculture commissioner.

The path to being chosen as Helmick's replacement is a bit complicated. It has many guidelines that the nine-county Democratic committee must follow before giving a list of three finalists to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who will ultimately make the decision. 

Once Helmick is sworn in, the Democratic committees from Hampshire, Upshur, Pocahontas, Randolph, Pendleton, Grant, Hardy, Morgan, and Berkeley counties are required choose a male and female to be a member of a committee from the entire 15th Senatorial District. Randolph County and Berkeley County can be represented on the committee but cannot submit names from their respective counties because each of the two counties already have senators — Clark Barnes, a Republican from Randolph County and Craig Blair, a Republican from Berkeley County.

Experts pointed out the senatorial political process is being done based on the old District 15, before redistricting, not the new district, which changed shape some during the 2011 redistricting process. The old District 15 included all of Hampshire, Hardy, Morgan, Pendleton, Pocahontas, and Randolph, and part of Berkeley, Grant and Upshur counties. The new District 15 includes all of Hampshire and Morgan and part of Berkeley and Mineral counties.

Isaac Sponaugle, chairman of the Democratic committee in Pendleton County, said his committee has already chosen its two members that will help make up the "bigger" committee.

However in Upshur County, officials have not yet selected their two delegates, according to Donna Mathews, chairwoman of that county's Democratic committee.

Chelsea Ruby, a Tomblin spokeswoman, said counties have 15 days after the Senate vacancy to submit the three finalists' names to the governor. Once he receives the list, she said Tomblin has five days to make the appointment.