GOP picks up 11 seats in WV House of Delegates - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

GOP picks up 11 seats in WV House of Delegates

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West Virginia's 2012 cycle could be a lesson in redistricting.

But whether it's considered a guide for what to do or an outline of what not to do might depend on who is asked.

Kanawha County was long held up by some as an example of how so-called "weaker" delegates could hide in a wide field, with seven members in the former 30th House District.

Redistricting, a long and contentious process in West Virginia after the 2010 Census that involved several lawsuits, redesigned several districts and paved the way for new faces to represent several areas.

"You may remember that I, personally, favor single-member districts," said George Carenbauer, an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson and an election law expert. "I think the district that's interesting to me is not the breakup of the 30th, but rather the multi-member district that is Monongalia County.

"That district consists of five people and was designed by the Legislature to result in five Democrats, but instead it resulted in three Democrats and two Republicans."

Carenbauer said he thinks the record will eventually show that more straight-ticket votes were cast for the Republican Party rather than the Democratic Party.

"The Legislature should consider changing procedure to get rid of straight-ticket voting," he said.

Unofficial results from Election Day show the Republican Party in West Virginia picking up 11 seats in the 100-member House of Delegates for a total number of 46 Republicans to 54 Democrats. The GOP didn't pick up the 16 seats it wanted to become the majority for the first time since 1930, but at least five Democratic incumbents fell to GOP challengers. Republicans picked up four more seats from retiring Democrats.

Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, lost his seat, and Democrats also picked up a Republican-vacated seat in Nicholas County. Republican Joshua Nelson defeated long-time Delegate Larry Barker, D-Boone.

As for the Senate, 17 of the 34 seats in that chamber were up for a vote. Democrats won 11 of those contests, but in the most expensive House race in the entire state, Republican newcomer Bill Cole beat incumbent Mercer County Sen. Mark Wills. Republican Chris Walters picked up an open seat in Putnam County as well.

Tera McKown, a professor at the University of Charleston, said the one lesson to take away from the state's election results is that any time there is more competition for an elected position, democracy will be enhanced.

"It truly does strengthen the republic, because when you have a competitive race, people tend to pay attention," McKown said. "They become more informed, and they tend to own it by going out and voting and then paying attention to what that official does.

"With Bobbi Hatfield and Bonnie Brown being unelected, that is very surprising, because they have been long-time members of the West Virginia Legislature, and again, it's because things got shook up."

Brown was first elected in 1982, and Hatfield was first elected in 1984. Both women served in the old House District 30 in Kanawha County, which had seven members, but was broken up during redistricting into the House 35th and House 36th districts, which have four and three members respectively. In the newly created 35th District, incumbent delegates Doug Skaff, a Democrat, and Republican Eric Nelson held on to their seats and will be joined by two Republican newcomers – Suzette Raines and John McCusky. McKown said in the early '90s, West Virginia saw a similar wave of dissatisfaction with the incumbents.

"That was interesting, because some of the folks who had been there for a long time did get unseated, but that lasted one cycle and they came back in the next cycle," she said. "It's interesting to watch how things change and the cycles they go through."