Fortunately, those who framed the United States Constitution had significant wisdom, recognizing that a separation and balance of powers was necessary to effectively govern. Hence, the model for executive, judiciary, and legislative branches of government was formed, allowing each division to perform specific roles, independent of each other.
When Joe Manchin vacated his position as West Virginia’s governor two years early, this created a unique situation in which the state Senate president became “acting governor.” Unfortunately, the West Virginia Constitution is somewhat ambiguous as to who then assumes the Senate president’s authority and responsibility.
Some legislators contend the acting governor should also retain his position as Senate president. However, one doesn’t have to be a constitutional scholar to recognize potential conflicts of interest and possible problems associated with compromising a separation of powers.
It is my position, along with a majority of my colleagues, that it is inappropriate for the acting governor to also maintain the Senate’s chief leadership position. Because the president designates committee chairs and vice chairs, in addition to prioritizing what legislation is considered by the body, the executive branch should have no direct influence on these matters.
Additionally, should the acting governor maintain dual power, any Senate decisions made during his tenure could be later nullified as unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, wasting significant time and public expense.
With the state Legislature drifting on uncharted waters, the establishment of an “acting Senate president” was the proper course of action to ensure a separation of powers. The 2011 regular legislative session is now underway, and there are many issues that must be addressed, without the distraction of further power struggles.
It has been suggested that the “Senate is in shambles.” To the contrary, I believe senators have done their duty by designating an acting Senate president, in turn preserving the chamber’s integrity and independence.