By Mannix Porterfield
For the Daily Telegraph
CHARLESTON — Handed the gavel for another two years, Senate President Jeffrey Kessler promised his colleagues in Wednesday’s launch of the 2013 session that “the best is yet to come.”
Kessler won the presidency on a 23-8 vote strictly down party lines, snuffing out a token challenge by Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, then vowed to work across the aisle to move West Virginia forward.
“I’m convinced that the best days of this Senate and the best days of this state are in front of us,” Kessler, D-Marshall, said.
Kessler ran through a litany of tough issues in recent years — from the Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) debt to workers compensation — and said it was the Senate that took charge to find solutions.
“It has been the Senate truthfully that has stepped to the forefront, stepped to the plate, looked for the solutions, put their nose to the grindstone and got the work done for the betterment of this state, across party lines,” he said.
Kessler acknowledged that some difficult days are ahead, given the unstable economy and budgetary constraints.
“But the best is yet to come,” he said, pledging the Senate would take the lead to overcome the obstacles.
Again, he said both parties need to come together to resolve the challenges.
“We don’t have Democrat problems, or Republican problems,” the former prosecuting attorney said.
“We have West Virginia problems and I intend to solve them and work with you to solve them in that fashion in the future.”
Kessler promised to maintain an open-door policy that seeks input from all members, reaching across any ideological divides.
“I will strive for perfection, but I hope that you recognize that this is not possible, either in my own performance or in the legislation that we may put forth out of this body,” he said. “But we can always strive for that.”
Kessler said the chamber must come to grips with prison overcrowding, balancing the budget (a constitutional mandate), and education reform.
“I’m comfortable and I’m confident that we will not only face those challenges,” he said.
“We will find solutions that will change this state positively so that future generations, quite frankly, will remember what we did because it will change this state for the better and forever.”
Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, in his nominating remarks, recognized the “truly unique times in our state and nation,” given massive debts and shortfalls in general revenues.
He praised Kessler as “a proven leader in difficult times” and said he is up to the hard tasks this winter.
Kessler was appointed as a senator in 1997 by former Gov. Cecil H. Underwood and served as judiciary chairman before he won the Senate presidency.
Kessler has put aside his party’s platform and the special interest groups to do what is right in previous challenges, Prezioso said.
“His leadership style is inclusive and transparent,” the finance leader said.
Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, called him “a stable force leading this body with integrity and fairness.”
In seconding Hall’s nomination, freshman Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the senator “leads through strength of character, conviction and quiet determination.”
“He adheres to the noble principle that progress on behalf of the citizens of West Virginia will be unlimited and our accomplishments as numerous as the stars when credit is equally shared and all our constituents are valued,” he said.
Senators named Sen. Joseph Minard, D-Harrison, as clerk, succeeding Darrell Holmes after 22 years in the post. Howard Wellman was re-installed as sergeant-at-arms, and Tony Gallo was re-elected as doorkeeper, both in unanimous votes.
Lawmakers return Feb. 13 to begin the new session in earnest, then recess for that night’s delivery of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s State of the State address.