Recent news out of Charleston concerning a reshuffling of the leadership deck in the state senate may be a little premature according to State Senator H. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, the Senate majority leader. Chafin is a 28-year veteran state senator from William-son who has served as Senate majority leader for more than two decades.

“There is a north-south struggle going on,” Chafin told people gathered for the joint Greater Bluefield, Princeton-Mercer County and Tazewell Area chamber of commerce Legislative Point of View Breakfast. “I’m fiercely loyal to extreme southern West Virginia.”

Chafin briefly explained the highly publicized developments that have developed since former governor Joe Manchin won election to the U.S. Senate. Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, became acting governor, and State Senator Jeffrey V. Kessler D-Marshall started gathering support for a possible run for the position of acting senate president. With the votes of “22 or 23” out of the 34 senators, according to Senator-elect Ron Miller, Kessler was in position to announce a new leadership team more than a week before the start of the session.

Chafin called Kessler’s plan, “totally unconstitutional,” pointing out that the senate would select Tomblin senate president, then at noon on Jan. 12, the Kessler supporters will make a motion to suspend the rules and attempt to take Tomblin’s powers as senate president away from him. “He says he has the votes,” Chafin said. “It was 17-17 for a while.” Chafin said during the breakfast, holding up a sheet of paper with the names of 17 senators on it. “There’s a lot of legal questions to have a senate president and strip him of all of his powers. It’s questionable as to its constitutionality.” Chafin said, adding that the proposed change would go against 150 years of tradition in West Virginia. “It’s strictly a north-south power grab,” he said.

Chafin called on the people attending the breakfast “to help rally the south’s forces,” in an effort to block the change. “We may lose two or four senators to the eastern panhandle,” he said. “There’s a lot on the line folks. A lot on the line. I think it’s paramount.”

State Senator-elect Mark Wills immediately followed Chafin. “It’s not a north-south battle,” Wills said. “It’s a question of separation of power.” Wills explained that Kessler, a classmate of his in the West Virginia University College of Law’s class of 1981, contacted him on Nov. 17, 2010, seeking his support. He didn’t respond right away. “I pondered, I prayed and I contacted him the following day, Nov. 18, 2010. There were others on board who changed their minds later.”

Miller said that he, too, was contacted in November, but he did not make his position public until after the Democratic caucus meeting in December. While he did not discuss the vote in caucus, he said his vote was “not in the majority.” However, he said that he made a commitment to support the majority of the caucus and that majority did not support Chafin.

“Senator Chafin is my friend,” Miller said. “He is still the leader of the south.” Miller said that the majority in the caucus “was not unanimous, but it was positive for the change. I have a philosophical belief in the caucus system,” Miller said.

During the legislative Point of View Breakfast, State Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, said that he did not know how the change would work out, but he said that seniority makes a difference in state government and expressed his support. “We are the southern West Virginia camp,” Moore said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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