Will West Virginia voters have to wait until 2012 to elect Sen. Robert Byrd's replacement? And if so, who should the governor appoint in the meantime? State lawmakers are no closer to answering those basic questions now than they were when news of Byrd's death broke on June 28.
No West Virginia official has yet offered a clear path forward for filling the Senate seat Byrd had held for more than 50 years. West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant concluded after studying the state's election code that Election Day November 2012 — the point at which Byrd's present term would have expired — was the earliest opportunity to hold an election to determine his replacement. In the meantime, Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin — who has expressed interest in mounting a Senate run himself — would be tasked with appointing a temporary successor.
But waiting more than two years to elect a senator doesn't sit well with a lot of people in the state, including the state Republican party, and even Tennant herself.
"As a citizen and an elected official, I want people to have their say as quickly as possible," Tennant said in a video message released July 2. "But I do not have the authority to make the law into whatever I personally prefer it to be."
Gov. Manchin says he intends to keep mum about plans to appoint a successor to Byrd's seat out of respect for the late senator. But he has plenty of surrogates and supporters making the case for him.
In an interview with the Parkersburg News and Sentinel's state Democratic party chairman Larry Puccio said that Manchin is the overwhelming consensus choice among West Virginia democrats. And Manchin supporters, such as the state Chamber of Commerce and state labor leaders, likewise suggest that the governor appoint himself to the seat or move the election up to 2010, Politico reports.
Shortly after Byrd's death, Manchin said he would not be appointing himself. He's well aware that such a move would prompt his detractors to brand him an opportunist. In order to fill out his current term as governor and still have the best shot at winning in 2012, Manchin could appoint a caretaker senator to serve until that year's November balloting.
But with Tennant, Republicans, labor and business leaders and Manchin's Democratic backers all coming out against the caretaker option, the pressure is mounting for Manchin to announce a new plan.