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Press Release

GOP Wants Parties Out of Judicial Races


From the Charleston Gazette, February 25, 2004, Wednesday
Copyright 2004 Charleston Newspapers

In an unusual move Tuesday, Republicans attempted to force a committee to release a bill that would have removed political affiliations from judicial elections.

"I think this is a very important measure," said House Minority Leader Charles Trump, R-Morgan.

The bill (HB4137) has been securely locked away in the House Judiciary Committee by the majority Democrats. It would allow Supreme Court justices, circuit judges and family court judges to run in non-partisan races, similar to local school boards.

Trump was the first of several GOP delegates to speak on the floor in the attempt to force the committee to discharge the bill. He said the judicial system needs to have "dispassionate, reasonable inquiry."

"I think it's important for the future of this state," he said.

West Virginia is one of only six states to have popular partisan judicial elections. He called on his House colleagues to "lift the judiciary out of the mire of partisan politics."

Delegate Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, called the current system of electing the judiciary a "relic of the past" and said recent polls have shown 72 percent of state residents support the nonpartisan election of judges.

House Judiciary Chairman Jon Amores, D-Kanawha, rejected their arguments, while admitting he has no intention of allowing the legislation out of his committee.

"Our rule is we do not seek to do substantial changes to our election laws in an election year," he said.

The 31 House Republicans had hoped to pick up at least 20 Democratic delegates in order to force the bill to the floor. Only Democratic Delegate Tom Louisos, D-Fayette, rose on the floor to offer the Republicans support, saying he would vote to force the bill's discharge, but would not support the legislation.

In the end, Republicans were only able to garner the support of three Democrats - Louisos, Delegate Eustace Frederick, D-Mercer, and Delegate Ron Thompson, D-Raleigh - in losing 65-34.

Earlier in the floor session, Delegate Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, blasted the insurance industry, saying insurance agents have targeted him in his area.

Thompson, Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne; Sen. Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan; and Sen. Tracy Dempsey, D-Lincoln, are all pictured in a flier being passed around blaming them for high insurance rates in the state. The flier says Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline has identified tort reform as being needed to bring down the high rates.

"Jane Cline has recommended no such insurance law change," said Thompson, a Huntington attorney.

He said the industry is trying to create a crisis atmosphere, pointing to legislation it supports that would allow the firms to cut off people from coverage.

"I predict that will cause an insurance crisis and fill the wallets of those insurance policy writers who regularly try to gouge West Virginians anyway," he said,

Also Tuesday, the House passed a bill (SB524) to bring gubernatorial appointments of the Council for Community and Technical College Education and the Promise Scholarship Board in compliance with a court ruling that lawmakers cannot make appointments, only the governor.