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Overington honored for 25 years in W.Va. House

November 08, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- She was tied up with family matters, so John Overington's 102-year-old mother was unable to attend a testimonial Sunday honoring her son's record 25 consecutive years as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Overington, 63, a staunch social conservative Republican who represents the 55th District in northern Berkeley County, was first elected in 1984.

At the time, it was the 39th District. It covered parts of Berkeley County and Jefferson counties. He beat John Doyle, a Shepherdstown, W.Va., Democrat, that year and beat him again in 1986.

Overington won four primaries and 12 general elections. He credits his success with never wavering from his conservative ideals and working diligently for his constituents.

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Overington holds three town meetings a year and puts out an annual newsletter at his expense that polls constituents on what they want for legislation.

"It's a way for me to reach out to them," he said. "We don't always agree, but I always listen to them."

The district's boundaries shifted to match the Eastern Panhandle's mushrooming population growth. The 39th District became the 54th District after the 1990 census, when the Jefferson County representation was dropped. Following the 2000 census, it became the 55th District with its current boundaries. It had 18,000 residents in 2000, Overington said. Today, he estimates that number to be closer to 26,000.

The Panhandle expects to add two more delegate districts following the 2010 census, he said.

The banquet room in the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg was filled with about 60 well-wishers, mostly faithful Republicans. But a few Democrats filtered in to offer congratulations, among them Patrick Murphy of Martinsburg, W.Va., a former state delegate who once served in the statehouse with Overington.

Asked to name some of his prouder accomplishments, Overington pointed to bills he introduced and got signed that make it mandatory for all public school students to begin their days in class with the Pledge of Allegiance, a law banning dog fighting, a wiretap bill to aid police investigations, a law allowing state prisoners to work, requiring roll calls when legislators pass bills and tougher animal cruelty laws.

Examples of his conservative views show up in polls that appear in Overington's annual newsletter to his constituents. In one in January 2007, he asked if they favored returning the death penalty to West Virginia, a question that has appeared every year in his newsletters.

"I'm still pushing the death penalty," Overington said. "It's something to work for in the future."

Other issues on which he sought voters' opinions in the 2007 newsletter included the loss of a driver's license for littering; ending total nudity in nightclubs; returning paddling to elementary schools; banning lawsuits against gun manufacturers; allowing deadly force outside the home; increasing the amount in the Homestead Act, which gives property tax breaks to senior citizens; a repeal of the food tax; and allowing border counties to set their own hours when bars must close.

"One of the best things about John is that if you call him, he always answers his phone," said Jerry Mays, emcee for the testimonial. "He's always consistent with certain issues that, if they were adopted, would benefit West Virginia."

Overington's wife, Jo Ann Overington, a Berkeley County magistrate, noted her husband's dedication to residents in his district.

"No one works harder or is more sincere," she said. "John takes calls anytime."

Before e-mail, Overington kept a written journal of every call he received. He still refers to it.

"He's very meticulous. He knows where he stands and votes like he says he will. He never cuts his conservatism short," Jo Ann Overington said.

She also pointed to his work in getting animal-rights legislation passed.

Overington grew up in the middle of a family of four sisters on a ranch in California, said Peggy Weller of Waynesboro, Pa., his younger sister. She said her brother has always been civil in dealings with people, a quality that has served him well over the years.

Overington received congratulatory letters from U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, who noted his "distinguished role in the political process," and his huge impact on Martinsburg and the state. "You have touched the Mountain State with your integrity," he wrote.

In her letter, Overington's mother, Helen, remembered his first election bid and the odds he faced running in a strong Democratic district.

"I thought it would be a temporary job," she wrote. "You made West Virginia a better state and Berkeley County a better place to live."

She said she was 13 when women got the right to vote.

"When you were in school, you were taught to love your country and God. I may be old with old-fashioned ideas, but I'm glad that you have the same ones. Keep up the good work. Love Mom."

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