Snyder to head W.Va. Senate panel

January 06, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

State Sen. Herb Snyder has been tapped to chair one of the Senate’s four most powerful committees, joining fellow 16th district Sen. John Unger in landing a top leadership job in the upcoming Legislature.

When the first regular session begins next week, Snyder is expected to chair the Government Organization Committee. Unger was named Senate Majority Leader on Tuesday by State Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, who is expected to oversee the Senate as the chamber’s acting president.

“That’s pretty big for the little Eastern Panhandle as far away as we are from Charleston,” said Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, of the appointments.

Unger replaces Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, as majority leader and Snyder, who served as vice chair of Government Organization for two years, replaces Sen. Edwin Bowman, D-Hancock, who did not run for re-election last year.

With the rise in power comes a lot of responsibility and Snyder said he and Unger, who have served a combined 22 years in the Senate, are ready to play a larger role in managing state government.

In addition to monitoring the performance of dozens of state agencies, boards and commissions, the Government Organization Committee is the screen for legislation proposing more local control for counties and municipalities or changes such as the creation of the five-member Berkeley County Council, Snyder said.

“This is important to us, locally,” Snyder said.

As majority leader, Unger is expected to work with all of the Senate committee chairs and will be responsible for day-to-day management of Senate floor sessions, serve as chief policy strategist and help Kessler carry out the new leader’s vision.  

Describing the shake-up as the largest Senate leadership change in 20 years, Snyder said Kessler, who is from the Northern Panhandle, understands the feeling of being treated like a “red-headed stepchild” in the Legislature.

While the Eastern Panhandle gained power, Snyder said Kessler assembled a leadership team in the Senate that is still more spread out across the state than the previous group.

Snyder and Unger’s appointments come as Kessler is poised to become acting Senate president while President Earl Ray Tomblin remains acting governor. Tomblin, of Logan County, took over as chief executive from now-U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who was elected to his new office in November.

Manchin’s election sparked the leadership shake-up and ultimately left the 34-member Senate divided with factions supporting Kessler and Chafin.  

Unger said Tuesday that both sides considered him for the majority leader post and he also indicated that his appointment was reflective of kind of a consensus reached among the chamber’s 28 Democrats.

“(Kessler) didn’t do it alone,” said Unger, who is set to become the first Eastern Panhandle lawmaker to rise to a top leadership post in the state Senate since the late Sen. Clarence E. Martin Jr. of Martinsburg. Martin also served as majority leader before leaving office in 1970 after 20 years in the Senate.

While three of the four major committee heads appointed by Kessler are new, only Finance Committee chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, was ousted in the leadership shake-up.

Sen. Roman Prezioso of Marion County, instead of Helmick, is expected to head the powerful Senate Finance Committee along with Sen. Doug Facemire of Braxton County.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, was picked to chair the Judiciary Committee, which is post that Kessler has held. Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, will remain at the head of that major committee.

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