CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, sworn in Sunday as the Mountain State's 35th chief executive, pledged to keep a tight rein on government finances and to champion the state's coal industry, stances he credits for his close October special election win.
Tomblin, a Democrat who had been acting governor since last Nov. 15, made the pledges during an afternoon inauguration ceremony.
The 59-year-old became acting governor after Democrat Joe Manchin stepped down to become a U.S. senator. The state constitution had Tomblin, as Senate president, fill in during the vacancy. The state Supreme Court subsequently required the Oct. 4 special election to resolve legal challenges arising from the state's succession process.
The Logan County native took the oath of office in private once the Legislature met in special session to declare him the victor, and once he had resigned as Senate president, a post he had occupied for a record 17 years. He'd served in the Senate since 1980.
Tomblin then took the oath again in front of a crowd of about 1,000 during an hour-long ceremony on the state Capitol's south steps and plaza. The warm, breezy and nearly cloudless weather was unusual for a gubernatorial inauguration, traditionally held in mid-January.
Tomblin cited his years in state government in telling the crowd that his goal has always been to put West Virginia first. He pointed to a number of recent successes, including a general revenue budget surplus, improved Wall Street credit ratings, scheduled tax cuts and new jobs courtesy of national employers Amazon.com Inc. and Macy's Inc. Tomblin promised to continue the policies that yielded them.
"My priorities remain clear and steadfast," he said.
Manchin helped introduce Tomblin at the ceremony and heralded him as the right leader to build upon the state's progress. Others on hand included U.S. Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, a 2nd District Republican, and 3rd District Democrat Nick Rahall, as well as former Gov. Bob Wise, now president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman administered the public oath.
The contingent from Logan County included Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., winner of this fall's "America's Got Talent" television competition. Landau sang the national anthem and "Amazing Grace" during the ceremony.
About two dozen demonstrators protested the ceremony from a lawn alongside the plaza. Most held signs targeting the mountaintop removal method of surface mining. They turned their backs when Tomblin took the oath and then began chanting, but they were largely drowned out during the cannon salute that followed.
Several protesters also heckled Tomblin during his 15-minute address, particularly when he vowed to defend the state's energy industries and to "fight for our state's coal industry, the backbone of our economy." This continued when Tomblin decried "efforts by the EPA and others to stop production of the most efficient fuel our country knows."
David Means, 73, and his wife drove from neighboring Putnam County to see Tomblin take the oath. The Navy veteran and retired chemical plant worker said he strongly supported Manchin during his term and a half, and believes Tomblin shares his predecessor's approach to governing the state.
"I think he has the same philosophy that Joe has, and I think that Joe was a pretty good governor," Means said. "At least we're in the black, not the red."
Tomblin received just less than 50 percent of the vote in last month's special election, where turnout neared 25 percent of registered voters. He bested the GOP nominee, Morgantown businessman Bill Maloney, by less than 7,050 votes in a field that included six other candidates.
The governor's office returns to the ballot in 2012, and so Tomblin must soon resuming campaigning for a shot at a full, four-year term. The state Senate must also choose a new president and is slated to return Monday evening. A Democratic committee in Tombin's Senate district, meanwhile, will meet Monday to recommend potential successors to that seat.
Those actions represent what should be the final political dominoes to fall in the chain reaction triggered by the June 2010 death of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. The Democrat was history's longest-serving member of Congress when he died at age 92. Manchin won the eventual special election to complete Byrd's term, creating the vacancy that Tomblin has since filled.