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Former legislators stay busy back home

WHEELING — Former West Virginia Sen. Ed Bowman had a drive for state politics he hoped would take him to the Senate president’s podium — but a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Charleston also took him away from family.

Time away from loved ones and a lengthy travel to the Capitol can take their toll on veteran legislators, and some local lawmakers have opted over the years to find other opportunities to serve the public closer to home. Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, announced earlier this month he won’t seek another term in the Legislature, but instead will run for a seat on the Marshall County Commission.

In doing so, he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Bowman and other former legislators who sought office or took jobs closer to home after serving their time in Charleston.

Bowman, D-Hancock, served 16 years in the Senate. He was first elected in 1994, but chose not to seek re-election in 2010.

“It was a difficult decision to make,” he said. “I enjoyed the action, the fast pace, the debate and working on issues in Charleston. But I never did like being away from my family. And as a member of leadership, I had to be in Charleston even more.”

Bowman was chairman of the Senate Government Organization Committee. He and his wife, Kathy, recently celebrated their 50th anniversary.

“Yes, I miss the people in Charleston,” he said. “But at the same time, I am extremely content. And I like spending time with my grandsons.”

After leaving the Senate, Bowman took a job as field representative for former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. He continues to hold the same job under Gov. Jim Justice, even though Justice recently changed his political affiliation from Democrat to Republican and has dismissed some staff with strong ties to Democrats.

“Yes, unless he tells me differently, I’m going to stay on,” Bowman said. “He has asked me to remain on.”

Bowman jokingly said there was one other reason he chose to leave Charleston and remain in the Northern Panhandle.

“I missed (former Sen.) Andy McKenzie,” he said. “I wanted to come back home because I missed him.”

McKenzie, a Republican from Ohio County, left the Senate in 2008, when he was elected mayor of Wheeling. He was first elected to the Legislature in 1996 at the age of 26, and remains the youngest member ever elected to the Senate.

“I don’t miss Charleston at all,” McKenzie said. “I was there 12 years, and it was a wonderful 12 years. I had just turned 26 when I was elected, and it was a great learning experience. The way I saw it, I went from having a great opportunity to having another great opportunity.”

McKenzie won his first term as Wheeling mayor in the spring of 2008, and continued to serve out his Senate term through the end of the year. He was re-elected mayor in 2012, and was term-limited by the city charter in 2016.

McKenzie had three young sons while serving as mayor, and he said choosing not to continue serving in Charleston allowed him to stay closer to home. He also works as a financial advisor.

“When I considered family, work and a great opportunity to serve as mayor — it all made for an easy decision,” he said. “In the Senate, I was one of 134 legislators. As mayor, you are one of one.”

McKenzie said he established a close relationship with Bowman while in the Senate, and the two continue to talk on a regular basis.

“I was very fortunate to have other legislators like Ed Bowman to be my mentor,” McKenzie said. “Ed was mayor of Weirton before he came to the Senate, and I became a mayor after I left the Senate. As a senator, I looked to him for a lot of reasons. And he taught me how to be a great mayor.”

Former House of Delegates member Tim Ennis, D-Brooke, was first elected to serve in Charleston in 1994. He served there until 2012, when he was appointed to the Brooke County commission seat left vacant upon the death of Bernie Kazienko.

Ennis successfully ran for election to the unexpired term that year, and was re-elected in 2016.

“You want to serve where you think you can be the most effective,” Ennis said. “After 17 years at the Legislature, I had had enough of that.”

He said he disliked being away from home and family, and missing events such as birthdays.

“It was time to do something else,” Ennis said. “I was appointed commissioner, and I really like doing it. I get to be home and closer to family.”

Ennis worked as a bus driver for Brooke County Schools while serving in the Legislature. Today he is retired, but still gets called out to drive most school days.

Orphy Klempa represented Ohio County as a Democrat in the House of Delegates from 2006 to 2010, then went on to serve the next two years in the Senate. Klempa came home to Wheeling in 2012 after being appointed to the Ohio County Commission seat vacated when David Sims was named a circuit court judge.

Klempa acknowledges he sometimes misses the Capitol.

“I have my moments.” he said. “It’s like anything you do. It has its low points and high points — but most of the time not so much. It was interesting being part of that process. But I’m happy where I’m at.”

Klempa said it had always been his aspiration to serve not in state government but in local government.

“I was always interested in a position like serving on the county commission, and dealing with things on the local level,” he said. “You have direct contact with constituents, and can solve problems. In Charleston, you had to convince the majority of those in the House and Senate if you had a good idea. Then it would go on to the governor. This all could take three years or more.”

But now if he gets a call from a constituent, the matter can be resolved “in a matter of days, “ according to Klempa.

“This is a more gratifying position because of how effective you can be more quickly,” he said.

Klempa served as a business representative for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters while in the Legislature, but is now retired.

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