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Local legislators hopeful for harmony with GOP supermajority

WHEELING — As members look toward the upcoming West Virginia Legislature, they see a new view that changes the landscape. What they will see is more Republican members, and the GOP now constitutes a “supermajority” in both chambers at the legislature.

This gives GOP caucuses great power to pass most any bill they wish to push this session, and to override any potential gubernatorial veto.

They next must decide how much responsibility they have to Democrats.

When the 100 members of the House of Delegates sit down to the upcoming session, 77 seats will be filled by Republicans and 23 by Democrats.

In the 34-member West Virginia Senate, there will be 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats in the chamber.

“Obviously Republicans have the supermajority in both houses, but that doesn’t mean you do whatever you want, and not include the minority,” said Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke. “We have certain items they may not agree with, but we plan on working with them, and moving forward.

“Being abrasive and just steamrolling your way ahead — that might get you somewhere in terms of your policy. But I don’t think it would be reflective of the state as a whole not including everyone in the discussion. In my opinion, that doesn’t help.”

He said Republicans in the legislature “have not been abrasive in the past.”

“I don’t know why we would start now,” Weld said.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, said lawmakers ideally should be more willing to work together than at any other time.

“If a pandemic cannot make members put away petty politics and put people first, then nothing will,” he said. “We should be ready to work together and I am hopeful that will be the case.

“The legislature has watched as the executive branch has usurped legislative power during the pandemic. That should be incentive for all of us to work together and be on the same page.”

A new legislature means a number of new lawmakers taking seats, according to Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio.

“We have had so many new people elected,” she said. “There are a lot of new faces, and there has been a shift to younger faces.

“I have only met some. I don’t know what to expect. I have no idea.”

She does expect House Republicans to try to push bills making it more possible to establish charter schools and set up educational savings accounts.

“I don’t know what traction these will get,” she said. “I don’t know if there is an appetite in house for that to pass.”

Delegate Phil Diserio, D-Brooke, expressed some skepticism as to whether Republicans and Democrats will move forward together on legislation under a GOP supermajority.

“It would be nice to see people work together — but they (Republicans) don’t have to,” he said. “They have enough votes to do what they want, and to override any vetoes by the governor.”

Diserio said he will study the bills run by Republican leadership to “make sure they have positive effects” for the state. He said he will be reluctant to introduce any legislation of his own until he gets a feel of how leadership will operate.

“If it (legislation) is bipartisan, it might work,” Diserio said.

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, said there has been a kind of divisive attitude in past years at the legislature, and that this “didn’t play very well.”

“I don’t look for there to be a big division, but that doesn’t mean people won’t be loud and have negative reactions to what is being done. But I don’t think it will make much difference.

“We should be able to pass whatever we need to pass.”

The GOP caucus, though doesn’t always vote in step, and he expects there will be some disagreement within the caucus.

Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, seems hopeful there will be harmony at the Capitol this session.

“I don’t think people want to see their legislators go to Charleston and scream at each other, and bicker and fight,” he said. “They expect us to work together, and work alongside our colleagues to create opportunities for everyone.”

Republicans having the supermajority “just changes everything,” said Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel.

“There are very few things the Republican caucus cannot do,” he said. ” I hope and pray we don’t go overboard.

“I don’t think we will. I think the caucus has a plan laid out we need to follow, and we need to work for the good of West Virginia. We’ve lived in the past too long.”

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