Governor Jim Justice (R) signed SB 275 into law on April 9 which provides guidelines for creating the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals, effective June 30, 2021. Previously, West Virginia’s state courts included a state supreme court of appeals and trial courts with both general and limited jurisdiction.
According to Metro News, a 2009 judicial reform panel recommended the creation of an intermediate court. West Virginia is one of nine states without an intermediate appellate court, and the supreme court of appeals serves as the only appellate court.
As outlined in SB 275, the court will consist of three judges elected to 10-year terms. The first three judges will be appointed, with the first judicial election being held in 2024. These elections will be nonpartisan.
On Feb. 9, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia ruled in favor of Gov. Jim Justice’s (R) appointment to the West Virginia House of Delegates District 19.
On Jan. 22, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee nominated Joshua Booth and two others to replace Rep. Derrick Evans (R), who resigned after being charged with entering a restricted public building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Gov. Justice approved the nomination and formally appointed Booth on Jan. 27.
According to West Virginia law, the executive committee of the political party that holds the seat can submit a list of three candidates to the governor in case of a vacancy. On Jan. 13, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee sent three names to Gov. Justice: Mark Ross, Chad Shaffer, and Jay Marcum.
Justice’s chief of staff, Brian Abraham, told the committee Justice wanted a new list of names because Acting Chairman of the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee Roman Stauffer was not involved in the original nomination process. The second nomination list included Mark Ross, Chad Shaffer, and Joshua Booth. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, after Justice formally appointed Booth on Jan. 27, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee petitioned the state’s court of last resort “to force the governor to choose from the first list of candidates submitted, saying state law doesn’t give the governor discretion to reject the list provided by local party executive committees.” On Feb. 9, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia heard the case and ruled in favor of Gov. Justice. Booth was sworn in the following day.
As of Feb. 11, there have been 23 state legislative vacancies in 18 states this year. Eight of those vacancies have been filled, with 15 vacancies remaining. Booth is one of three Republicans to fill vacancies from 2021.
Starting Jan. 19, all public and private pre-K, elementary, and middle schools in West Virginia were required to resume full-time in-person or hybrid (at least two in-person days every week) instruction, regardless of their county’s coronavirus transmission rates. High schools were still required to close if located in counties the Department of Health and Human Resources classified as red in the County Alert System map.
Schools in areas of New Mexico with lower coronavirus transmission rates were permitted to begin reopening for in-person or hybrid instruction on Jan. 18.
New Mexico and West Virginia had ordered schools closed for in-person instruction since the beginning of January to mitigate holiday virus spread.
The nationwide status of school closures and reopenings is as follows:
• Washington, D.C., had a district-ordered school closure.
• Six states (Calif., Del., Hawaii, N.C., N.M., W.Va.) had state-ordered regional school closures, required closures for certain grade levels, or allowed hybrid instruction only.
• Four states (Ark., Fla, Iowa, Texas) had state-ordered in-person instruction.
• Forty states left decisions to schools or districts.
Ballotpedia has identified three state legislators who switched their party affiliation in December. One switched from Democrat to independent, one from Republican to Libertarian, and one from Democrat to Republican.
• On Dec. 7, Georgia Rep. Valencia Stovall announced that she was leaving the Democratic Party to join the Independent party. In a Facebook post, Stovall cited misleading, disruptive behavior from both parties during the Nov. 3, 2020 election as her reasons for switching.
• On Dec. 11, West Virginia Rep. Jason Barrett announced that he was leaving the Democratic Party to join the Republican Party. After changing his party affiliation at the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, Barrett said, “For me to be able to be the most effective legislator I can be and really move good policy forward in West Virginia, I think that joining the Republican Party in West Virginia is a way to do that.”
• On Dec. 14, Maine Rep. John Andrews announced that he was leaving the Republican Party and joining the Libertarian Party of Maine. In a Facebook post on Dec. 12, Andrews cited House minority leader Kathleen Jackson Dillingham as his reason for leaving the party, saying, “My leaving the Republican party is a direct reflection of Kathleen Dillingham’s lack of leadership and vindictive nature. The House GOP is in severe lack of leadership.”
Ballotpedia also identified two state legislators—David Tomassoni and Thomas Bakk—who switched their partisan affiliation In November. Both are Minnesota state senators who left the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party to form an independent caucus. Both senators cited extreme partisanship at the national and state level and a desire to work across the aisle.
Since 1994, Ballotpedia has identified 131 legislators—37 state senators and 94 state representatives—who switched parties. Seventy-two switched from Democrat to Republican, 19 switched from Republican to Democrat, and the remainder switched to or from independent or other parties.
The map below shows the number of party switches by state. The most party switches took place in Mississippi, which had 15 state legislators switch parties since 1994. Thirteen Democrats switched to the Republican party, and two Democrats became independents.
On Oct. 3, Delegate John Mandt Jr. (R) resigned from the West Virginia House of Delegates. He announced his resignation following accusations that he made discriminatory social media posts against gay people and Muslims.
As reported by Cumberland Times-News, Mandt responded to the accusations in a deleted Facebook post: “Everything electronic can be fabricated. It’s by design, my family, my business are being attacked.” On the night of his resignation, the West Virginia House of Delegates issued a statement in which Mandt said, “Right now, my focus and priority needs to be on my family and business, and feel it is best at this time to terminate my campaign and make room (for) other individuals to serve the state.” Mandt was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 2018.
Heading into the general election, the partisan composition of the West Virginia House of Delegates is 57 Republicans, 41 Democrats, one independent, and one vacancy. West Virginia has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.
Three West Virginia Supreme Court seats were up for nonpartisan election on June 9. The general election for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, along with West Virginia’s statewide primary election, was originally scheduled for May 12. Governor Jim Justice (R) postponed the election in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Two incumbent justices were seeking re-election while one justice did not seek re-election. Receiving 41% of the vote, incumbent Justice Tim Armstead defeated Richard Neely and David W. Hummel Jr. Incumbent Justice John A. Hutchison defeated Lora Dyer and William Schwartz with 39.2% of the vote.
Incumbent Margaret Workman did not seek re-election. William Wooton, a former Democratic member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, won the seat with 31% of the vote. He defeated Joanna I. Tabit, Kris Raynes, and Jim Douglas. Wooton will take office in January 2021.
As of May 2020, three judges on the court were appointed by a Republican governor, while two were first elected in partisan elections, one as a Democrat, and one as a Republican.
Gov. Jim Justice defeated former Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher, former state Del. Mike Folk, and four others to win the Republican nomination for governor in West Virginia. As of 8:33 p.m. Eastern Time, Justice had received 66% of the vote to Thrasher’s 18% and Folk’s 9% with 8% of precincts reporting. None of the remaining candidates received over 5% of the vote.
Justice was first elected governor as a Democrat in 2016, defeating Bill Cole (R), 49% to 42%. He switched parties to become a Republican the following year. Justice is the sixth incumbent Republican governor to seek re-election in West Virginia’s history.
The race featured a high level of self-financing. According to campaign finance reports, Justice contributed $1.5 million to his campaign. Thrasher and Folk contributed roughly $3.4 million and $261,000 to their campaigns, respectively.
Justice was endorsed by President Donald Trump (R). In 2016, Trump won 68.6% of the vote in West Virginia, his largest vote share in any state in that presidential election.
Justice will face the winner of the Democratic primary in the November general election.
Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango defeated Douglas Hughes, Jody Murphy, Stephen Smith, and state Sen. Ron Stollings to win the Democratic primary for governor in West Virginia. As of 11:30 p.m. ET, Salango had received 39% of the vote. Smith was second with 33% and Stollings was third with 14%. No other candidate received more than 10% of the vote.
Salango served on the Kanawha County Commission since 2017. He said his record included creating union jobs, securing paid family leave, and helping seniors get hot meals. He said his priorities as governor would include education, job creation, healthcare, and addressing the opioid issue.
Democrats have won every gubernatorial election in West Virginia since 2000.
Salango will face incumbent Gov. Jim Justice (R) in the general election. Justice was elected in 2016 as a Democrat before switching to the Republican Party in 2017.