July 8, 2010 in Nation/World

Byrd replacement put on hold

Governor says he prefers that voters make decision
Michael A. Memoli Tribune Washington bureau

(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin has postponed the appointment of a replacement for the late Sen. Robert Byrd until state officials clarify how soon a special election can be held, a move that leaves Senate Democrats short a potentially critical vote at least until next week.

Manchin said Wednesday he would prefer to allow voters to choose someone to complete Byrd’s unexpired term in an election this fall. Until the state attorney general determines whether he is empowered to call for such a vote, however, Manchin said he would not name a temporary replacement.

The Democratic governor also announced that while he would not appoint himself to the seat, he would strongly consider running in a special election if one occurs this fall. He said he was ready to choose from several “high-caliber” candidates for the interim appointment.

After Byrd’s death June 28, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said that state law called for the appointment of a replacement who would serve until November 2012, when elections would be held both to fill Byrd’s unexpired term, and for a new six-year term beginning in January 2013.

In his announcement postponing the appointment, Manchin said that allowing an unelected appointee to serve for more than two years “doesn’t make sense.”

“I believe in the power of the vote. I believe in the election process,” he said.

Manchin had refused to discuss filling the Senate vacancy until after memorial services honoring Byrd. Democrats in Washington, however, have been eager for a new senator to be named, especially with a vote expected next week on financial regulatory reform legislation that is expected to require 60 votes to overcome a threatened Republican filibuster.

A decision by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to back the bill gave the party more breathing room, however.

Manchin said he spoke with the White House and with Democratic congressional leaders, and understood the importance of making a decision soon. He said he was determined, however, not to rush a decision.

“There’s a process that they understand and respect in West Virginia,” he said. “To just hastily try and do something … to fill a giant’s shoes in Robert C. Byrd, a stickler for the Constitution … would not be a good thing.”

White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said: “West Virginians should decide what process is best for them. But with so many pressing national issues, they should be represented at full capacity as soon as possible.”

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