SHEPHERDSTOWN — President Obama’s unpopularity is one reason for the historic shift in the Legislature that saw Republicans pull to near parity with Democrats, said Delegate John Doyle, who retires this year after serving 22 years in the House of Delegates.
Republicans gained 11 seats in the 100-member House, bringing their total membership to 46. While that is still less than the Democrats’ 54 members, power in the House is now more evenly divided that at any time since the mid-1940s, and Republicans hold more seats than they have since 1930.
While the governor’s seat remains blue and the state Senate stays under firm Democratic control, the shakeup will likely give Republican concerns a greater airing at the very least.
“President Obama being on the ticket hurt a number of Democrats throughout the state,” Doyle said. “When you have a presidential candidate who is a drag on the ticket – no matter what state, what situation, what party – they can say, ‘A vote for so-and-so is a vote for [the president],’” said Doyle, who called Obama’s unpopularity a “bum rap” led by the coal industry.
Doyle, who said Democrats made strategic missteps during the redistricting process that wound up costing his caucus at least three seats, noted also that Republicans caught Democrats flat-footed in the 2012 election cycle.
“What happened is that the Republican Party made a concerted attempt to take as many seats as possible, which was not anywhere near matched in intensity by the Democratic Party to defend the seats,” he said. “It was just a lot more effort on the part of Republicans.”
Doyle said Democrats failed to engineer the redistricting process to ensure victories in multi-member districts in Kanawha County and in Morgantown. “There are three seats in particular that, had the Democrats listened to a number of us, the seats would have remained Democratic.”
The seats Doyle refers to are those formerly held by 30-year Kanawha County incumbents Bonnie Brown and Bobbi Hatfield that will be represented by three Republicans and one Democrat, and a new seat near Morgantown that was captured by Republican newcomer Cindy Frich.
In Kanawha, Democrats opted to split a seven-member district into a four-member and a three-member district and rejected an alternate plan that would have split the districts in to one three- and two two-member districts.
That move was a mistake for his party, Doyle said.
“The people that would have been eliminated in a 2-2-3 would have been Republicans, and [Democrats] would have been re-elected,” he said.
In Monongalia County, the situation was similar because Democrats chose to add an additional at-large seat to a four-member district rather than isolating conservative areas in a district to be given to the incumbent Republican.
Still, Doyle said he thinks it is a stretch to think that Republicans might be able to form a stable coalition with right-leaning Democrats to form an effective majority. A more likely scenario would be one that sees Republicans gaining some Democratic support on certain mainstream issues.
This could mean that some conservative proposals that have traditionally been blocked in the Legislature might see the light of day.
“You might get some support for tweaking how the prevailing wage is done so it is fairer to the Eastern Panhandle, but they will not be able to get the votes to eliminate prevailing wage entirely,” Doyle said, referring to a proposal to reduce the current wages paid on government-contracted construction projects.
Doyle says that another perennial proposal from the Republican caucus – the so-called “Right-to-Work” law, which would ban agreements between unions and employers requiring newly hired workers to unionize – is unlikely to move forward.
“Nothing will happen on Right to Work. They cannot pass Right to Work. It would be dead on arrival in the Senate.”