CHARLES TOWN – Voters on Tuesday sent incumbent Democrats Herb Snyder and Tiffany Lawrence back to new terms in the Legislature, with political newcomers Stephen Skinner and Paul Espinosa set to join them come January.
Snyder, a 59-year-old chemist, captured 11,495 votes — almost 54 percent — compared to 9,806 votes — or 46 percent — for Republican Jim Ruland to win another term as the District 16 representative in the Senate, according to unofficial returns.
Meanwhile in the contests for three seats in the House of Delegates, voters gave a second term to Lawrence over Republican Jill Upson in District 65.
Lawrence, a Democrat from Charles Town who works as the marketing director for United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, finished with 3,538 votes — almost 52 percent —compared to 3,256 votes — almost 48 percent — for Upson, a retail manager who also lives in Charles Town.
This marked Upson’s first run at public office.
Lawrence was the prime target of a wave of last-minute negative attack ads launched by conservative political action committees, including two direct mailers sent by We The People of West Virginia, Jefferson County and the Eastern Panhandle Freedom Fund, as well as a television ad campaign sponsored by GOPAC, a national-level Republican political action committee. The total spending on independent expenditures attacking Lawrence was more than $25,000.
“I was appalled to see the out-of-state money that was being cycled into Jefferson County and the rest of the Eastern Panhandle,” Lawrence said. “In this case, I think good has prevailed. We’ve seen that negativity does not work in our county. The seat could not be purchased with out-of-state money.”
Conservative PACs also spent thousands on attack mailers aimed at other Democrats running for the Legislature.
Skinner, a Jefferson County native educated at West Virginia Wesleyan and at West Virginia University School of Law, won the District 67 seat now held by fellow Democrat John Doyle, who has served continuously since 1992. Eleven months ago, Doyle announced plans to retire.
According to unofficial results, Skinner, who works as a lawyer in Charles Town, took 4,087 votes — or more than 54 percent of the vote — compared to 3,388 votes — or a little more than 45 percent — for Republican Elliot Simon, a travel consultant and business executive whose first try at public office was a failed attempt to unseat Doyle two years ago.
“I am humbled,” Skinner said as he watched election returns come in at the courthouse Tuesday evening. “I am thankful that the citizens of the 67th District were able to hear through all of the noise from the folks from out-of-state who wanted to influence this race.
“I take this trust very seriously. I promise to represent all the people in my district and all of their views. I will always have an open door.”
In the newly created District 66, Frontier Communications general manager Espinosa finished ahead of Democrat John Maxey, who owns the small business Data Direct. Both men were making their first stab at elected office.
Espinosa, a 1980 graduate of Jefferson High School and who holds a degree from West Virginia Wesleyan, served as president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce in 2010. He secured 4,169 votes — or 59 percent — compared to 2,837 votes — or 40 percent — for Maxey, according to unofficial results.
“I am excited and humbled to be elected by my fellow citizens to serve them in Charleston,” Espinosa said. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to represent them to the best of my ability, to work with other members of the local delegation to craft legislation that will be of benefit to Jefferson County and the state as a whole.”
Snyder, first elected to the Statehouse in 1996, is an owner and lab director at Hydro Chem Laboratories. He started his political career in 1990 on the Jefferson County Commission. After two terms in the Senate, he lost in the 2004 primary to former Ranson Mayor Greg Lance but ran again in 2008, narrowly defeating Republican businessman Bob Adams.
The Shenandoah Junction resident and his wife are the parents of six, including son Rod Snyder, currently serving as president of the Young Democrats of America.
Born in Winchester, Va., Snyder graduated from Shepherdstown High School and holds a degree in chemistry and business from what is now Shepherd University.
Along with Democratic Sen. John Unger of Berkeley County, Snyder in recent years has risen to power within the Senate. With Unger as Majority Leader and Snyder as chairman of the Senate Government Organizations Committee, the pair say they can provide the Eastern Panhandle with unprecedented clout in Charleston.
“I just want to continue to serve in a leadership capacity,” Snyder said at the Jefferson County Courthouse Tuesday night. “Senator Unger and I have been there for less than two years now as major leaders in the Legislature. Just give us a little time more than 20 months. The rest of the state is paying attention to what we are doing up here, and we want to continue to foster that.”
Ruland, who has lived in Jefferson County since 1992, served on the Jefferson County Commission from 1997 to 2002. A retired Navy commander, the 71-year-old is a managing partner at RAI Properties, the Eastern Panhandle real estate development company he founded in 2003. The Harpers Ferry resident holds a degree in political science from Iona College and an MBA from Pace University.
Lawrence, a Shepherdstown native, first won election in 2008. The 30-year-old represented West Virginia in the 2007 Miss America pageant. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and political science from Shepherd University and holds an MBA from Shenandoah University.
“I just want to thank my constituents for their support. They’ve proven that they believe in my leadership ability, and I am sincerely humbled,” Lawrence said.
Simon said he was thankful for all the support he received. “I would like to congratulate my opponent on his victory and thank you to everyone who worked so hard on my campaign,” he said.
Maxey, Upson and Ruland were unavailable for comment.