With the death of Robert C. Byrd, the Senate’s longest-serving Senator, West Virginia now has a seat open on the US Senate. Governor Joe Manchin has appointed Carte Goodwin, the state’s former chief counsel, to fill the seat until another election is held. Goodwin will be following in the footsteps of one of the state’s most beloved public servants. Byrd, who fought his way up to the Senate after a childhood of poverty, became the only individual ever to earn a law degree while in Congress. Byrd fought endlessly to ensure that poverty-stricken West Virginia was not forgotten during the law-making process.
Byrd’s reputation will be very difficult to follow. Despite an early membership in the Ku Klux Klan, Byrd did such a good job representing the West Virginia voters’ interests that they elected him to both the House and Senate of the state legislature and both Congressional houses. Byrd was originally what might be considered a radical conservative. As his views became more moderate, however, his political career advanced. One of his last actions was to support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Gay and lesbian activists believe that Byrd’s support of the repeal sent a strong message to rather morally conservative West Virginia that it is okay to support gay and lesbian friends and relatives.
In 2008, Goodwin worked with Governor Manchin to help kill a state constitutional amendment that would have limited marriage to the traditional “one man, one woman” pushed by conservative Christian family organizations. However, there is a question as to how long Goodwin will hold the Senate seat. While Manchin is pushing for an election in November of 2010, the West Virginia Secretary of State, Natalie Tennant, has indicated that she will not approve an election until 2012. As a result, Manchin is preparing to ask the Legislature to bring about a motion for a special vote this fall.
If this seems like a lot of controversy over a Senate seat that will not be held for the long term, it is. Consider the political ramifications of a November 2010 election. The most likely GOP candidate would be a female candidate, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, who does not support gay and lesbian rights. Capito voted against nearly every gay-friendly bill over the last few years, finally voting for approval on the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act only because it was attached to a defense funding bill. Since Goodwin has already indicated it is very unlikely he will run for Byrd’s seat in an election, who would run against Capito?
The answer is that Governor Manchin has had his eye on the Byrd seat for quite some time. Although Manchin would not appoint himself to fill the temporary opening, he is surely interested in an open election, as soon as possible. West Virginia’s electoral dates will have national significance. If an election is held in 2010 to fill Byrd’s term, the regular election will still be held in 2012. This would give Manchin two shots at getting elected to Byrd’s seat, and would help maintain the Democratic numbers in Congress. Right now, Democrats have a 48 to 51 lead in congress, but every Democratic seat will count as we approach a new political term. One thing is for certain, both Democratic and Republic eyes will be on this next West Virginia election! Byrd will be sorely missed by his constituents.
Huffington Post (2010) Carte Goodwin appointed to fill Robert Byrd’s West Virginia Senate seat. July 17, 2010 Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/16/carte-goodwin-west-virgin_n_648886.html
Rudolph, D. (2010) Election unlikely for Byrd replacement. July 1, 2010. The Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved from http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=4894
Holley, J. (2010) Sen. Robert Byrd dead at 92; West Virginia lawmaker was the longest serving member of Congress in history . June 28, 2010. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/28/AR2010062801241.html