Tomblin is also submitting proposed legislation that would set a special primary on June 20, West Virginia Day. It would change state law that now allows only party conventions for nominating special election candidates.
The Logan County Democrat issued the proclamation after briefly resuming his duties as Senate president. He gaveled in that body’s Friday floor session before returning to the governor’s office. But that did not end criticism over how the Senate is proceeding during the 60-day regular session.
As Senate president, Tomblin began acting as governor under the state constitution on Nov. 15 when Joe Manchin shifted to the U.S. Senate. Tomblin had cited state law to argue that the next gubernatorial election would not be until 2012, when the post is already on the ballot for a full four-year term.
But with more than two years left in Manchin’s term, lawyer Thornton Cooper and West Virginia Citizen Action Group challenged Tomblin’s stance. Tuesday’s unanimous ruling held that Tomblin could act as governor for no more than one year. It required Tomblin to set a special election that would allow the winner to take office by Nov. 15.
Tomblin had also concluded that he should focus on the role of chief executive and set aside his legislative duties. That also spurred debate, over who would lead the Senate in his absence. A majority of senators voted to create the office of acting president. The body then chose Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall and a leading supporter of the rule change, for that post.
Foes of this move question whether it violates the constitution, and hint they might go to court as well. Kessler likens the new office to the chamber’s long-standing post of president pro tempore.
‘‘We’ve never unelected or unappointed the Senate president,’’ Kessler said Friday. ‘‘But he also has the obligation under the constitution to act as governor, and when he’s doing those duties the body here has the ability to establish other officers.’’
Kessler and Tomblin separately cited a footnote in Tuesday’s ruling that said ‘‘the senate president remains the senate president’’ while acting as governor. Before Friday’s floor session, Tomblin had appeared in the Senate chamber only on the session’s opening day, Jan. 12, to take his oath as president.
While he expects to return at times during the session, ‘‘it probably will not be a regular thing,’’ Tomblin told The Associated Press.
Friday’s visit also came after House Speaker Rick Thompson faulted Tomblin for opting to act as governor over continuing as a legislative officer. Senators who support that view and oppose the rule change downplayed the brief appearance.
‘‘Was it merely a photo-op, or was it a step in the right direction?’’ said Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell. ‘‘I think his length at the podium today could be counted in seconds and not minutes.’’
The emerging field of Democratic candidates for governor includes many of the players in these debates, including Tomblin, Thompson, Kessler and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, West Virginia’s chief elections officer.