CHARLESTON – While it’s not official, current and incoming Republicans in the West Virginia Senate are uniting behind Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair as the 52nd president.
The Senate Republican Caucus held a conference call Thursday night and unanimously supported Blair, a Republican representing Morgan and Hampshire counties and parts of Berkeley and Mineral counties, as president of the Senate.
The gavel is not Blair’s yet. The Senate Republican Caucus will vote on Dec. 6 and the entire Senate will vote Jan 13. But with 23 Republicans being seated for the 2021 legislative session, they have the votes to install Blair at the president’s podium.
Speaking by phone Friday, Blair said it was important for the caucus to unite behind a leader early so the planning of the legislative session can begin. Blair said he was pleased to have the support of the Republican senators he has worked with, as well as the incoming senators.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Blair said. “Look, it’s never about me. It’s about us and what we do in how we’ll be working for the people of West Virginia to make their lives better and make West Virginia live up to her potential.”
Blair was first elected to the Senate in 2012 and served four terms in the House of Delegates until 2010. After the Republicans took the majority in the Senate in 2014, Blair was made chairman of the Senate Government Organization Committee by former President Bill Cole, a Republican from Mercer County. Blair also was majority whip.
In 2017, President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, made Blair chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, one of the two most powerful committees and the one that helps craft the general revenue budget. Carmichael was defeated in the June 9 Republican primary by Jackson County teacher Amy Grady.
Since Blair became chairman of finance, the budget bill has been completed without the need of an extended session, and this year’s budget has come in above projections for the first four months of the fiscal year.
“I don’t deserve a small fraction of the credit for that,” Blair said. “It’s the House and the Senate and the Governor’s Office all working together in unison to be able to do that. That’s exactly how we got the budget out in three years in a row within the 60-day session, and you can expect some of these types of behaviors to take place in the Senate itself.”
Blair said he was leaving all current leadership in place, including Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, as majority leader; Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, as majority whip and Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, as president pro tempore. Committee chairmen would remain the same, but Finance Committee Vice Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, would take Blair’s place as chairman. Tarr filled in for Blair during the beginning of the 2020 legislative session after Blair was injured in a car wreck.
“After my ordeal that I’ve dealt with this year, he managed that Finance Committee as a partnership with me,” Blair said. “Who would have thought that at that point in time that he was learning everything there is that needed to be done. He was immersed and he did a phenomenal job. Then he was phenomenal at helping us achieve a 23 super majority in the Senate.”
Senate Republicans are still planning their agenda for a legislative session that is likely to look different due to COVID-19. Blair said the goal, as always, is to improve the lives of West Virginians.
“I want people in West Virginia to have nothing but the best and they deserve that,” Blair said. “That’s our Republican agenda item for that matter.”
The 2021 legislative session starts Jan. 13, but recesses until Feb. 10.
Steve Allen Adams can be reached at [email protected].