West Virginia is on the brink of enjoying a true two-party system of government. After decades in which the Capitol was run by Democrats, with an occasional Republican governor thrown in for appearances, things are changing.
Competition improves virtually everything, and government is no exception. Look around at states dominated for many years by one party, then at those where the balance of power tilts back and forth from Democrat to Republican. Those with true two-party government tend to be more prosperous.
Last month I noted the Republican Party seemed to be gaining strength in our state. That wasn't mere speculation, as the general election proved recently.
Once those elected take office in January, the state House of Delegates will have 44 Republican members. Though the 56 Democrats technically will hold power officially, that's quite a gain for the GOP. And remember, many of those House Democrats are conservative enough they'd be Republicans in most other states.
Democrats will remain in firm control of the state Senate. But seven GOP Senate candidates won. There are only six Republicans in the Senate now. Add those winners to GOP senators now up for re-election and, by my count, there should be 10 from that party and 24 Democrats.
Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin won, but with slightly less than half the vote (49.97 percent). Republican challenger Bill Maloney managed to garner 46.05 percent of the vote (the remainder went to Mountain and Libertarian Party candidates). Look at Maloney's feat this way: For a Republican who had no exposure to politics just two years ago, he did quite well.
Also, Mountain State voters put another Republican, Allen Loughry, on the state Supreme Court. That, with Justice Brent Benjamin, makes two Republicans on the five-member court. And think about this: Two seats on the court were on the ballot. Incumbent Justice Robin Davis won one, with Loughry taking the other. But Letitia Chafin, the other Democrat running, came in fourth, behind Republican John Yoder.
Two incumbent members of the House of Representatives, David McKinley of the 1st District and Shelley Capito of the 2nd, won re-election handily. So did a Democrat, Nick Rahall of the 3rd District - but his Republican challenger, Rick Snuffer, finished less than 10 points behind him. Rahall once owned the 3rd District. Yet during the past five elections, his margin of victory has declined steadily.
Finally, one of the most powerful Democrats to hold office in West Virginia for many years, Attorney General Darrell McGraw, was beaten. Come January, Republican Patrick Morrisey will take his place.
Population shifts explain part of what's happening. As I've noted a couple of times during the past year, the Eastern Panhandle may well become the most politically powerful region in the state soon. And it is chock-full of Republicans.
The Democrat Party's stronghold in southern West Virginia is losing people. Rahall's 3rd Congressional District is growing smaller - and it is growing less loyal to the Democrat Party. Again, look at the change in Rahall's power.
In 2004, Rahall won re-election with nearly two-thirds of the vote. He tallied 142,682 votes to Republican opponent Rick Snuffer's 76,170.
Yes, that Rick Snuffer - the same one who received 55,031 votes to Rahall's 65,514.
Here in northern West Virginia, we understand that kind of shift. The 1st Congressional District once was a possession of the Mollohan family - Robert, then Alan. No more.
Republicans made the most impressive gains during recent memory in this year's election. West Virginia truly is moving toward being a two-party state - and that can only be good for us.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org