It should not have come as a surprise to those who have watched West Virginia. Delegate Ryan Ferns that he decided to leave the Democrat Party and become a Republican. His approach of ignoring what party leaders wanted in order to do what he felt was best for West Virginia residents made such a change virtually inevitable.
Ferns, who represents Ohio County in the House of Delegates, formally switched parties last Monday. At the same time, he revealed plans to run for the state Senate seat now held by Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, a Wheeling Democrat.
In his second term as a delegate, Ferns has been a fiscal conservative and a proponent of bipartisanship in the Legislature. Neither trait has endeared him to some Democrat leaders. In fact, he said his independence has "been met with threats and retaliation by leadership within the Democratic Party."
His willingness to face Democrat Party leaders' displeasure was exhibited earlier this year, during the process of picking a new speaker for the House. Democrat Tim Miley of Harrison County won, but Ferns voted for Republican Tim Armstead. At the time, Ferns said he voted against his party's leader because he was upset about outside interests influencing the race for speaker.
Ferns' change seems to be part of a trend in West Virginia, though it has been driven primarily by voters at the polls. They have been chipping away at Democrat dominance of the Legislature, to the point it is entirely possible Republicans may gain control of the House next year. With Ferns' change, the balance in that chamber stands at 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans.
More Republican gains would be good news for West Virginians, because they would move the state toward a true two-party system of government. For decades, Democrats have been in control of the Legislature and sometimes the Governor's Mansion. Often that has meant little real debate over alternatives that could move the state forward.
Ferns' decision to switch to the Republican Party is good news, then, simply because it moves West Virginia a notch closer to the benefits of real two-party government.