Government of West Virginia
The Government of West Virginia is modeled after the Government of the United States, with three branches: the executive, consisting of the Governor of West Virginia and the other elected constitutional officers; the legislative, consisting of the West Virginia Legislature which includes the Senate and the House of Delegates; and the judicial, consisting of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and lower courts.
The capital and seat of government in West Virginia is the city of Charleston, located in the southwest area of the state.
Like all states except Nebraska, West Virginia has a bicameral state legislature, the West Virginia Legislature. The lower house is the West Virginia House of Delegates and the upper house is the Senate. The West Virginia Legislature is a citizen's legislature or part-time legislature.
The West Virginia Constitution imposes a limit of 60 calendar days the length of the regular session. Regular sessions of the Legislature commence on the second Wednesday of January of each year; following the election of a new governor, the session starts in January with the governor's address but then adjourns until February. The session may be extended by concurrent resolution adopted by a two-thirds vote of each house. The governor may also call legislators to convene in special sessions whenever the governor deems one or more issues of state government in need of timely action by the Legislature. The final day of the regular session usually includes last-minute legislation in order to meet a constitutionally-imposed deadline of midnight. Legislators usually do not make it a full-time occupation, but frequently hold a full-time job in their community of residence. This differs from neighboring states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, who have professional full-time legislatures.
The House of Delegates has 100 members. All delegates are elected to two-year terms and are up for election in even-numbered years, elected from 67 districts that elect a varying number of members.
The chief executive of West Virginia is the governor of West Virginia, who is elected to a four-year term at the same time as presidential elections. The governor is sworn in the January following the November election. A governor may only serve two consecutive terms. A governor may run for a third term, but an interceding election must occur. Democrat Jim Justice was elected governor in 2016, defeating Bill Cole in the general election.
In addition to the governor, there are five other directly elected executive offices:
- Secretary of State of West Virginia (currently Republican Mac Warner)
- West Virginia Attorney General (currently Republican Patrick Morrisey)
- West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture (currently Republican Kent Leonhardt)
- Auditor (currently Republican John McCuskey)
- Treasurer (currently Democrat John Perdue)
Regular elections are held concurrently with the election for governor every four years, but unlike the governor these offices have no term limits.
The state trial courts of general jurisdiction are the West Virginia Circuit Courts, There are 31 judicial circuits, each made up of one or more counties, with a total of 70 Circuit Judges. Domestic cases are handled by Family Courts. There are 27 Family Court Circuits with a total of 45 judges. Local judges are elected in partisan elections to serve eight-year terms on a partisan basis. Small claims and misdemeanor case are heard by magistrates elected for four years, with between two and ten in each county, based on population. Magistrates are not lawyers.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is the state supreme court. It purports itself to be the busiest appellate court of its type in the United States, in part because West Virginia is one of only 11 states to not have an intermediate appellate court. (The West Virginia Constitution allows for the creation of an intermediate court of appeals, but the Legislature has never done so.) The Supreme Court of Appeals has five justices. Justices must have practiced law for at least ten years. The five justices are elected in partisan elections to 12-year terms. The current justices are Justice Brent Benjamin, Justice Robin Davis, Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Allen Loughry, and Justice Menis Ketchum. By tradition, the position of "Chief Justice" rotates yearly. It primarily brings extra administrative duties.
From the 1930s through the 1990s, West Virginia's politics were largely dominated by the Democratic Party, and Democrats still dominate most local and state offices. West Virginia also has a very strong tradition of trade union membership.
In presidential elections, the state's electoral votes went to Democratic tradition by supporting Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, who won the state by large margins, but the state's five electoral votes went to George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 (when Bush won by 13 percentage points) and to John McCain in 2008.
The most consistent support for Democrats is found in the coal fields of southern West Virginia (especially McDowell, Mingo, Logan, Wyoming, and Boone counties), while Republicans find greatest success to the east of the Allegheny Mountains, especially in the state's Eastern Panhandle, and in the suburbs near Charleston and Huntington.
Each of the state's 55 counties have a county commission, consisting of three commissioners elected for six years but with terms so arranged that one retires every two years, which is the legislative and fiscal authority. The county commissions were originally called county courts before legal reform stripped the commissions of their judicial powers in 1976. The county commission still retains the judicial function as the probate court, however.
Other officers are the County Clerk, whose primary duties are as recorder of deeds and voter's registrar; and a Circuit Clerk, who records acts of the Family and Circuit courts, both elected for six year terms on a partisan basis; the sheriff, who has law enforcement and tax collection authority; the Prosecuting Attorney, who must be a lawyer and who not only handles criminal cases buy also does the civil litigation for the county; an Assessor (the Constitution provides for a possibility of two, but no county has ever adopted that system), who determines the value of land for tax purposes and a surveyor of lands. All of the non-clerk jobs are elected on a partisan basis for four year terms. The sheriff is term limited to two consecutive terms. In addition, there are boards appointed or elected by various authorities and charged with specific duties. They include the local board of health and the board of jury commissioners.
There is also a Board of Education, which is elected on a non-partisan basis, consisting of five members elected with overlapping terms similar to the county commission.