Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Is a State Senate Seat in Cindy Frich's Future?

The filing period for next year's legislative races is four months away, but the candidate recruitment on both sides of the aisle has been in full gear since the day after last year's election. Five seats now separate Republicans (who had been reduced to 1 seat after the 1990 election and as recently as after the 2000 election, had only 6 seats) from their first majority in the state Senate in 74 years.

In recruiting state Senate candidates, one always looks to sitting members of the House of Delegates from the senatorial district. Of the 13 current Republican state senators, former House of Delegates members include Frank Deem, Karen Facemeyer, Vic Sprouse, Steve Harrison, and Don Caruth. Several of next year's GOP senatorial candidates will likely come from the House of Delegates.

State Senator Mike Oliverio, D-MonongaliaOne of the state Senate seats that had been considered a longer shot for the GOP next year was the 13th District (parts of Marion & Monongalia counties) seat occupied by 3-term state Senator Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia. Given the actions taken during the most recent special session, one now has to wonder: Has Oliverio become vulnerable? I think so and there is a candidate who could defeat him, if she runs.

Delegate Cindy Frich, R-MonongaliaEnter Delegate Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia. Frich is now serving her second term in the House of Delegates, where she has been an outspoken supporter of lower taxes, comprehensive tax reform, civil justice reform, property rights, WVU, and the right to life. Frich and her family have long been involved in local politics.

Two issues considered during this month's special legislative session have made a Frich for Senate candidacy viable next year: taxes and eminent domain. On both issues, Republican legislators offered proposals the Ruling Party's leadership shot down on party-line votes. And on both issues, Mike Oliverio was right there thwarting common sense proposals from the mainstream of public opinion.

On the food tax, the Legislature ceded to the Governor the power to determine by how much the food tax was reduced and passed a meager 1% reduction. On the House floor, Frich proposed an amendment to HB 401 for a complete phase-out of the food tax. The Speaker ruled all amendments expanding the scope of food tax relief out of order despite an advisory opinion from the state Supreme Court to the contrary; only 1 Democrat, Delegate Tom Louisos, D-Fayette, joined the 32 Republicans in supporting the right of Frich and others to offer their amendments.

See my earlier post today for more on the eminent domain issue.

While Frich is only halfway through her second term and Republicans are still a significant (but growing) minority in the House of Delegates, she has been a very active legislator, sponsoring or co-sponsoring 38 bills, 6 joint resolutions proposing amendments to the state constitution, and 34 other resolutions in this year's regular session. Click here to search 2005 regular session bills by sponsor and here for resolutions by sponsor; in both cases, you will need to scroll down and select Delegate Frich.

Highlights of the bills Frich sponsored this year include:

  • HB 2133, phasing out the food tax (4% in 2005, 2% in 2006, and 0 in 2007).
  • HB 2331, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, the Senate version of which was passed and became law
  • HB 2358, reducing the corporate income tax rate from 9% to 6%; WV has one of the highest corporate income tax rates in the country
  • HB 2445, comprehensive state tax reform, implementing the proposal of the Governor's Commission on Fair Taxation
  • HB 2479, simplifying the process of reciprocity between states on concealed handgun permits; our state's procedure is currently so unworkable that West Virginia only has concealed carry reciprocity with Kentucky and Virginia even though 37 other states have "shall issue" concealed carry permit laws similar to West Virginia's (see for more info on this issue)
  • HB 2562, exempting Social Security benefits from state income taxes
  • HB 2917, phasing out the business franchise tax
  • HB 3148, abolishing the food tax and offsetting with a new tax on slot machine wagers
  • HB 3330, implementing the Academic Bill of Rights in state institutions of higher education
  • HJR 7, amending the state constitution to double the property tax Homestead Exemption for senior citizens & the disabled ($20,000 to $40,000)
  • HJR 8, imposing a moratorium on the expansion of gambling
  • HJR 12, requiring a 2/3 vote of both houses of the Legislature to raise taxes

I want to comment here a bit about Senator Oliverio. I think he's a nice guy, as are just about all the Democratic legislators. Unlike most of his colleagues on his side of the aisle, he almost always votes with Republicans on big issues. He took intense fire in his 2002 primary election for his opposition to the video poker bill in 2001--which the Senate came within one vote of defeating despite a then 28-6 Democratic majority. However, with control of the state Senate up for grabs next year, no Democrat--no matter how he votes--can be left alone. Indeed, as we demonstrated last year by defeating Senator Mike Ross in the 15th District, "conservative Democrats" cannot withstand this state's emerging Republican revolution without becoming a part of it themselves. For those who think Oliverio is invincible next year, consider one bill he sponsored: SB 559, prohibiting zoning ordinances from discriminating against "factory-built housing." I wonder how many people living in the upscale housing developments that are growing like kudzu across the Morgantown area would like to have a trailer park next door.

To get elected and reelected to the House of delegates, Cindy Frich had to run in one of the most politically diverse and electorally competitive districts in the state. In a 4-member district with 8 candidates, the difference between the highest vote-getter and the 5th Place finisher was just 771 votes (16,078 v. 15307; Cindy Frich placed 3rd with 15,610 votes). The district ranges from old coal towns in the western end of the county to WVU and its many liberal faculty and staff in Morgantown to a very conservative constituency in Cheat Lake that has managed to carry Mon County for President Bush and other statewide Republican candidates who either won or were close to winning last year. It doesn't get much tighter than that.

In a state Senate race, on the other hand, it's a 1 on 1 contest. In 2002, roughly 25,000 votes were cast for both candidates on the ballot in the 13th District senatorial contest, which was more than some of the most contest races in other districts that year. Unlike some of the other districts where the GOP has seen recent gains, the 13th senatorial district does have some Republican history. In 1986, George "Buffy" Warner won election over a Democratic incumbent who has since continued to be active with some success in local politics. I think Cindy Frich could repeat this success in 2006, especially if the Ruling Party continues behaving as it did during the recent special legislative session.