Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

West Virginia’s red wave: Republicans secure historic majority

West Virginia voters have propelled the Republican Party to historic numeric advantages in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates.

In the Senate, Republicans won 16 of 17 seats up for election and, in the process, defeated four incumbent Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin and four-term Sen. Ron Stollings.

The Republicans added seven seats to their existing supermajority, meaning Republicans will now hold 30 seats, compared with just four for the Democrats.

The significant gains are the latest in the ascension of the Republicans in the Senate. Just 10 years ago, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 24 to 10. In 2002, the advantage was 28-6. And going back to 1990, Sen. Donna Boley (R, Pleasants) was the only Republican in the Senate. (Boley is still serving today.)

The Republican gains in the House were also substantial. The GOP won 10 more seats, pushing their supermajority to 88 seats, while Democrats hold only 12. At least four incumbent Democrats lost, and Democrats did not put up candidates in 21 races.

According to the House Clerk’s Office, 12 Democrats would be the least number of Democrats in the House since 1900, which is as far back as the clerk records go. That year, there were 21 Democrats and 50 Republicans in the 71-member chamber.

Democrats assumed control of the Legislature during the Great Depression and held on for 80 years. The House went to 100 members in 1952 and since then, the Democrats biggest advantage was in 1964 when they outnumbered Republicans 91-9.

But by 2012, the Democratic advantage has slipped to just 53-47. The following election in 2014 was a red wave. Republicans won a whopping 17 seats and assumed the majority with a 64-36 advantage. And the GOP has been adding numbers ever since.

The overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate are a double-edged sword for the GOP. The expansion of the caucuses means more diverse opinions, making it harder for leadership to focus the group on a particular issue. It also means even more fringe proposals will surface that leadership will struggle to tamp down.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is left to wonder how it all got away from them. Each election extends the ground it must try to make up in order to become politically relevant again.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.