Republicans in the West Virginia Legislature haven't had much luck persuading the Democratic majority to adopt parts of the GOP agenda, so the minority party is turning to what they say is a fed-up public for help.
A group of Republicans in the House of Delegates unveiled an ambitious set of legislative goals Tuesday, ranging from tax cuts and spending reduction to the nonpartisan election of judges.
Many of the goals were familiar from the GOP agendas of bygone years. Without Democratic support, they amount to little more than a wish list. With 29 of 100 seats in the House and eight of 34 in the Senate, Republicans need dozens of Democrats to see things their way to get bills passed in the legislative session that starts Wednesday.
That, they hope, is where the public comes in.
"The people of West Virginia are energized," Minority Leader Tim Armstead said. "They are really tuned in to how the things we pass here in Charleston affect their daily lives."
The Kanawha County delegate believes there's a national conviction that government has become too large, too expensive and too heedless of the public. He and his fellow Republicans say the frustration doesn't end with Washington, but includes state government.
"Those lawmakers who don't listen to the demand to make changes will pay the consequences in November," Armstead said.
Armstead hopes voters will start contacting their delegates and senators to demand the measures outlined in the Republican agenda, from reining in state spending to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Democratic legislative leaders said Tuesday they're not worried. The party has controlled the Legislature for nearly 80 years. House Majority Whip Mike Caputo called it proof the party is in tune with voters.
"We'll look at all bills, regardless of where they come from," Caputo said, describing the policy of Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne.
"But I don't take very kindly to threats," the Marion County delegate added. "The voters will ultimately decide who they will have down here representing them."
It also remains unclear whether the disaffection with national affairs identified by some observers will be a factor in state politics.
"In certain states that have collapsed, like California, the anger is out there, but we don't know yet if we'll see that here," said Robert Rupp, a political science professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
While Gov. Joe Manchin is set to present a plan this week that reduces general revenue spending on education by 4 percent, and by 5 percent for most of the rest of state government, West Virginia does not face the critical shortages and cuts common elsewhere.
That probably insulates state lawmakers here from public anger, Rupp said.
Republicans contend that impression, which they say is promoted by Manchin and the Democrats, is misleading.
Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, compared West Virginia's economic position to a climber at the bottom of a mountain, watching as other climbers fall from high above.
"You're essentially bragging that you haven't fallen," Carmichael said. "But you were at the bottom to start out with."
Even if voters are frustrated this year, replacing Democrats with Republicans won't be easy, Rupp said. If 2010 follows the pattern of previous election years, dozens of lawmakers, most of them Democrats, will have no challengers after their party primaries. In 2008, nearly half the House races had no major party opposition, including 41 Democrats who were essentially elected by default.
"If the Republican Party was more effective and they had more candidates, it would be easier to capitalize on any kind of anti-incumbent mood," Rupp said. "Until Republicans are seen as more effective in the Legislature, they're not going to attract much support."
Associated Press Writer Lawrence Messina contributed to this report.
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