By Robert Gaudio
West Virginia State Senator Daniel Jackson Hall is no stranger to switching parties. Or of playing political sleight of hand.
In 2006, Hall ran as a Republican candidate for one of two open House of Delegates seats in District 27, but he was defeated in the primary election. Hall then ran in 2008 as a Democratic candidate in the District 22 House of Delegates race and won by placing second. He retained his seat in 2010 by placing second in the general election.
In 2012, Hall challenged incumbent Democratic Sen. Richard Browning in District 9, narrowly winning the primary with 51 percent of the vote. Senator Hall went on to win the general election, defeating his Republican challenger with 53.7 percent of the vote. He has currently served a half-term as the Democratic Senator from District 9.
On Wednesday, November 5th, the day after the District 9 voters chose Republican Jeff Mullins over Democratic incumbent Sen. Mike Green, Hall did not return Sen. President Jeff Kessler’s telephone calls. Later that day, Sen. Hall announced that he would break the historic 17-17 tie between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate chamber by changing his party affiliation to the GOP. This highly-publicized, dramatic and ill-timed party switch was clearly calculated and ultimately gutless, speaking volumes about Hall – the opportunistic politician – as well as to the uncertainty and blurred lines of demarcation in West Virginia party politics.
Speculation abounds as to the reasons for Hall’s second party defection, but pundits are clear that the leadership of West Virginia’s GOP has been openly courting Hall and others to switch parties for quite some time. And party switching is perfectly legal, by the way, allowing a citizen – yes, even an elected official – to exercise the 1st Amendment right to freedom of political expression.
But when an office-holder switches parties in the middle of his term, those who voted for him, due in whole or in part to his party affiliation and the philosophy and mission of that political party, have every right to feel hoodwinked and cheated. Voter trust is far more important to maintaining the integrity of the elective process than being a member of the winning team or gaining a highly sought-after legislative committee appointment.
That nearly 50 percent of eligible voters in West Virginia are not registered to vote at all and that less than 32 percent of registered West Virginia voters chose to vote on November 4th certainly bode badly for the health and future of West Virginia and of our participatory democracy. And when elected officials like Daniel Jackson Hall add fuel to an already-burgeoning fire of citizen disenfranchisement and disgust for his own personal and political gain, he should be sanctioned, perhaps by banning him from all committee memberships for the remainder of his term.
Further, the people of District 9 should view his untimely party defection as a clear measure of Sen. Hall’s character and show him the door in 2016.
I say, shame on you, Sen. Hall!