Stateline Story

New Governor Takes Office in West Virginia

An "exceedingly private person" with an aversion for media attention takes over as governor of West Virginia today (November 15) as outgoing Democrat Joe Manchin moves on to the U.S. Senate. Manchin won a special election earlier this month to replace the late Democrat Robert Byrd in Washington, D.C.

Manchin's replacement in the governor's office will be another Democrat, Earl Ray Tomblin, who is likely to provide a sharp contrast to the current chief executive.

Manchin, who delivered a farewell address on Friday (November 12), is known nationally not only because of his crucial Senate victory this month — which helped Democrats keep control of one house of Congress — but because of his handling of coal miner deaths and his high-profile position as chairman of the National Governors Association.

Tomblin, by contrast, has been a fixture at the Legislature for 35 years — serving not only as Senate president but as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee — but has kept a low profile over more than three decades of public service, according to a profile published over the weekend by the Charleston Gazette . "He is an exceedingly private person," Truman Chafin, the current Senate majority leader in West Virginia, says of Tomblin, 58.

"Joe's all showmanship and what have you. Earl Ray is more quiet and behind-the-scenes," Chafin says.

Bob Kiss, a former House speaker who worked with Tomblin, agrees. "He and I would always joke that, at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast, they couldn't get me to shut up, and they couldn't get him to say anything," Kiss tells the Gazette .

Tomblin is one of 28 new governors, but one of only two who were not elected to the job. In North Dakota, Republican Lieutenant Governor Jack Dalrymple soon will take over for Republican John Hoeven — who, like Manchin, was elected to the U.S. Senate.

For profiles of new governors, visit Stateline 's special section on the transition in power at the state level.