The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals was, in our opinion, correct this past week when it sided with state Sen. Donna Boley's argument the state Constitution prohibits former state Sen. Frank Deem from challenging her in the May Primary election.
The Constitution's "residency dispersal" requirement prohibits more than one senator from any one county serving at the same time in multi-county Senatorial districts. The 3rd District includes Wood, Pleasants, Wirt and a portion of Roane counties.
Deem was defeated in 2008 primary by current state Sen. David Nohe. Deem filed this year to run against Boley in the primary. When Secretary of State Natalie Tennant refused Boley's request to disqualify Deem as a candidate, Boley petitioned the state Supreme Court to force her to do so.
Deem has argued throughout the process that the state's constitutional requirement was antiquated, possibly unconstitutional, because it denied Wood County residents fair representation in Charleston, or one-man, one-vote, as he was fond of saying.
There is no question Wood County is the most populated county in the 3rd District, having more residents than the other counties combined. However, had the court ruled in Deem's favor by saying this portion of the Constitution was, indeed, invalid, it would have deprived the smaller counties of the little representation they now have.
If there was not this requirement, the majority - if not all - of the state's senators would undoubtedly come from the more populous counties of the state: Harrison, Monongalia, Jefferson, Kanawha, Ohio and Cabell. If this were the case, smaller counties would have few, if any, advocates during the senate session. Their needs could be all but ignored by state senators who would not have to worry about needing votes from those areas to be re-elected.
Justice Brent Benjamin seemed to refer to this when he told Deem's lawyer, Johathan Deem, "The funny thing about fairness is, what is fair to one person works to the unfairness of another."
We agree with the court. Wood County is not harmed by this decision. Wood County's population actually ensures its needs will not be ignored by having someone outside the county holding the seat, because that senator will need Wood voters to win re-election. And having a senator from one of the smaller, less populated counties, gives them someone in Charleston who understands the issues they face.
Deem said he has long held his "one-man, one-vote view. However, he served in the Legislature during portions of five decades and never once brought up this issue, either for discussion or as a bill. It seems he would have been better served making his argument while a delegate or senator rather than making it now as a private citizen. In making it now he looks more like a person with a case of sour grapes rather than as someone attempting to right a perceived wrong.