PARKERSBURG - A Democrat who switched to the Republican Party on Wednesday is among the most conservative in the state Senate, a lawmaker from Wood County said.
State Sen. Evan Jenkins from Cabell County switched parties Wednesday morning and announced he'll run for the U.S. House of Representatives 3rd District in 2014. He'll run against incumbent Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall provided both win the primary election.
Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, said he's worked with Jenkins for three years and found him a capable senator.
"He's very conservative, like so many in the Senate," Nohe said.
Nohe welcomed him to the other side of the aisle, but elsewhere the repercussions on Jenkins' anticipated announcement culminated Tuesday and Wednesday.
Jenkins, 54, a lawyer, Tuesday was stripped of all leadership positions in Senate committees prior to his party change and the state Democratic Party Wednesday said he was "loyal only to the dollar."
"When Washington Republican money came a knockin', Jenkins went a walkin'," Democrat Chairman Larry Puccio said.
On Tuesday, Sen. President Jeff Kessler removed Jenkins from all leadership positions in Senate committees, which was immediately effective.
"By refusing to dispel rumors that he is switching to the Republican Party in order to possibly run for Congress shows that he has no allegiance to his Democratic colleagues or the constituents that elected him," Kessler said. "I don't want anyone on my leadership team that does not show decisiveness or loyalty."
Jenkins, 54, was chairman of the Minority Affairs and Pensions committees and vice chairman of Health and Human Resources. Kessler has yet to name a replacement.
Nohe expected Jenkins would be stripped of all committee leadership positions. Before Jenkins' change, there were 25 Democrats and nine Republicans in the Senate.
Jenkins, a lawyer, is the executive director of the West Virginia Medical Association.
He went from Republican to Democrat in 1993 before he became a member of the House of Delegates. He ran and lost the election for the state Supreme Court in 2000 and was elected to the Senate in 2002.
Jenkins switched parties on Wednesday morning at the courthouse in Huntington where he also held a press conference.
On Monday, Rahall called Jenkins a traitor in politico.com.
"I'm not going to run away from those that brought me to the dance and renounce my party because I disagree with our president," Rahall told politico.com. "But I've dealt with traitors before, and I'll deal with traitors again."
Rahall, a congressman since 1976, is among the National Republican Congressional Committee's top targets in 2014. He and Jenkins have passed campaign contributions to each other in the past.
Republicans spoke more kindly about Jenkins.
"Sen. Jenkins shows us courage today," Conrad Lucas, state Republican Party chairman, said. "Evan Jenkins is a man willing to break free from the chains of 80 years of failed Democrat rule, and take a chance to show our future can be better and brighter for generations to come."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Co-Chairman Sharon Day also welcomed Jenkins.
"West Virginians will be better served by leaders who will fight against the Democrat Party's overreach in Washington, D.C., and will fight for constitutional principles and conservative values," Day said.