WHEELING - Ohio County Commissioner-elect Orphy Klempa resigned his West Virginia Senate seat effective Monday, and the process begins today to find his successor within the next 15 days - a task that must be accomplished by Christmas.
Ohio County Democratic Party Co-Chairman Robert "Rocky" Fitzsimmons said he will be among those applying for the Senate seat when a six-member 1st District Senate replacement committee meets to choose the area's next senator.
"I will put my name in for consideration," Fitzsimmons said Monday. "I know my passion for it is there."
Fitzsimmons expects the committee to see "moderate" interest in the job.
State law requires the committee to collect resumes and recommend three possible candidates for the vacant Senate seat to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin within 15 days of Klempa's resignation.
John Saunders - also co-chairman of the Ohio County Democratic Party - will represent Ohio County on the Senate replacement committee, along with Wheeling attorney Teresa Toriseva. Brooke County Democratic Chairman John Martino and his wife, Marge Martino, will represent Brooke County; and Lil Douglass and Dino Rossi, Hancock County.
The 1st District now also includes Marshall County, though its representatives won't be included in the decision because it was not part of the district when Klempa was elected in 2010.
Saunders said the committee will decide this week where interested candidates should send their resumes and when the committee will convene to consider them.
"I guarantee we will meet the 15-day limit," Saunders said.
Neither Saunders nor Fitzsimmons were certain whether weekends and holidays were included in the 15-day process, and they are seeking further clarification. If so, the 15th day would fall on Dec. 25, Christmas Day.
"If the process stretches into Christmas week, we'll talk to the Legislature about an extension," Saunders said. "We won't want to take people away from their families on Christmas just because it's the 15th day."
Klempa submitted his letter of resignation to Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, on Sunday, shortly after Kessler was selected by Klempa and other Senate Democrats as their nominee for Senate president.
"I wanted to make sure Senator Kessler was re-elected to the Senate president position, and I handed him my resignation dated (Monday)," Klempa said.
Klempa was first elected to represent the 3rd District in the House of Delegates in 2006. In 2010, voters elected him to a four-year term representing the 1st Senate District that expires in 2014.
On Nov. 6, Klempa was elected to the Ohio County commission seat left vacant when former Commissioner David Sims was appointed circuit court judge.
Klempa said Sims will swear him in to his commission seat sometime before he is scheduled to take office Jan. 1, though the time and date of the ceremony still are being coordinated with Sims' judicial schedule.
Klempa noted it was "a great experience" serving in the West Virginia Legislature.
"It's a shame everybody couldn't do it," he said. "It teaches you the art of cooperation and communication, and there are so many lessons in life you can learn here. If you are going to accomplish anything, you have to learn to play well with others. I have been able to do that and have created friendships I will have forever."
His advice to his successor is simple.
"Cooperate, cooperate, cooperate," Klempa said. "And put things behind you because they always get in your way. And always do what's best for West Virginia."