West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) appointed his former general counsel, Carte Goodwin, on Friday as the caretaker for the late Robert Byrd’s Senate seat, which gives Democrats the crucial 60th vote needed to extend jobless benefits.
Governor Manchin, who on Friday wore a pin of the US Constitution to honor Senator Byrd and his dedication to that document, said that the Senate appointee would not be filling in Byrd’s shoes, but would simply be following in his footsteps.
Goodwin will serve as a senator until West Virginia holds special elections, and he has indicated that he won’t run in a race for the seat. At Manchin’s request, the state’s Legislature is in the process of changing the special-elections law so that it can hold a special election for the Senate post on Nov. 2 instead of waiting until 2012.
“This is the people’s seat. This is exactly what Robert C. Byrd would want, and that’s why we are doing that,” Manchin said.
It is widely believed that Manchin himself has wanted Byrd’s seat, and appointing his former aide could be a clear sign of his ambitions, says Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“Picking someone like this – who is experienced and substantial having held senior positions, but who would not seek elections in November – is the ideal appointment,” Mr. Mann says.
Even though Democrats are expected to lose seats in November, moving the special elections up to this year could work in Manchin’s favor, despite his party affiliation, Mann says. Manchin has enjoyed high ratings during his two terms as governor.
“His own personal popularity now seems to be sufficient to overcome” anti-Democratic sentiments, Mann says.
According to a poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports last week, Manchin is considerably ahead of the potential Republican candidates: US Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and former West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland.
Goodwin is set to be sworn in Tuesday afternoon, and the Senate will vote on extending unemployment benefits immediately afterward, said Sen. John Rockefeller (D), also of West Virginia.
“There is much work to be done in very short order. And I am proud to have the opportunity to do that together with Carte Goodwin as my colleague,” Senator Rockefeller said in a statement.
Although Goodwin’s vote could be crucial in helping Democrats pass other big legislation, he made it clear at a press conference following Manchin’s announcement that he does not support the two energy bills being considered in the Senate in their current form.
“From what I’ve seen, they simply are not right for West Virginia,” Goodwin said. He said he supports investing in clean-coal technology instead.
Goodwin played a key role in drafting and pushing for miner safety reform after explosions in West Virginia's Sago and Aracoma coal mines in 2006. In fact, Manchin said that Goodwin’s commitment to that effort made him select the lawyer.
“I am truly confident that Carte Goodwin will look out for West Virginia and make us proud,” he said.
Goodwin worked on Manchin's 2004 campaign for governor before becoming his chief lawyer. He left that position last year to work for Goodwin & Goodwin, his family's law firm.