After chugging along for quite some time, the venerable Robert Byrd (D-WV) has finally passed on. Byrd was an intriguing individual, a far cry from the wealthy egomaniacs and pompous power-hungry people that seek office these days. Born dirt poor with incredibly limited means, he worked his way up the food chain. Hard to believe that a former KKK member would eventually become the foremost constitutional scholar in the U.S. Senate. Byrd was certainly the exception to the rule.
But now the million dollar question - who the hell is Manchin going to appoint and when will he do it? Well, he has to do it soon because the Senate Democrats need that single vote. Right now, every vote is essential if you want to get anything accomplished along partisan lines. Manchin said he would honor and respect Byrd's family and allow an appropriate amount of time for them and the state of WV to grieve. But rest assured, Manchin will appoint someone to fill the remaining 2 years probably on next Friday. This way it can dissipate into the weekend news cycle.
Here's the obvious - Manchin will neither appoint himself nor his wife Gayle. This would smack of arrogance and not bode well in the current political climate where ethics have been stretched to the bounds of absurdity. Plus, the conservative media would have a field day with a sitting governor rewarding himself with a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Manchin will run for the seat in 2012, most likely against Shelly Moore Capito. And it will be a dogfight. Especially as West Virginia gets redder and redder with each passing day. And the outside PAC money that will be poured into the cheap advertising WV advertising markets. There's a bunch of DC insiders salivating like a pack of wild Pavlovian dogs. But in the meantime, he needs to find someone who is...
A. Qualified Democrat
B. Not politically ambitious
C. Willing to play ball
These 4 qualifications are intriguing because Manchin can't trust any of the high profile options - Mollohan, former governor Gaston Caperton, Nick Rahall and Earl Tomblin. There are others out there, but here's the dilemma... What if I appoint someone and he/she (it will be a man) decides after their 2 years is up, "Hey, I kind of like being a U.S. Senator. Maybe I'll give it a shot and run for the office since I've now got credible name recognition." This would be a disaster as it would call for a divisive primary among the Democrats. Manchin would have to dig deep into his campaign warchest just to get the nomination. Then, he would be more vulnerable against a seasoned Capito in the general election.
So here's the trick... Who can I pick that is just qualified and respected enough, but will willingly step aside when my turn comes? It all comes down to whom Manchin can trust. The answer... not many. One name does come to mind. A four term senator from Hancock County named Ed Bowman. Bowman is in his early sixties and just decided to announce his retirement. He's always been very popular in the northern panhandle. He's a sharp guy that I would term as a populist insider. He has credibility with the voters but is also well known and respected in Charleston amongst the legislators. Bowman was the critical element in bringing table gaming to Mountaineer Race Track. He's closely allied with the gambling interests, people like Ted Arnault (CEO of MNTR Racetrack) and the other gaming heavyweights.
Most important, I think he's the only viable choice that Manchin can TRUST to voluntarily step aside after his 2 years expires. And it's my opinion that Bowman wouldn't have issues with this. He's already on the record as choosing to retire becuase he wanted to spend more time with his family. But a temporary term in the U.S. Senate??? That has a nice ring to it.
Byrd had been gradually dying for quite some time now. If I were a gambling man (and I am), I'd bet Manchin has been thinking about his options for a Senate replacement since he was elected in the earlier part of the decade. Just don't insult my intelligence and tell me that him or his team haven't weighed the pros and cons of everyone imaginable. Ed Bowman is the most sensible choice. A retired WV political rep, well qualified, not politically ambitious, has friends in the right places (gaming) and most important - he's one of the very few politicians among Manchin's inside circle that he can trust implicitly. Ohh yeah, and Bowman would completely tow the line and vote straight ticket for virtually the whole Obama agenda (except on coal and energy policy).
The local and state media seem to have trouble figuring this one out. Who's it gonna be? Who will Manchin choose? Well, I'm going on the record with Ed Bowman. I think it's kind of obvious. Hopefully, Manchin chooses his words carefully because West Virginia is definitely well-suited for another Blagoyovich inspired fiasco. Personally, I'd kill for a Blago-Manchinesque controversy. Chicago style politics pales in comparison to our cadre of WV good-ol-boys. Come to think of it... Manchin could even pull off the Blago hair-wave unnecessary comb-over. James Manchin, Rod Blagoyovich and The Donald - there's a threesome I wouldn't want to see in a dark alley, or a well lit one for that matter.