WHEELING - While Ryan Ferns the Democrat seemed to be driving a wedge between local GOP leaders earlier this year, Ryan Ferns the Republican may help unify them in 2014.
This past summer, Ohio County Republican Party Executive Committee Chairwoman Patricia Levenson created a stir among executive committee members when she said the group would make targeting Ferns' House of Delegates seat a priority in 2014. Those comments didn't sit well with some on the executive committee who indicated that absent a legitimate GOP challenger, they would have supported the former Democrat with conservative leanings.
Despite Ferns' willingness to work with Republicans, Levenson said she believed a GOP majority in the Legislature is vital to advancing the party's platform. She now sees an opportunity to pick up a seat in both houses following Ferns' decision Monday to leave the Democrat Party and join Republicans, while at the same time announcing he would file to run for the state Senate next year.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
Local GOP leaders have welcomed Ryan Ferns with open arms.
Levenson said she fully expects to support Ferns in his Senate bid, noting he is a "pro-business" candidate with "very strong conservative values."
"It's very important to have a business background when you're serving the public, and this region in particular," she said.
Although Republicans will have to find someone else to win Ferns' House seat next year, the party holds more House seats than at any time since 1930, with 47 out of 100.
Levenson believes President Barack Obama's unpopularity in West Virginia will continue to play to the GOP's advantage, even though his name won't be on the ballot as it was in 2012 when Republicans picked up 11 seats in the House of Delegates.
"We're pretty close to meeting the reality of having the majority that we need" in the House, Levenson said. "We're very excited about the 2014 election. We feel that we'll have very positive results in our favor."
Although the county committee now appears solidly behind Ferns, not everyone agrees that achieving a House majority should be the primary focus on the local level.
Vice Chairman Charles Schlegel - who was among those who questioned the wisdom of targeting Ferns' House seat - also expects to support Ferns in next year's Senate election, unless a candidate emerges who is strong enough to change his mind. But he isn't particularly concerned whether Republicans cross the 50-seat House threshold in 2014.
"All I'm concerned about is Ohio County, the Northern Panhandle," Schlegel said. "Politics is local. It's just (about) having the best people representing this area. ... Ask the other people from the Northern (Panhandle) delegation, and they'll tell you the same thing: Whether they're Democrats or Republicans, they like (Ferns). They think he does a good job."
State Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio, has not officially announced he's running for a full term in the seat to which Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed him last December, but party leaders on both sides appear to be anticipating a Ferns-Fitzsimmons showdown for the 1st Senatorial District seat.
If that's the case, Schlegel believes, the outcome will be positive for residents either way.
If Fitzsimmons and Ferns square off "we can be guaranteed that we are going to be well served in this senatorial district. ... That's good news for everybody," Schlegel said.
The 1st Senatorial District encompasses Hancock, Brooke, Ohio counties, as well as a small part of Marshall County.