State budget looms large for returning delegates

Both of Hancock County’s state delegates will return to Charleston in a situation not unlike the last two years, but they’ll have to work with a new Democratic governor.

District 1 Delegates Pat McGeehan and Mark Zatezalo easily won re-election on Tuesday with 8,383 votes and 7,000 votes respectively, according to unofficial results.

In Hancock County, where there was a 50 percent voter turnout, McGeehan received 7,164 votes to Zatezalo’s 5,772 votes. District 1 also includes a small portion of Brooke County.

“I appreciate the support, and I’ll continue to serve to the best of my ability,” McGeehan said. “I’m very pleased and thankful to the voters.”

Former two-term Democrat Ronnie Jones lost his bid to unseat one of the Republicans. He received 4,378 votes in Hancock County and 5,530 votes overall.

Jones, 62, of Weirton, had strong union backing and raised the most money of the three, according to campaign finance reports filed with the West Virginia Secretary of State.

Zatezalo, 64, of Weirton, was the second-highest fundraiser, with support from a number of business and energy-related political action committees.

McGeehan and Zatezalo were part of the Republican Party’s takeover of the House in 2014 and will continue to see their party hold a majority in both legislative chambers over the next two years. The Republicans lost a seat in the House, for a 63-37 advantage, and gained four seats in the Senate, for a 22-12 majority.

Tuesday was also a good night for Republicans on the ballot for statewide and national offices.

Asked about the prospects of working with new Democratic Gov. Jim Justice, McGeehan said, “I don’t pay attention to political parties. I just try to keep an open mind.”

McGeehan, 36, of Chester, pledged to read and study every bill that is introduced in the House in the 2017 general session, which does not start until February to give the governor-elect time to assume office.

McGeehan said the state budget is of paramount concern because of projections of another large deficit.

“The budget bill has to be presented on Day 1 for early work. Every line item needs to be analyzed, and hard questions need to be asked,” he said.

In addition to the governor’s budget proposal, which usually starts the session, both legislative chambers will draft their own budgets. “In the past couple years, it’s just taken too long to get the budget bills presented. That has to change,” he said.

As for the issues animating the campaign, McGeehan said, “I think the voters just want people to tell them the truth. … Take a position and explain to them why you take that position.”

Zatezalo could not be reached for comment.