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Yes Virginia, There Is a West Virginia
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, March 30, 2001

Question: Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution says that when a new state is formed from portions of an existing state, the legislature of the existing state must give its approval. But at the time West Virginia was formed from Virginia in 1862, Virginia had seceded from the Union, and definitely did not approve. Why, then, is West Virginia a state? And, if it's not, then shouldn't Al Gore have won the election by a 267-266 lead in electoral votes? More importantly, aren't you glad I did not bring this up before December 18, when the electoral college met?
– Milton Grossberg, Los Altos, Calif.
Button
Take away West Virginia and it's "President Gore." (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: I enjoyed your question, which made me smile. And you're right: Had there been no West Virginia – which voted for George W. Bush last year – Al Gore would have had a majority of electoral votes. Perhaps the better question is why Gore and the Democrats completely ignored the state during the election, allowing Bush to become the first non-incumbent Republican to carry it since Herbert Hoover in 1928. But alas, there is a West Virginia. Here's how it became a state.

The split of West Virginia from Virginia was years in the making, but certainly the Civil War exacerbated the situation. On April 17, 1861, five days after Fort Sumter, a special convention in Virginia voted 88-55 to secede from the Union and become an independent commonwealth. That action was followed by an overwhelming majority vote among Virginians – 128,884 to 32,134. Most of the no votes came from the western counties of the state, which had little to do with the rest of Virginia. They opposed secession. Their mountainous terrain and economy had little use for slaves. And they had long resented the lack of help they were getting from Richmond.

Within two months of Virginia leaving the Union, officials from these western counties met in Wheeling, repudiated the act of secession, and established their own "restored government." This rump government was quickly recognized by President Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans. Many angry Democrats in Congress made the case you referred to in your question, arguing that no consent was given to the split by Virginia and thus the creation of a new state was unconstitutional. But proponents of the new state said that Virginia's secession was illegal, let alone disloyal, thus claiming that the west's "loyalists" were the legitimate leaders.

Virginia certainly did not approve the act, but it was in no position to do anything about what Congress was deciding since it no longer belonged to the Union. Congress approved West Virginia's request to become a separate state, on the caveat that it amend its state constitution to outlaw slavery. It did, in 1863, and became the 35th State on June 20 of that year. President Lincoln certainly welcomed the move, not only on political terms – it was likely to vote Republican – but because of its abundance of coal and because having the use of its territory could help with the war effort against Virginia. Virginia was allowed to return to the Union in 1870, and part of the condition for allowing it to do so was to give its formal agreement to the creation of West Virginia.

Question: Your column of March 23 confirmed what I had always thought: namely, that the Speaker of the House is before the President Pro Tempore of the Senate in the line of succession to the presidency. I have a friend who is writing his Ph.D. thesis on the War of 1812 who is convinced that the order used to be the other way around. Has the Constitution ever been changed on this issue, or is my friend just confused?
– David Waddilove, Cambridge, England

Answer: Your friend is correct. In 1792, Congress provided that the line of succession would be vice president, then Senate president pro tempore, then House speaker; if those three offices were vacant, the states would send electors to choose a new president. That was the law until 1886, when Congress passed a presidential succession act, which changed the line of succession after the vice president to the Cabinet, beginning with the secretary of state. The current presidential succession act was passed by Congress in 1947, which in effect placed the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem ahead of the Cabinet officers.

Question: Is it true that prior to the election, George W. Bush had never traveled abroad, other than to Mexico? A steak dinner is riding on the answer.
– John McCarthy, Florida

Answer: Not true. Bush was one of four Republican governors who traveled to the Mideast in 1998, meeting with Ariel Sharon during a helicopter tour of the West Bank and with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. That year he also visited his daughter in Italy. When his father was in the White House, he was sent to Gambia in 1990 during that nation's celebration of its 25th anniversary of independence. And during his father's tenure as ambassador to China in 1975, he spent a month in Beijing.

As for the steak dinner, while I do not condone gambling, you should know that I like mine medium rare.

Question: One of the proposals for partially reforming the electoral college is to divide up each state's electoral vote by congressional district. A candidate would get one electoral college vote for each congressional district carried, and get two votes for each state carried. If this system were used in 2000, who would have won?
– Brian Rosman, Waltham, Mass.

Answer: This is the method used by Maine and Nebraska to determine their electoral votes (see "Political Junkie," Sept. 22, 2000). A recent, exhaustive study by Clark Bensen of POLIDATA, a political demographic research firm, shows that George W. Bush carried 228 congressional districts last year to Al Gore's 207. Bush also won 30 states to Gore's 20 (plus D.C.). Using this method, Bush's electoral college majority would have jumped to 288, instead of the 271 he actually got. Gore would have received 250, instead of 266; 270 are needed to win.

Button
Nixon would have won in 1960 under the congressional district formula. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Bensen's study also shows that had this proposal been in use in 1960, Richard Nixon would have defeated John F. Kennedy with a 280-252 electoral-vote majority. And in 1976, the election between President Gerald Ford and challenger Jimmy Carter – an election won by Carter – would have resulted in a tie, with 269 electoral votes each. For more information, check out www.polidata.org.

Question: I discovered your weekly column a few weeks ago and have eagerly read it each Friday since. But why is there no archive of past columns available on washingtonpost.com? Your ScuttleButton archives go back years. I would be delighted to read some back columns of "Political Junkie."
– Rich Vinet, Irvine, Calif.

Answer: Every "Political Junkie" column, which dates back to July of 1998, is archived on the site. The link can be found on the first page of every column, on the right side of the screen, under "Related Links." The Web address for the "Political Junkie" archive is: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/campaigns/junkie/archive.htm

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.


© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin


 
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