By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In what can only be described as a bizarre start to day 59 of the 2023 legislative session, Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, was removed from the Senate Chamber at the direction of Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, after Karnes repeatedly shouted objections from his seat.
Karnes, who was apparently frustrated by the Senate once again suspending constitutional-rules to pass an appropriations bill, demanded the bill be read “distinctly and fully a third time” as required. Blair, who refused to recognize Karnes’ objection, simply said, “We just suspended the rules on this being read a third time, your motion is out of order.”
As Blair’s response seemed less than satisfactory, Karnes continued shouting, which prompted Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, to say, “It is my understanding [that] the power of recognition to recognize members of this body lies with the presiding officer.”
“Is that correct Mr. President?” Weld asked Blair, who responded in the affirmative.
Undeterred, but without a working microphone, Karnes continued to shout inaudible statements at Blair, who was visibly laughing at the podium. After several moments of Karnes’ shouting, Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, motioned for a 10 minute recess.
When the members returned to their seats for the restart of the floor session, Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, requested that “pursuant to the powers granted to the presiding officer, that you (Blair) order the Sergeant at Arms to remove the Senator from Randolph (Karnes) from the Chamber.”
Blair told Boley, “Your point is well taken,” before ordering that Karnes be removed.
Karnes has been a vocal detractor of Blair for the entirety of the current legislative session. On Tuesday, Karnes sent an email to several members of the media in which he blasted a bill (SB 740) proposing salary increases for members of the state’s legislature, and Blair’s support of it. Karnes claimed that if SB 740 is enacted, Blair would stand to make $180,000 per year as Senate President, however these claims have not been verified.
The following is an excerpt of Karnes’ email:
“Senate President Craig Blair makes exhaustive use of ‘duty days’ to the extent that in 2022 he received over $65,000 in pay plus at least $35,000 in expense money, totaling over $100,000 for a $20,000 per year job. In total he claimed to have worked more than 5 days per week, 52 weeks per year.
“No senate president in the history of West Virginia has abused duty days to the extent Craig Blair has abused duty days. None were even close. What is particularly concerning with the proposed legislative pay raise bill (SB 740) is what happens if Craig Blair continues to abuse duty days to the same degree?
“For the typical legislator the pay raise will change the $20,000 in base to $29,000 and all other pay and expenses combined with the base will total about $50,000 in total compensation. This probably makes sense. There is a lot of work that gets done outside of Charleston that is uncompensated for most legislators.
“However, if the bill passes as proposed, and assuming Craig Blair continues to abuse duty days as he has, Craig Blair will be paid between $150,000 and $180,000 annually in total compensation. It is absurd to assume Blair works more than 260 days per year in order to lead one of the least productive legislative bodies in West Virginia history.”
There is no word yet as to whether Karnes will be permitted to return to the Senate Chamber on Saturday. RealWV will provide updates regarding this situation as additional details are made available.