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Del. Ryan Ferns announced Monday he has switched parties and will run in 2014 for the state Senate as a Republican.
The former Democrat is in his second term in the House of Delegates and first made the announcement in his hometown of Wheeling, W.Va.
Ferns then traveled to Charleston, W.Va., where he, surrounded by Republican members of the state legislature, filed his pre-candidacy papers with the Secretary of State’s Office for the Senate seat.
The seat is currently held by Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, who was appointed by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin after former Sen. Orphy Klempa resigned to take a position on the Ohio County Commission.
At press conference in front of the House Chambers, Ferns said he has always held more conservative values and often found he was at odds with his Democratic counterparts in the House.
“I’ve always done what I feel is the right thing for the people in my district and for the state of West Virginia,” he said.
“At this point in my political career, I feel there is no other option for me than to switch to the Republican Party and run for state Senate,” he added.
The announcement, however, didn’t come without some criticism from leaders in the Democratic Party.
In a press release, House Speaker Tim Miley said in a recent conversation Ferns had denied rumors that he was going to switch political affiliation.
“He was in my office a few weeks ago where he was expressly asked whether he was going to switch political parties,” Miley’s statement read, “and specifically stated to Del. Doug Skaff, Majority Leader Harry Keith White, and me that he was not going to switch political parties.”
“In fact, he said that while he didn’t agree with everything for which the Democratic Party stood, he stated he would never become a Republican for reasons that I should not repeat publicly,” Miley said.
He added he was only somewhat surprised by the decision.
“This comes as no surprise to me because many Democrats in his district believe that he has been an ineffective delegate,” state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said in a written statement.
“They feel he would not be successful in getting through the Democratic primary this time,” Puccio said. “Therefore, it appears Ryan has taken this opportunity as a way out.”
Many Democrats had questioned Ferns’ allegiance to the party after he cast the only Democratic vote against new House Speaker Tim Miley. At the time, Ferns said the vote was meant to show he disagreed with many of the things the party stood for.
Ferns is now one of three West Virginia Democrats who has switched parties to run for office, including state Sen. Evan Jenkins and Clarksburg City Councilwoman Margaret Bailey.
Harrison County Board of Education President Mike Queen has also joined the Republican party, but has not yet filed to run for office. He is expected to run for state senate in the 12th District.
The state GOP has been actively campaigning for West Virginia Democrats to join the Republican Party and run for office in 2014. The deadline to change party affiliation before the 2014 Primaries is Nov. 26, 2013.