Briana Heaney Published

Donna Boley, The Longest Serving State Senator

Senator Boley sits at a desk in the state senate wearing a bright red blazer, with gold accessories. She is looking at the camera smiling.
Since Boley first started working in the state Senate there has been seven governors and seven US presidents.

In 1991, Donna Boley was the only Republican in the state Senate. Now she is part of a Republican supermajority in the West Virginia Legislature.

Boley, of Pleasants County, was appointed by Republican Gov. Arch Moore in 1985. She has been elected 11 times since then and is the longest serving senator in the state’s history.  

“It never dawned on me that we would become a majority or supermajority,” Boley said.

Many of her past colleagues, sick of having so little political power, decided not to run again — leaving her the only Republican in the Senate for a couple years.

“They just decided that at the last minute they weren’t going to run, because they didn’t like being in the minority,” Boley said. “So, I guess if they didn’t like being in the minority, they just walked away.”

But Boley stayed. For many years, she said she was the only “no” vote.

“I never had a problem being in the minority because I always thought we would be the minority,” Boley said.

Donna Boley stands with left hand on bible and right hand in air. She is being sworn in to the Senate.  The man standing behind her is the governor who appointed her to the position. They are standing on a stage with the round West Virginia emblem behind them.
Donna Boley was sworn in by Gov. Arch Moore on May 14, 1985.


However, throughout the 2000s and 2010s, more and more Republicans won.

“Everything sort of changed in 2014,” she said.

After the 2014 midterm, the Senate officially flipped. Seventeen Republicans were elected, and 17 Democrats were elected. 

While some officials were trying to figure out who would be the Senate President, others were trying to find a senator who was willing to switch to another party — and bring with them majority control.

That senator was Danial Hall of Wyoming County. After being elected as a Democrat, he switched.

“It made the (tally) 18 to 16. So, we took over that night,” Boley said.

The close split between the parties didn’t last long. By 2020, Republicans had a supermajority, meaning they occupied two-thirds of the seats in both the House and Senate.

For Boley and other Republicans, this was the beginning of a new era for Republicans in West Virginia. But unlike many of her colleagues, Boley had been around to see the limitations and challenges that supermajorities face from watching how the Democrats used their once vast powers.

“You tend to start fighting amongst yourself,” she said.

Last session, Republicans did fight among themselves. Republican Sen. Robert Karnes of Randolph County was removed from the Senate chamber after he demanded some of the bills be read in full — a tactic occasionally used in the legislature to use up a lot of time and to make a political point.

Boley also has some wisdom to pass down to her Democratic colleagues.

“Well, the minority leader now is Sen. (Mike) Woelfel. And he stopped me during the regular session and said, ‘I need to talk to you. It looks like I might be appearing next year as the lone Democrat.’ And I said, ‘Well you know, just enjoy it. There is not much you can do except stand up and vote no. If you don’t agree with it, just vote no,” Boley said.

And that’s what Boley did, and said she will continue to do until she is ready to retire — which she said she doesn’t plan on doing currently.

Outside work, Boley loves to spend time with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She said she tries to see them as much as possible. She loves her work in the legislature and said she is grateful she stayed — even when she was the only one.