This is a developing story and will be updated.
West Virginia state Senator Richard Ojeda says he will resign from his seat next week to focus on winning the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.
“I cannot — I will not — allow myself to not be sitting in my seat and leave it empty. It needs to be filled with somebody who’s going to go in here and just going to do their best to help the state,” Ojeda said during an interview at the West Virginia Capitol on Wednesday, the first day of the Legislature’s 60-Day session.
He said he plans to submit a letter of resignation on Tuesday, Jan. 15.
The Army veteran is in his first term in public office, having won his seat in the West Virginia Legislature in 2016. He first made national headlines when he was severely beaten just two days before his primary election that year.
He has been traveling the country in recent weeks as part of his presidential campaign, which he launched less than a week after losing the race for West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District in November 2018 by more than 12 percentage points.
Ojeda lost the race for congress to Republican Carol Miller, who was backed by President Donald Trump. During the 2018 campaign, Trump referred to Ojeda as a “stone cold wacko.”
Ojeda, who has said he voted for Trump in 2016, has been a sharp critic of the president after seeing few efforts to help southern West Virginia.
“I’m going to try to help the state from outside of this state — because I think that’s exactly the best way for it,” Ojeda said of his run for president.
A 10-member committee from 7th District Senatorial Executive Committee — from each of the five counties represented by Ojeda’s district (Boone, Lincoln, Logan, and portions of Mingo and Wayne) — will make up the committee to choose Ojeda’s replacement. One man and one woman from each county in the senatorial district will make up the committee.
The West Virginia Democratic Party will make the vacancy public — and then the committee will review applicants and offer to the governor three choices from which to fill the vacancy.
“I just hope that whoever is selected to be my replacement is somebody that the Democratic Party will be happy to have in that caucus with them — and not lobbyists or anything like that — not somebody that the governor picks because he just wants to have somebody that’s going to do his bidding,” Ojeda said.
When asked, Ojeda expressed concerns over one rumored potential replacement — Paul Hardesty, who is a registered lobbyist and works on behalf of companies owned by Gov. Justice’s family.
“If those rumors are true then, shame, shame on the supposed leaders of this state,” Ojeda said without referring to Hardesty by name.
A spokesperson for the governor said they had not yet recieved a letter of resignation from Ojeda and, therefore, did not have comment.