CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – The House of Delegates declared the seat of a long-absent lawmaker vacant Thursday, making him the first West Virginia legislator removed for not taking his oath of office.

Ron Thompson’s colleagues approved without debate a resolution citing his failure to appear for the Jan. 10 swearing-in of the new Legislature and his continued absence from the 60-day session, which hit its midway point Thursday.

Thompson, who has not responded to numerous media requests for interviews, said in a letter to House leaders last month that he was seeking treatment for a medical condition, but he didn’t elaborate. He missed a self-imposed deadline for returning to the Legislature on Monday, then skipped a Thursday morning meeting scheduled to give him a final chance to explain his absence.

“I think we gave Mr. Thompson every opportunity to let us know why he hadn’t taken the oath and wasn’t ready to serve,” said House Speaker Rick Thompson, a Democrat who is not related to the ousted delegate. “I felt like our hands were tied.”

The voice vote was not unanimous. “I don’t see what the rush was,” said Delegate Harold Michael, a Democrat and one of 13 legislators who voted no.

On Wednesday, Thompson asked House leaders by fax to be given until March 1, which is nine days before the session ends. The House Rules Committee, composed of leadership from both parties, denied the request.

Thompson, 40, had been considered a promising figure in West Virginia’s Democratic Party, which dominates both chambers of the Legislature and occupies most statewide offices. He first won election to the House in 1994.

“This is inconsistent with the Ron everybody knew. We’re very concerned about him,” state party Chairman Nick Casey said.

Thompson has been missing from the state Capitol since the 2006 legislative session ended in March. Despite media reports on his absence from two special sessions and several legislative meetings, he easily won election in November to a seventh two-year term.

A Democratic committee for Thompson’s 27th District, about 50 miles southeast of Charleston, has 15 days to recommend to Gov. Joe Manchin three names for Thompson’s successor. Manchin will have five days to act on the recommendations.


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