CHESTER-Hancock County's geographic position as West Virginia's northernmost county-the "top" of the state, as the tourist brochures say-hasn't always translated into political clout.
In fact, it's common for local political and business leaders to complain that the county doesn't get the attention it deserves from Charleston.
But Hancock County's star may be on the rise.
West Virginia Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, with West Virginia Speaker of the House Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, who recently named Swartzmiller speaker pro tempore for the 81st Legislature. (Submitted Photo)
On Friday, Speaker of the House of Delegates Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, named Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, as speaker pro tempore for the 81st Legislature.
He is the first delegate from the Northern Panhandle to serve in that position in the state's 150-year history.
In the hierarchy of House leadership, Swartzmiller, 52, of Chester, comes second, after Thompson, although Swartzmiller quickly deflected suggestions that he's more important than other House leaders.
"I've always viewed all these positions as equals," he said. "If the speaker has to come down off the podium, the speaker pro tem would normally fill in that position. ... The speaker has only so many hours in the day, so he has to have people he can lean on for stuff like that."
A 1978 graduate of Oak Glen High School, Swartzmiller has served District 1 since first being elected to the House of Delegates in 2000. He most recently was assistant majority whip.
"The speaker pro tempore is a very integral part of my leadership team," Thompson said. "The speaker pro tempore has to be able to handle a gauntlet of issues on a daily basis and has to have the experience to run the House in the event of my absence. Randy understands the procedures, policies and parliamentary rules of the legislature."
Thompson cited Swartzmiller's experience as chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, as well as his work last year on the state redistricting committee. Thompson also recently appointed Swartzmiller to a bipartisan panel that will study the Governor's Education Efficiency Audit and report back to the legislature.
West Virginia Clerk of the House Gregory Gray praised the appointment, saying, "Randy has always been a sounding board for the issues that are important to the Northern Panhandle and is always willing to help me with any procedural work that we may have."
Swartzmiller said he was "humbled" by the appointment and pledged to be a worthy "extension of the speaker."
The appointment may also be a benefit to Hancock County, he said. "I'm happy for the folks of the Northern Panhandle. It helps to have people in these positions who know what's going on in your backyard," he said.
With the expanded duties, including a seat on the powerful rules committee, Swartzmiller anticipates he'll be spending a little more time in Charleston.
In addition to his work as a state delegate, Swartzmiller is regulatory specialist at the Ergon-West Virginia Inc. oil refinery in Newell.