Ohio County Delegate Ryan Ferns to announce party switch - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Ohio County Delegate Ryan Ferns announces party switch

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The West Virginia Republican Party is adding another about-face to its membership.

Delegate Ryan Ferns of Ohio County announced Nov. 25 he is changing his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. He also plans to seek a state Senate seat and filed pre-candidacy papers to run for the Senate on Monday.

Ferns scheduled two events for his party switch, starting at 11 a.m. at the Wheeling City/County Building and then appearing at 3 p.m. in the House of Delegates.

Ferns said he has always voted for what he thought was best for his district.

"I've always done what I feel is the right thing for my district and the state of West Virginia," he said in a press conference on Monday at the West Virginia State Capitol Building. "I feel there's no other option for me than to switch and join the Republican Party and run for the West Virginia state Senate."

A physical therapist by profession, the West Virginia GOP said they are happy to have an entrepreneur with conservative values on board.

Conrad G. Lucas II, chairman to the West Virginia Republican Party, said they couldn't be happier the rumors were true.

"It's perfect timing," he said. "He's an entrepreneur with conservative values - he's found the right party."

Born in Wheeling, 30-year-old Ferns said he has always stayed close to home and does his business in Marshall County. He attended Wheeling-Jesuit University.

"Many times this meant breaking party lines and voting with Republicans," he said. "My attempts at independent thinking have been met with threats and retaliation by leadership within the Democratic Party.

"I feel some members of that party are more focused on maintaining their own seats and political power than with the well-being of West Virginia."

Ferns was recorded as the only Democrat who voted for House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, rather than Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, in June during the special election for House Speaker.

After casting his vote, Ferns tweeted "West Virginia first. Party second."

Ferns later said his vote was not intended to go against his party, but was meant rather as a protest against the special interests that had been trying to influence the speaker vote.

Miley released a statement saying he was "somewhat (though not totally) surprised" at the announcement.

"He was in my office a few weeks ago where he was expressly asked whether he was going to switch political parties, and specifically stated to Delegate Doug Skaff, Majority Leader Harry Keith White and me that he was not going to switch political parties," Miley said. "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 was obviously disappointed in Ferns' decision, but that he was wondering if Ferns did it "in order to cash in on the promise of campaign funding that the Republican Party has made to many Democrats."

"In a day and age when there are fewer and fewer principled people in politics, I guess I should not be surprised," Miley said.

Ferns pleaded guilty to a charge of first-offense DUI in April, then announced he would resign his seat in the Legislature, which he never did.

In a May statement, Ferns said he had been "encouraged by many people to continue to seek re-election."

"At the same time, I do not wish to have my personal mistakes be the focus of any election," his statement read. "I truly believe that any such contest should be one about the issues."

Ferns owns The Ryan Ferns Healthplex in Benwood and turns 31 in December. He was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2010 and is vice chairman of the House Banking Committee.

 The West Virginia Republican Party issued an email blast Nov. 24, reminding Democrats "disappointed in Obama's War on Coal" to "join us at the polls and on the ballots in 2014."

"In order to be legally qualified to run for legislative offices as a Republican in 2014, any current registered Democrat voter or elected official must change their voter registration with their county clerk or the Secretary of State," West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said in a statement.

The party has been collecting a few switched affiliations throughout several months.

Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell, joined the Republican party in July and former Clarksburg Mayor Margaret Bailey announced she would join the WVGOP and run for House of Delegates in October.

West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio issued a statement, saying the last election "clearly showed that Ryan Ferns' heart was not in public service when he announced that he would not seek re-election," then reversed that decision.

"This comes as no surprise to me because many Democrats in his district believe that he has been an ineffective delegate," Puccio said. "They feel he would not be successful in getting through the Democratic primary this time. Therefore, it appears Ryan has taken this opportunity as a way out."