CHARLESTON — A state Senator serving Upshur and several surrounding counties has stepped down from his legislative committee assignments while he finalizes the sale of an out-of-state business.
Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, remains in the legislature but asked to be removed from all committee assignments in a letter to Senate President Craig Blair.
“I recently took on a large project in my company and it will require a considerable amount of my time over the next several weeks to get the project properly launched,” Karnes wrote in the letter. “As a result, my ability to fully participate in committee meetings and deliberations will be significantly impacted.”
Karnes, who was elected to the Senate in November 2020, told My Buckhannon he had listed some of his businesses for sale even before he ran for office.
“Before I started to run for office, I listed a couple of those businesses for sale,” Karnes said. “The process takes time. It is really about bringing my investments back a little closer to home in West Virginia so I can spend more time with my family. Whether I won the election or lost, it was just time to do that in my life.”
Karnes said he told Blair weeks ago that his business dealings might limit his participation on committees.
“Something like this may be disruptive, but I gave him a heads up several weeks or even a month ago, and I said, look, I am not necessarily going to be able – even when I am in West Virginia – to be on every committee, and I may not always be in West Virginia during this process.
“It is better to have somebody in a committee seat than to have a constant series of absences. So, I said this is probably best for the Senate, best for me, and I would feel better knowing that somebody is sitting in those seats.”
Karnes said the timing of the deal was largely out of his control.
“It’s the natural process of selling a business – somebody comes along and you talk to them and you decide maybe they are a good fit and they like the business and they make an offer. The businesses were listed a long time before January, so I do not have total control of the timing.”
Although selling the business will temporarily limit his participation in the legislature, Karnes said it will allow him to focus more on the Mountain State in the future.
“I need more of my time [now], even though it is obviously not the best time from a Legislative perspective,” he said. “I think it is better anyway – for my constituents, it means going forward there is one less distraction out-of-state for me, so I can spend more time in West Virginia in my district working on constituent concerns.”
Karnes, who has been criticized for not always following the legislature’s rules on mask wearing, dispelled rumors that he had been forced off his committees.
“I saw somewhere somebody said I had been thrown off my committees. That is not true,” he told My Buckhannon. “Overall, I think we are having a great Legislative session and I am hoping to be as big a part of it as I can possibly be.”
Karnes expects to be back in Charleston on Monday, and the deal should be finalized sometime in the next few weeks.
“What this really comes down to is both for my family and for my district,” he said. “Long term, this is far better than having me on the road 100 or 150 days a year. I think it is good all around. It is just unfortunate timing.”
Karnes served on the Banking and Insurance, Education, Interstate Cooperation, Judiciary, Pensions, and Transportation and Infrastructure committees. He is in his second stint as a state Senator after initially getting elected in 2014 but losing in the 2018 Republican primary to Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur.