Gov. Joe Manchin appointed former chief counsel Carte Goodwin, a member of a prominent West Virginia family, on Friday to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
Manchin announced Goodwin's appointment during a packed afternoon news conference at the state Capitol.
"I know he's going to make us all proud," Manchin said. "I know that West Virginia is better off because he's passed this way."
Manchin said while the U.S. Senate seat will always be known as the one Byrd held for more than half a century, "I am truly confident that Carte Goodwin will look out for West Virginians."
Goodwin is expected to be sworn in as a senator on Tuesday.
"My responsibility now becomes to work hard every day to maintain the trust of the people of West Virginia," Goodwin said to a crowd thick with media, public officials and well-wishers. "There will be a lot of challenges ahead, and a lot to learn in a very short period of time. But I'm confident that I'm up to the challenge."
The 36-year-old Charleston lawyer would hold the seat until November. The governor wants general election voters to decide who will serve the final two years of Byrd's term. The Legislature has begun a special session to consider a proposal from Manchin setting up a fall vote.
Goodwin ruled out running for the seat Friday. Manchin has said it's highly likely that he will seek the seat at election, but has yet to announce his plans.
Byrd was history's longest-serving member of Congress when he died last month at age 92. During Friday's announcement, Manchin handed Goodwin a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution that Byrd inscribed and gave to the governor before his death — the same red-covered version that Byrd would famously pull out and wave during floor and stump speeches.
Goodwin worked on Manchin's 2004 campaign for governor before becoming his chief lawyer. He served in that post until shortly after Manchin began his second term in 2009, leaving for his family's law firm.
When sworn in next week, Goodwin will become the youngest sitting senator, according to the Senate historian's office. The next youngest, Sen. George LeMieux of Florida, is 41 and the average age of senators is 66.
"We passed this torch to another generation," Manchin said. "I have been pushing young people to get involved in public service. We have passed that torch."
Last year, Goodwin headed an extensive, Manchin-commissioned review of the state's judiciary. While general counsel, Manchin said Goodwin was key in drafting mine rescue and safety measures that responded to fatal 2006 accidents at West Virginia's Sago and Aracoma coal mines.
State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio, who had been Manchin's chief of staff, credited Goodwin for his role in that legislation as well as such other administration policies as the privatizing of the state's workers' compensation system.
"He's just a brilliant attorney, and I think he's very detailed and a disciplined individual," said Puccio, who had also been considered a potential Manchin pick. "I think he's a rising star, and West Virginians would do well if they involved such individuals in the process. I think so much of him."
Goodwin was joined Friday by his wife and son, and an extended family that includes an uncle who is a federal judge, a cousin who is southern West Virginia's U.S. attorney, and an aunt who is the state's secretary for arts and education.
Goodwin also already has ties to West Virginia's Senate delegation: His wife, Rochelle, is state director for Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Byrd's Democratic colleague. Standing alongside Goodwin at Friday's event, Rockefeller said he should not be considered an interim senator.
"He is a United States senator. Pure and simple. Robert C. Byrd would want that known," Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller also predicted that one of Goodwin's first Senate acts Tuesday will be to provide the needed 60th vote to advance long-stalled legislation extending jobless benefits.
"In a positive way, a good way, this is one of the shrewdest things the governor has done," said the Rev. Dennis Sparks, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches.
Goodwin also came out against a proposals that aim to curb manmade carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade system. West Virginia is the nation's second-largest producer of coal, which releases such greenhouse gases when burned.
"They simply are not right for West Virginia," Goodwin said. "I will not support any piece of legislation that threatens any West Virginia job, any West Virginia family."
Both President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Goodwin a worthy and dedicated public servant in separate statements. The state Chamber of Commerce, which had urged Manchin to fill in for Byrd, was also among those welcoming Friday's choice.
"Anybody who knows Carte likes Carte, enjoys working with him and finds him extremely competent," Chamber President Steve Roberts said. "He is somebody who will represent West Virginia well in Washington and make us proud."
The GOP's top choice to run for the seat is Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, though she is already seeking a sixth House term. While congratulating Goodwin and offering him a "a hand of working friendship," Capito said in a statement Friday that "political ambition was the key factor in the selection." She blasted the handling of Byrd's vacancy and proposed special election by Manchin and other Democratic state officials.
The likely special election will put another Democratic Senate seat in play this year as the party struggles to retain its majority. Democrats are expected to lose seats in November, typical for the president's party in his first midterm elections.