William Paul "Bill" Cole III (born May 16, 1956) is an American businessman, politician and a former Republican member of the West Virginia Senate, representing the 6th district from 2013 to 2017. He was the President of the Senate (and thus first in line to the governorship) from 2015 to 2017. Cole also served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from May 28, 2010, to January 12, 2011, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Delegate John Shott.
Cole was the Republican nominee for West Virginia Governor in 2016, choosing to run for the office rather than run for re-election to the state senate. He lost the election to Jim Justice and was succeeded by Mitch Carmichael as Senate President.
After earning his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Northwood University, Cole returned to Bluefield, West Virginia, to work in his family business operated by his father, Paul Cole, who was Bluefield’s longest serving mayor. He has two daughters Elizabeth and Taylor. His two older sons, Jason and Lee, work for Cole Automotive Group.
In 2012, Cole challenged Democratic Senator and former state Delegate Mark Wills, who had been appointed to the post. Cole was unopposed in the Republican Primary held on May 8, 2012. Cole received 2,757 votes in the primary. He went on to win the November 6, 2012 General election with 18,598 votes and 53.3% of the vote against Senator Wills.
In 2015, Cole declared his candidacy for Governor of West Virginia in the 2016 election. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and West Virginia’s three congressman all endorsed Cole, essentially clearing the path for Cole to become the Republican nominee uncontested. Cole received fundraising support from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and from former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Cole lost the general election to businessman Jim Justice.
Following the Republican takeover of the State Senate, the GOP Caucus elected him President of the Senate. He was the first Republican to hold the post in 82 years.
In 2015 Cole, who is an auto dealer in his home state and Kentucky, championed Senate Bill 453, which restricts car manufacturers from selling vehicles directly to consumers, instead requiring they sell through franchises. In December 2015, Cole wrote an official letter to the Surface Transportation Board, opposing a proposed merger of the Norfolk Southern Railway with the Canadian Pacific railway. Canadian Pacific broke off negotiations in April 2016.
Among the bills signed into law during Cole's tenure as Senate president include making the election of judges nonpartisan, banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, legalizing concealed carry without need of a permit, repealing the state's prevailing wage law, and enacting a Right-to-work law. The latter four bills were enacted into law over Democratic governor Earl Ray Tomblin's veto.
In May 2016 Cole endorsed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during Trump's campaign rally at the Charleston Civic Center.