By Mannix Porterfield
Finance Chairman Harry Keith White exited the race Friday for speaker of the House of Delegates, leaving the gavel in the hands of Tim Miley, after weeks-long jockeying for the right to use the No. 3 license plate in West Virginia.
While he is the heir-apparent to outgoing Speaker Rick Thompson, the nine-year delegate and chairman of the judiciary committee still spoke cautiously about Tuesday’s special session, called exclusively for the House.
“We’re not across the finish line, yet,” the Harrison County lawmaker said Friday.
“You don’t ever want to count your chickens before they’re hatched. But I’m very pleased that Harry Keith White has supported my candidacy for speaker because I respect him immensely.”
Ever since Thompson was named to a cabinet-level post of secretary of the Department of Veterans Assistance, attention was riveted on the House, where a scramble erupted no sooner had the Wayne County disclosed his intention to retire.
Just about everyone in a position of authority leaped into the fray, but before long, the jockeying telescoped down to Miley and White.
White said he and Miley agreed that it would be counter-productive to prolong their race heading into Tuesday since no ideological gap exists.
“With Miley and myself being pretty much what we consider moderate candidates, we felt like it really didn’t make a lot of sense to continue to oppose each other,” White told The Register-Herald.
“So, I took a position that I would support him as speaker of the House.”
White pointed out the House is in the midst of the 81st Legislature, only 11 months from the next primary election, and six to seven months shy of the filing period for 2014 candidates. What’s more, the next regular session is only half a year off.
“At this point in time, the least disruption the better,” the Mingo County lawmaker said.
Miley issued no hints about his leadership team, including the one position he is vacating — judiciary chairman.
“Hopefully, there will be minimal changes and we’ll go forward,” White said.
“We’re going to probably look at trying to put a legislative agenda together which will encompass obviously a jobs plan and an education plan moving forward.”
Miley and White had engaged in talks the past two weeks and spoke again Thursday.
“We felt like a lot more can be accomplished and a lot more productivity can occur in the House of Delegates by working together and not against each other,” Miley said.
“And I don’t mean just as Democrats, but obviously, that’s where it starts. Based upon the conversation I’ve had with folks and the understanding, it appears the party is unified. And I hope that we can get through next Tuesday and get about doing the House’s business and the business of the people of West Virginia.”
Earlier in the week, Miley claimed the support of 37 of the 54 Democrats, but at that stage, wasn’t ready to consider the race settled.
Miley agreed it is important that Democrats unite behind one candidate, at least in the speaker’s race, but said unity isn’t critical when legislation is considered.
“If you look back historically at the legislation, the most significant legislation that has passed over the years in the House of Delegates has had overwhelming bipartisan support,” he said.
“Rarely does legislation pass along party lines, believe it or not. On occasion, yes.”
Forty-six of the 100 seats are owned by Republicans, and there has been some talk of the GOP working quietly in an endeavor to lure five disenchanted Democrats over to their side in the speaker’s vote. That would give them 51 votes, sufficient to put a Republican, namely Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, at the podium.
State Democratic Chairman Larry Puccio applauded Miley and White for coming to a personal agreement so the party could achieve unity.
“Tim Miley is a responsible leader who will bring innovative and valuable ideas to the House to move West Virginia forward,” Puccio added.
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