By Mannix Porterfield
Rick Thompson is abandoning his post as speaker of the House of Delegates to accept a cabinet-level job in the Tomblin administration as head of the Department of Veterans Assistance.
Thompson’s departure is likely to trigger a scramble to succeed him as speaker, with a number of Democrats expected to jockey for the post.
Democrats unanimously had chosen the Wayne County lawmaker last winter to serve as speaker for a fourth straight term.
His election came as Republicans occupied 46 of the 100 seats in the House, leaving them only five shy of becoming the majority party.
A former soldier who served as an MP, the retiring speaker succeeds Keith Gwinn, a 20-year Navy veteran.
Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, learned of the change in Thompson’s political career last night, saying he then had it confirmed by Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, and other Democrats in the House.
An announcement by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is expected at noon Thursday.
Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, now in his fifth year as majority leader, praised Thompson’s service as speaker, said that he would like to follow in Thompson’s shoes.
“I’m happy for him personally, but I’m disappointed as far as the House goes,” Boggs said.
“I think we have come off an extremely productive session. He’s been a great speaker, with an open door policy in the truest sense of the word, not just in theory, but in actions.”
Boggs and Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, were the most prominent names to surface as possible successors.
“I certainly have an interest,” Boggs said, adding he would be talking with fellow Democrats in the next few days to “look into that possibility.”