The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

May 19, 2013

Big decision looms for W.Va. House

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s House of Delegates faces a momentous decision after Speaker Rick Thompson departs for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Cabinet:  choosing a new leader will help set the stage for 2014, when Republicans aim to wipe out the Democrats’ ebbing majority.

With Thompson slated to resign next month to head the Department of Veterans Assistance, Tomblin’s ability to advance his legislative priorities may be tested once delegates elect a speaker.

The midterm election prospects have Minority Leader Tim Armstead looking at ways the House might end up with a GOP speaker. November gains increased his party’s ranks to 46 of 100 seats, its largest share in decades. The Kanawha County Republican plans to emphasize his caucus’ as-yet-unsuccessful push for such measures as an intermediate appeals court and a constitutional amendment targeting non-real estate property taxes.

“Unfortunately, the (current) leadership has been unwilling to put those issues to a vote,” Armstead said. “If there’s a Democratic speaker, unless they’re much more willing to adopt many more of the programs that the Republicans have been fighting for, I don’t see the people of West Virginia embracing them.”

Armstead’s chances rely on peeling away just a handful of Democrats. But that failed to happen when battles during the recent regular session came down to close roll call votes. GOP attempts to amend or derail Democratic proposals were routinely rebuffed during the 60 days. The majority also kept together when it elected Thompson for his fourth term as speaker over Armstead in January.

The Democrats’ more immediate choice is whether to stick with Thompson’s leadership team. The emerging candidates include Majority Leader Brent Boggs of Braxton County, Finance Chair Harry Keith White of Mingo County and Judiciary Chair Tim Miley. Each has cited what’s at stake for their party, which also holds a majority in the Senate, the executive branch’s elected offices and the state Supreme Court.

“Whoever the speaker might be has a heavy burden in terms of maintaining a Democratic majority and pursuing the Democratic ideals of moving West Virginia forward,” said Miley, a Harrison County lawyer. “The next speaker is at great risk of ‘one session and done’... I know that (the Democratic Party) will be far more active in the upcoming election ... You’d want to do whatever you can.”

Republicans netted 11 seats in 2012, in part after quietly funding several political action committees that targeted districts considered battlegrounds with attack ads. The Democrats had no comparable game plan, with its legislative incumbents receiving support instead from labor union PACs to mixed effect.

“We don’t just need to maintain the majority. We need to grow it,” said Boggs, a railroad engineer. “We need stability ... I think we need to make minimal changes right here in mid-term. We need to get this taken care of in a manner that’s as amicable as possible ... We need a unified House.”

Thompson himself was an outsider when he first won the speakership. Then-Speaker Bob Kiss was leaving the Legislature in 2006 when Thompson overcame his majority whip, Scott Varner, when the party caucus nominated its choice that November. Given that precedent, third-term Delegate Doug Skaff is weighing a run for speaker.

The Kanawha County business owner is not strictly a back-bencher. Skaff chairs a minor committee and is one of 10 assistant majority whips. Following Thompson’s announcement last week, the 36-year-old pledged to regain ground for his party while giving a strong voice to its next generation of officeholders.

“I think we need to do something bold and drastic, which is why I’m throwing my name in the mix,” Skaff said.

Tomblin was largely successful this session, his first since winning a full term as governor in November. The Legislature passed all but four of his agenda’s 32 proposals, including its centerpiece plan to improve public schools and another major bill tackling inmate crowding. White said that while the House always has its own priorities, working with the governor remains important.

“I think the governor will remain pretty aggressive with his agenda moving forward when it comes to job creation and education,” White said. “Whoever ends up sitting in that seat, I think we all agree that has to happen in West Virginia ... I think it’s very important going forward that we try to work together on those issues.”

Once Thompson resigns, Tomblin has 10 days to call the House into session to choose a new speaker. The delegates in each party traditionally hold separate closed-door caucus meetings to nominate a candidate, and then the full House votes. Tomblin also must appoint someone to Thompson’s then-vacant seat representing Wayne County. A special party executive committee will recommend names for that decision.

1
Text Only
Latest News
  • forum1 VIDEO: Meet the Candidates

    ABOUT THE FORUM:
    The Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce hosted a Meet the Candidates forum Thursday morning at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.

    April 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • Forum: U.S. Senate and House

    U.S. Senate
    The lone candidate for U.S. Senate to attend the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce Meet the Candidate Forum, David Wamsley, described himself as “the most liberal candidate, the most conservative candidate and the most moderate candidate” in the race. Wamsley said he believes each individual issue should be dealt with on its merits and not because of partisan politics.

    April 25, 2014

  • Forum: House of Delegates

    District 28
    Democratic House of Delegates candidates Jeffry Pritt and James Brown focused on issues dealing with the efficiency of the Legislature, crime, infrastructure and taxes.

    April 25, 2014

  • Forum: Board of Education

    Perennial board of education issues of technology, consolidation and truancy were among the questions dealt with Thursday by candidates for a seat on the Raleigh County Board of Education.

    April 25, 2014

  • After being line-item vetoed from state budget, Meadow Bridge to get $50,000 from WVDOE

    After the prospect was initially vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in March, Fayette County School Superintendent Keith Butcher announced this week that the county will indeed receive funds for Meadow Bridge High School after all.

    April 25, 2014

  • ARH, BARH registered nurses to stage one-day strike

    A national labor union announced Thursday that registered nurses at Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital will join colleagues at Appalachian Regional Hospital in Hazard, Ky., in staging a one-day strike May 1.

    April 25, 2014

  • expressway Coalfields Expressway developments detailed by WVDOT

    A convoy of press, public and politics raised clouds of dust along an unfinished corridor of the long-awaited Coalfields Expressway Thursday during an open tour of the construction zone.

    April 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mercer County firefighters batting three different brush fires

    Firefighters are currently on the scene of at least three brush fires now burning in rural areas of Mercer County.

    April 24, 2014

  • BeverlyMagnumMUG.jpg Woman who attempted to rob bank at gunpoint captured in Tennessee

    A woman who attempted to rob a Bluefield bank at gunpoint has been captured in Tennessee , police said Thursday.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Former federal prison worker pleads guilty to sex offense

    A former federal prison employee pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Beckley to engaging in abusive sexual contact with a female inmate.

    April 24, 2014