By Mannix Porterfield
Not since the Roaring ’20s have so many Republicans won seats in the West Virginia House of Delegates, and Minority Leader Tim Armstead is relishing his growing clout.
After Tuesday’s election, the GOP owned 46 of the 100 seats, only five shy of a majority Armstead suggested was a strong possibility last month.
What the Republican advances mean is the leadership won’t be force-feeding its agenda any longer, because the GOP can forge alliances with conservative Democrats to block unwanted legislation, Armstead said Wednesday.
“This is the most Republican delegates we’ve had since 1928 and I think it really sends a message,” the Kanawha County lawmaker said.
Talk about rattling the eyeteeth of liberals.
Not only did the Republicans come within a handful of reaching a majority, but they managed to elect their first-ever delegate from Democrat-controlled Boone County, in Joshua Nelson’s unprecedented victory — an upset of veteran Democrat Larry Barker.
“This is very significant,” Armstead of the shift in the House.
“First of all, on most of these committees now, it’s a one- or two-vote difference between Republicans and Democrats. This will allow us to move forward with a lot of these initiatives we’ve been pushing for several years. If the Democrats block us, they kind of do that at their own peril. What I see is voters having expressed what they want to see happen.”
High on the GOP list of things to accomplish are reform in the arena of inventory and equipment tax, saddled with a plan to help counties overcome a revenue setback, changes in the education system, a stronger ethics law and more government transparency, and infrastructure improvement, the minority leader said.
Republicans now may have the power to force a vote to let West Virginians decide on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as an act between a man and a woman, Armstead suggested.
“I think so, but obviously our focus is going to be on jobs creation and economic development and moving our economy forward,” he said.
This could prove to be a difficult task, he said, given the re-election of Barack Obama and the frenzy of his Environmental Protection Agency with its “war on coal.”
“We’re going to have to find a way to survive four more years of that,” he said. “I don’t know how we’ll do it.”
“By and large, I think Tuesday’s vote shows the people of West Virginia are conservative and have conservative values. They want their delegates to show those values and to push for the things that need to be changed. We’ll continue to do that.”
When Armstead was elevated to minority leader, there were only 27 other Republicans in the House.
“We’ve made steady gains every time,” he said.
“I wish it would have been 51, but from a practical standpoint, what we’ll see is a lot more ability to move forward on these issues.”
His first task is to pick a new lieutenant, since minority whip Mitch Carmichael won a seat in the state Senate. But Armstead said he hasn’t had time yet to look over the candidates.
Could he choose from the Raleigh County delegation, now outnumbering the Democrats 4-1?
“You never know,” Armstead said. “Raleigh County went pretty well for us.”