By Mannix Porterfield
By the numbers, the Republicans could force gridlock in the House of Delegates next winter by enticing a handful of Democrats to their side of the aisle, but Speaker Rick Thompson doesn’t see this as reality.
When delegates occupy their seats, 46 of them will be card-carrying members of the GOP — the most for that party since the Great Depression.
Attracting a mere five Democrats to their side could block or pass legislation.
Even so, Thompson foresees nothing like that in the 2013 session.
“I do not anticipate any problems,” Thompson, D-Wayne, said Wednesday.
“I think we’ll do what we’ve always done, which is to run the House for the business of the people of West Virginia, which they have elected us to do.”
In fact, Thompson said he sees no change in how the House runs its business.
“The election is over,” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to be the leader of the House, everybody’s speaker. I hope that everybody comes there with the goal in mind to do what they promised the people what they would do when they were running for the House, which is to better West Virginia for all of us.”
Thompson said he foresees no challenges by fellow Democrats in quest of his fourth term as speaker.
“Not that I’m aware of,” he said.
“Members want to get the work done. That seems to be their goal, what they’re talking to me about.”
Delegates will caucus Dec. 9, a Sunday, on the eve of that month’s interims to pick leaders in both the House and Senate.
Thompson acknowledged that gridlock has been a constant form of political paralysis in the nation’s Capitol, but doesn’t see the same thing surfacing in Charleston.
In advance of the session, the speaker said he has spoken with many Democrats and House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.
“People have different ideas how to better West Virginia and that’s always present in the House of Delegates,” he said.
“My job is to kind of blend all that together. I think we’ll be fine.”
Thompson foresees “an interesting session,” overshadowed by the difficulty of passing a budget in tough economic times.
“I just hope we can all get together in a non-partisan manner and pass these budget concerns,” he said.
Thompson said he is looking forward to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s package in the State of the State message and what ideas are generated in the remaining legislative interims meetings.
For practical reasons, he said, this is no time to let partisan bickering impede progress.
“We’ve got people out there hurting,” he said.
“We’ve got high unemployment. We’ve got families that are suffering. Seniors that are suffering. We’ve got gridlock in Washington that I hope they get through and get that out of the way. I don’t want to see that in West Virginia. I don’t think you will. We haven’t had that and I don’t think you will now, or in the near future.”
Thompson pointed to progress in recent years, such as cutting the corporate net income tax to 6.5 percent, whittling the franchise tax to nearly zero, and managing an unemployment compensation fund that remains flush.
Just before an interview, at the Joint Committee on Government and Finance meeting, WorkForce Director Russell Fry presented a rosy report — the fund expects to a have a balance of $127,551,000 by year’s end.
In recent years, he noted, a number of business-friendly issues have been handled. Only a year ago, the Legislature set up a funding stream to pay off the last huge liability, Other Post-Employment Benefits debt.
“We’ve done some serious work in the House of Delegates that sometimes doesn’t always get out like it should,” the speaker said.
“We just want to keep along that road. We want to move West Virginia forward. We’ve taken some giant strides in the last few years. Sometimes those get lost because of something that did or did not get passed.”