By Mannix Porterfield
Scuttlebutt under the dome for months hinted at a possible uprising within the rank-and-file of the Democratic leadership for control of the House of Delegates.
Behind closed doors Sunday at a party caucus, the rumors were just that — baseless talk. No challenge surfaced.
Delegate Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, secured his fourth term to wield the gavel, with a pledge to work with a House membership that now includes 46 Republicans — the most in that body since the Great Depression.
“The House of Delegates is member-driven,” Thompson said, after a near one-hour caucus.
“Most of the issues come from members. Most of the thoughts, from their constituents, and what ideas they want to bring forth — it’s all the members put together. When you lead as speaker, at least I do, you consider it an open process.”
On occasion, he pointed out, the House has passed legislation in a bipartisan fashion.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who would expect us to come here and act like Washington, just fighting party all the time,” Thompson said.
“I don’t intend to do that. I intend to do what the people elected me to do. I intend to do the best we can to make West Virginia a better place.”
If the House begins to take on a partisan divide, Thompson said he would heighten his efforts to get it back on track.
“I will be looking at all members, Democrats and Republicans, to see what ideas they have or what their issues are,” he said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s agenda will be given the customary top priority at the outset, he said.
But education definitely is a key matter, given Tomblin’s move to get an audit of public education, he said.
Besides his proposals, Thompson said the House will examine what proposals were advanced during the interims process.
Another issue Thompson suggested is the State Police — how they can have the finest equipment to protect the public and themselves.
“We will continue to look at ways to make our mines safer and to make our miners come home safe,” he said. “That will be an issue.”
Adopting a new budget promises to be a hard task, what with finances not as rosy as a year ago, forcing Tomblin a few weeks ago to impose a 7.5 percent rollback in state spending.
“This is a lean year,” Thompson said. “The governor asked to reduce spending by 7.5 percent.
“I don’t care who’s here. A lot of people out there will be coming in here and saying, ‘We can’t do that.’ Trying to get a budget out in a lean year is going to be quite difficult, but we’re going to get it done. That’s what we were elected to do.”
Thompson was all smiles when the caucus broke and he won unanimously.
“To have the respect of my fellow members of the House is truly a great honor to me, and I don’t take it lightly,” he said.
“I don’t take my job lightly. I will do everything I can for the people of West Virginia and lead this body the way these members need to be led at this time.”
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