By Mannix Porterfield
It sounded almost like an inauguration.
And, in a sense, indeed it was Tuesday, when Tim Miley accepted the gavel as the 56th speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Anyone with anything to say let nothing but kind words flow for Miley, both from fellow Democrats, who only weeks ago were rivals for the job, and Republicans, at times at odds with the majority party.
For the moment, it was a political honeymoon for the new owner of the No. 3 license plate in West Virginia.
Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, leading the largest contingent of Republicans in the House since the Depression, came within a few votes of winning the post himself.
With 46 members of his party occupying seats, the Republicans are a viable force and Armstead already is setting his gunsights on the 2014 election in hopes of picking up five more slots — enough to make his party the majority.
For now, however, there was no partisanship.
This was, after all, Tim Miley’'s day and all wished him well.
“We intend to work together as a body to move West Virginia forward in bold steps to make sure that the people who sent us here and look to us to make their lives better, to make sure they can stay here in West Virginia, that they are not disappointed by the folks they sent here,” he said.
Armstead acknowledged that he, at times, won'’t approach legislation from the same vantage point as the Democratic leadership.
“We will work together,” he told the full House.
“Where we can agree, we will stand side by side to make the progress that we all know we have the ability to make in this chamber. And when we disagree, we will do it as ladies and gentlemen. We will do it from principle.”
Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, who forged a coalition of moderate Democrats that wound up endorsing Miley over his chief rival, Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, spoke highly of the new speaker.
“If I had not liked him, I wouldn’'t have endorsed him for the spot,” he said.
“I think he is truly moderate to conservative. I look forward to getting some of the legislation I would like to see run under his speakership. I think Tim will do a very good job.”
Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, viewed the change in leadership as “refreshing.”
“I think he'’ll be very moderate,” said Perry, a retired principal at Collins Middle School in Oak Hill.
“He has a set agenda for education, jobs and employment. I think he will be successful.”
One lawmaker, veteran Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, like many, is wondering how Miley will make up his committees and just who will be chairing them.
Miley said he plans to begin this task next week.
“I hope it will be a productive session coming up,” Sumner said.
“I hope we can look at legislation to move forward for job creation in the state. That'’s our No. 1 priority, putting people to work. We don'’t know who his committee appointments are going to be. So, there’s a lot to be in place before we can see how we’re going to move forward.”
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, which backed Miley, said he is “excited” that the state can achieve progress under his tutelage.
“His knowledge and compassion for the state, and calmness and ability to get people together, is going to make him a really good speaker,” Lee said.
While the Republicans failed to elect the speaker, they did get one small measure of victory.
Under a 1973 law, when a vacancy occurs in the speaker’s slot, the longest serving member acts as speaker pro tempore.
That left the task up to Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, who began his brief tenure in that position by quipping, “This is just another day in Paradise in West Virginia.”
Miley won on a 53-44 tally, taken along party lines, and was immediately hugged by his wife, Susan, and daughter, Jordan.
In his remarks, delivered after taking the oath from Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis, Miley wasted no time recognizing White, his strongest competitor in the month-long race for speaker, after Delegate Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, left to become secretary of the Department of Veterans Assistance.
“Harry Keith White is a man of class, dignity and character that is unmatched by anyone else I ever served with,” Miley said of the finance chairman, who called it quits last week and threw his support to him.
Miley alluded to three areas he intends to zero in on — education, broadband expansion and natural resources. As for the latter, he said, “"Coal has been taking a hit on all levels.”
“We must start with ensuring that every child in this state is in a position to receive an education or some type of training that provides value,” he said.
“We live in a world where academic success and/or success in training endeavors is critical to ultimate success in life.”
Miley also plugged heightened access to the Internet, saying this has become “as vitally as important as water, sewage and good roads.”
There was little time for lawmakers to revel in the changing of the guard, since June interims open today in Wheeling, home of West Virginia’'s first capital and chosen for the meetings in deference to the state’'s 150th birthday on Thursday.
Before leaving, Miley imparted one final promise, saying, “You don'’t serve me. We serve together. I won’'t let you down.”
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