By Mannix Porterfield
Rick Thompson’s sudden departure as speaker of the House of Delegates triggered a flurry of politicking by a handful of fellow lawmakers, all eager to take the gavel from him next month in a special session.
Enter now, from center stage, a new and informal coalition: one that is dedicated to finding a speaker reflecting what it sees as the average West Virginian, a moderate, not on either extreme of the spectrum.
The idea arose out of jockeying by some House leaders, a scramble that appears to have telescoped into two viable candidates: Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo.
So, what is a moderate?
“A West Virginian,” says Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette.
“None of us is a flaming liberal or a Tea Party conservative, not far left, or far right.”
Staggers worked in tandem with Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, in pushing the idea that the next speaker should reflect the ideology of an average West Virginian.
“Most of the people that I represent are working people,” Moye said. “They get up and go to work. They come home and they’ve got things to do around the house. Got grass to mow. Chores to do around the house. Most of the folks that I know and I represent are not extremists. But they want a government that’s responsible to them. That’s exactly what I try to be, available and responsible to the people I represent, and I think that’s being moderate.”
Staggers and Moye label their coalition “We Are West Virginia,” and at last count, about 15 had signed on to be what the two delegates call “one unified voice” in picking a new speaker.
“We’re not young, we’re not rich,” Staggers said. “We’re not incredibly beautiful or handsome. We’re just representing the regular West Virginians, sort of central, moderate West Virginians. Most West Virginians are just moderate and compassionate. We need to make government work for people with a minimum of interference. That’s a good definition of moderate. No one is pleased with paying taxes. But no one is pleased with potholes in the roads, either.”
Soon after Thompson was named secretary of the cabinet-level post in the Department of Veterans Assistance, others had informally thrown their hats in the ring.
The leadership team, except for White, late this week jumped on Miley’s bandwagon, among them the first man to acknowledge his candidacy — Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.
Boggs said the judiciary chairman has “the perfect balance of experience” and has proved himself a leader.
“He is a humble man but maintains a clear thought process,” the majority leader said. “He is an aggressive problem solver but always keeps a smile and sense of humor. He leads to serve others and, in doing so, has gained much respect from the members of the House.”
Another early contender now in Miley’s corner, Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said the judiciary chairman “shows every member of the House respect, and they know they can trust him.”
Repeated efforts to reach White, at home, his business and Capitol office, were to no avail.
Among other lawmakers joining the ranks of Staggers and Moye were Delegates John Pino and Dave Perry, both D-Fayette, and Linda Phillips, D-Wyoming.
Staggers emphasized her group has no specific candidate in mind, but likely will vote as a bloc when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin summons the House into a special session after the June 19-21 interims, set for Wheeling, to pick a new speaker.
“He did an excellent job,” Staggers said of the lame-duck speaker. “He was new. He was young. He was able to convince everyone that they got a fair shake.”
Given his choice, Moye would rather see the Democrats come to terms on a successor to Thompson before the special session, rather than divide the chamber between two candidates.
“I’d rather we come to agreement, rather than have a race,” he said. “With a race sometimes, there are divisions. We as a state just don’t need that.”
One veteran lawmaker not in the Staggers-Moye coalition — Delegate Clif Moore — isn’t taking sides with any contender, but feels the outcome might surprise observers.
“This is a great opportunity for Democrats in the House of Delegates to show that we’re united, that we’re on, and that we’re together,” he said.
“And I think that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to emerge from this situation more determined, more focused and more committed to being the best Legislature we can for the state of West Virginia, not only as Democrats but in a bipartisan fashion.”
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