By Mannix Porterfield
Tim Miley says he never dreamed that the day would dawn when the speaker’s gavel would rest firmly in his hands in the House of Delegates.
In fact, the Harrison County lawmaker never gave the idea any thought until a month ago when Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, left the podium to take a cabinet-level job in the Tomblin administration.
“This is a position I never thought I would filling up to about five weeks ago when the vacancy became available,” he said, minutes before the House voted 53-44, on a strictly party-line vote, to make him the new speaker.
“Now, that day is here.”
In an interview before the Democratic majority prevailed in a showdown with Republican Leader Tim Armstead, the new speaker vowed to maintain his open-door policy and willingness to listen to all sides in every issue.
“Without comparing myself to anyone else, I can commit to being very open and very desirous of finding common ground among people who may have drastically different views on issues,” the judiciary chairman said.
“Oftentimes, people may take polar opposite views on issues, which usually means the right place to be is somewhere in the middle.”
Miley was viewed by his supporters as a moderate -- a trait he jokingly told the House can be explained by his parents, one a Republican, the other a Democrat.
More importantly, the values of mutual respect for all is another characteristic Miley says he learned at the feet of his parents.
“That’s the way my parents have taught me to be from birth,” he said.
“I don’t know that there’s any other way to be — just trying to be fair and honest with people.”
When it was learned Thompson was bowing out to become secretary of the Department of Veterans Assistance, a mad scramble erupted in the House in hopes of succeeding him.
Ultimately, the race telescoped into a two-man battle, and the other man in the running, Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, exited last week and threw his support to the frontrunner. At the time, Miley said 37 of the 54 Democrats were pledged to him.
White said the choice of Miley was “the best thing for all of us, the Democratic Party and for the Legislature.”
Much legislation passed through their respective committees, he pointed out, and the two had forged a friendship.
“We understand each other’s personality,” the Mingo County lawmaker said.
“Obviously, I think either one of us would have been all right as speaker. As it turned out, I’m satisfied with him. I think he’ll do a great job as speaker of the House.”
White was disappointed he couldn’t muster the support needed to take the gavel, but only smiled when asked about this.
“We have to do what’s best for the state of West Virginia,” the finance chairman said.
“It would serve no real purpose to go out there and get in a fight among ourselves. We’ve got a lot of important issues for the state of West Virginia and the citizens here. We’ve got to move on down the road and put this behind us and move on.”
Early on, Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, was in the running, and was among those applauding Miley’s victory.
“Tim shares my values,” he said.
“He shares my vision. And he’s a good friend. I think he’s proven to be a consensus-maker here in the House. He’s never held back legislation or pushed one person over another. I think he’s going to be very well respected as speaker and hit the ground running.”
Miley acknowledged in an interview that lawmakers at times are going to be at odds over legislation and engage in disagreements.
"Heck, my wife and I do, probably more often than people would realize,” he said.
“Simply disagreeing with a fellow delegate doesn’t mean you have to be disagreeable. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, we all represent West Virginia.”
Miley said he believes all in the House share a goal of wanting to better the state but don’t always see eye-to-eye on how to get there.
“That’s really the difficult part of navigating public policy, trying to find that common goal that all sides want to reach and get there,” the new speaker said.
Education Chairman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, nominated him, telling the House, “He’s a consensus builder, one who values the opinions of others.”
Armstead’s name was thrown into the voting by Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, who likewise described his candidate as one with the ability to get along with others.
In the Republican caucus, he said, Armstead never once resorted to “threats, intimidation or strong-arm tactics.”
“He truly is a man of character,” Shott said.
Three delegates were absent for the historic vote, after which Miley addressed the chamber, saying he wants to focus on education, expanding high-speed access and natural resources.
Before the address, Miley indicated he would sit down next week and scrutinize the leadership team he inherited from Thompson and see what changes are in order.
“I don't think you’ll see a drastic change,” he said.
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