WV House Speaker race seems to have slowed - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

WV House Speaker race seems to have slowed

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The field for next speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates is a wide one.

Any of the chamber's 100 members could be the speaker, and the nominations are a closed, party process, but the scramble started shortly after the announcement from Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, that he would step down.

It seems to have ended June 13 when Delegate Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, announced he no longer wanted to be speaker and he will support Delegate Tim Miley, D-Harrison.

Thompson announced in mid-May he would accept an appointment from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to take the helm of the Department of Veterans Assistance, a cabinet-level position.

That position currently is held by Keith Gwinn, who is expected to retire any day. Lawmakers are clearing their calendars for a special session June 18 to name a new speaker before heading to Wheeling for the month's interim committee meetings coupled with West Virginia's Sesquicentennial celebration.

Immediately after Thompson's announcement, delegates spoke up to say they were interested in the position – at least half a dozen at once.

Slowly members started announcing their plans and sorting out their support, which petered out to a competition among the Democrats between White and Miley.

According to a news release from Susan Miley, client relations manager at The Miley Legal Group, White said he decided that joining with Delegate Miley would continue a moderate legislative approach.

"Tim and I are friends with a lot of common goals for the state in mind," White said in the news release. "We have already discussed ensuring a strong legislative agenda focused on improving business opportunity and education in West Virginia.

"He will be a strong, fair leader dedicated to moving our state forward."

Delegate Miley said in the news release that the House Democrats will "call upon Republican speaker candidate Tim Armstead to end the divisiveness and unite with us in moving WV forward."

Armstead, R-Kanawha, is traditionally the House Republicans' nominee for the speaker post.

Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, decided amid adding up his potential votes for speaker that he would run for the Senate instead.

"It's been an interesting process, to say the least, for a speaker to step down in the middle of the term caught a lot of people off guard and nobody was prepared," Skaff said. "There were varying schools of thought on the Democratic side, of what direction we need to take the House."

Skaff said Miley was leading the camp that wanted to keep change to a minimum but he and White thought they needed to be more open to the "talents of the various members around the state that might have put different people in different seats."

Skaff said he respects all the members in positions of leadership in the House who have put in a lot of hours.

"Tim Miley and I have been friends since I joined the Legislature and served on his committee for two years," Skaff said. "I've seen firsthand what a passionate, as well as respected, and dedicated leader he is."

As for the Republican Party, WVGOP Chairman Conrad Lucas says he's still confident a Republican speaker is in the cards after the 2014 election cycle.

"The Democrats can kiss and make up now, but their rift has already been made very public," Lucas said.

Larry Puccio, chairman of the Democratic Party of West Virginia, said he commends the party for "taking the time to fully review two highly qualified individuals for speaker."

"Chairmen Harry Keith White and Tim Miley should be applauded for coming together so that House Democrats can stand united," Puccio said in a statement. "Tim Miley is a responsible leader who will bring innovative and valuable ideas to the House to move West Virginia forward."

The Wayne County Democratic Executive Committee will meet at 6 p.m. June 17 to nominate three people to serve District 19. Tomblin then will select one name from the three to serve in Thompson's House seat.

Miley was elected to the House in 2004 and has served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.