The number one topic this week in the Legislature-and perhaps in the entire political scene of West Virginia is the anticipated June 15, 2013 resignation of House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson of Wayne County. The resignation means that the Democratic members will caucus and choose a new leader. That leader will then, barring extraordinary events, be elected to the Speaker at a Special Session of the Legislature by a vote of 54 to 46-the total of Democrats vs. Republicans. That vote should occur at the end of June.
Speaker Thompson did a fine job as Speaker, and I wish him well. The job of Speaker is not easy: it must rise above partisanship in order to keep control of a chamber of 100 politicians of both parties. (And many of them, surprisingly, like to speak). The Speaker's most important decisions are the appointments of the rest of leadership, the chairs and vice chairs of committees, and which delegates serve on committees. Also, because the minority party has an important voice to be heard, the Speaker must be considerate and thoughtful to fairly insure the rights of the minority party. Rick Thompson has been praised by both parties for being fair and hard working.
Right now, the most likely candidates for the speakership are House Majority leader Brent Boggs (Braxton), Finance Chair Harry Keith White (Mingo), Judiciary Chair Tim Miley (Harrison) and Economic Development Chair Doug Skaff (Kanawha). The process by which a majority caucus chooses a new leader is a cross between the television show Survivor and an electoral campaign. All of the contenders will vie for backing from the various interest groups: labor, business, lawyers, etc. Factions are forming, and alliances are developing. Friendships will be tested and voting records reviewed.
It is my hope that the process will not be contentious. The last thing West Virginia needs right now is for us to be distracted from making good public policy. My approach to whom I will support is not to lose sight of what is most important: which candidate best understands the Eastern Panhandle and its needs. Additionally, I will support the candidate who has more than a short-term vision for West Virginia---and for the candidate who best understands its economy, its diversity and the need to protect its citizens, whether old or young, rich or poor, from bad public policy. I have been in contact with my colleagues in the House, and I am confident that we will be genuine in making this extremely important choice.