GOP supports minority leader bid

CHARLESTON – The Republican minority leader will have the support of local lawmakers in his bid to become the next Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

It was announced recently the current speaker, Delegate Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, will be stepping down around June 15 to join the cabinet of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin as secretary of the Department of Veterans Assistance following the retirement of Secretary Keith Gwinn.

Tomblin will have 10 days following Thompson’s resignation to call a special session so the House can elect a new speaker.

Democrats expressing interest in succeeding Thompson as speaker include Majority Leader Brent Boggs of Braxton County, Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley of Harrison County and Delegate Doug Skaff of Kanawha County.

But with Republican delegates holding 46 seats after the November election gains, House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, plans to seek the speakership as he did in January.

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said the Democrats still outnumber the Republicans in the House 54-46 and such votes usually follow party lines.

Once Thompson steps down, the Democratic Executive Committee of Wayne County will submit three names to the governor to select someone to take over the delegate seat for that district.

Anderson believes that person will be in place before the House meets to elect a new speaker so the Democrats will maintain their 54-person majority.

Although the Republicans have traditionally been outnumbered in votes for speaker, the party always has a candidate for the position, Anderson said.

“I will support Tim Armstead,” he said.

However, for Armstead to win, five Democrats would have to support him.

“I don’t think that will happen,” Anderson said. “This is usually done on a partisan vote. I would be surprised if it was anything else, but I always have hope.”

Delegate Tom Azinger, R-Wood, said the Republicans always nominate the minority leader for the speaker’s position every year as a matter of formality.

The Democratic Caucus will meet to decide who it wants for the position.

“By the time it reaches the floor, everyone will know who will win,” Azinger said. “The Democrats will vote for their guy and the Republicans will vote for our guy and it will come out 54-46.

“That is what the score will be.”

Azinger said the vote usually follows party lines. There was only one instance he recalls where someone abstained from voting.

It is possible for a number of Democrats to cross party lines and vote for a Republican, but Azinger believes it is unlikely.

“It could happen, but I doubt it,” he said. “Those people would be ostracized by their own party and would probably find their parking space moved to southern Jackson County.”

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, said he plans to support Armstead.

“I think he would make a good speaker,” he said. “Right now, he is pretty much the choice of the Republican Caucus.”

However, Ellem said it comes down to the numbers the Democrats have.

“The ball is in the court of the majority party to see if they can come to an agreement,” he said.

None of the Wood County Republican delegates had any indications who the front-runner for the Democrats might be.