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Will GOP House gains make a difference?

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  -- House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson said Wednesday he is confident he will continue in that role in the 2013 legislative session, even though Republicans gained 11 seats in the House Tuesday.

"I've always worked with all members of the House on the issues, Democrats and Republicans," said Thompson, D-Wayne. "I think we will continue to do that."

With Tuesday's election, Republicans hold 46 of the 100 seats in the House, the highest number since 1928 -- a year that marked the last Republican majority in the House.

While he stopped short of predicting a change of House leadership, House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said Republicans will have a greater say in issues affecting the House next session.

"Right now, what we're really wanting to do is to work with the members of the Democratic caucus who feel as we do that there need to be some significant changes, that we need to be sure bold steps are taken to improve our economy, and not just nibbling around the edges," Armstead said.

In December, the 54 Democratic members of the House will meet in a closed-door caucus to nominate a House speaker for the 81st Legislature. Traditionally, House Democrats vote as a bloc to formally elect that individual on the first day of the regular session.

However, if House Republicans persuade five conservative Democrats to defect, the grounds could be in place to elect a more conservative Democrat as speaker.

"We feel like there's a number of conservative Democrats we'll be able to work with," Armstead said Wednesday.

If that doesn't translate into a change in leadership, it will certainly make it more likely that Republican-backed legislation get consideration in the House, he said.

"I think this will make a real difference in our ability to get bills we would like to see be discussed and taken up in committee," he said, adding, "In the past, we've been blocked time and time again by the Democratic majority."

Thompson, however, said he doesn't think Republican gains in the House will result in seismic changes.

"They're still a few votes short," he said of Republicans forcing leadership changes. "The state of West Virginia is still our primary focus, continuing to make it a better place."

House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, agreed.

"There will be a lot of changes in the House with the new members, but we've worked very well in a bipartisan manner, and we've gotten a tremendous amount accomplished," said Boggs, noting that issues such as Workers' Compensation privatization, elimination of the sales tax on food, and reduction of the corporate net income tax had strong support from Republicans and Democrats alike.

"This was a difficult election climate. We had a lot of controversy at the top of the ticket, and that translated into the outcome of other races," he said.

Besides the greater ability to block initiatives they oppose, the increase in Republican membership will also make it easier to take procedural actions such as discharging bills from committee for immediate consideration on the House floor.

However, former state Democratic Party chairman and political pundit George Carenbauer said House Republicans should exercise their newfound power responsibly.

"Here's a piece of advice to Republicans: Don't overplay your hand," he said. "Don't start doing a bunch of crazy stuff. Continue to exercise fiscal responsibility, tax policy reform, those kinds of things."

Carenbauer said he believes the Democrats' setback in the House is a direct result of the failure of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and other top Democrats to side with President Barack Obama during the campaign.

"It would be unreasonable to think that there would be no ripple effect," he said, adding, "One of the things I think that hurt down ticket was that there was no defense of the president's policies. No one said, "Here are the good things President Obama has done for West Virginia."

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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