CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislators re-elected state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, as the 81th Legislature convened briefly on Wednesday.
In his acceptance speech, Thompson reached out to House Republicans, who now constitute a sizable minority of 46 of the 100 House members.
"This isn't Washington, thank goodness. We know West Virginians don't want gridlock. They want progress," Thompson said, after being elected to his fourth two-year term as speaker.
"Voting no at every turn -- or pushing off earnest attempts at real solutions until we reach the edge of a "cliff" in order to avoid difficult votes -- will not work," he told House members.
Thompson called on delegates to put principal above partisanship, ethics above opportunism, and the people's interests above special interests.
Quoting John F. Kennedy, Thompson said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."
Earlier Wednesday, House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, pledged to Thompson the "continued friendship" of House Republicans.
"As friends, we don't always agree on everything, and I'm sure that will continue," Armstead said. "We will work always with a goal of making West Virginia a better place."
Both Thompson and Kessler told members to expect a challenging 2013 regular session, with state budget cuts, an aggressive education reform package, and issues regarding health care accessibility and affordability on the agenda.
"I am confident we will not only face these challenges, we will find solutions that will change our state positively," said Kessler, elected to his first full two-year term as Senate president.
Afterward, Thompson confirmed that his speech was a call for bipartisan cooperation, but stressed that virtually all key measures passed by the Legislature in recent years have had strong support from Democrats and Republicans alike.