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Statehouse Beat: Miley may have the votes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although counting heads prior to a legislative party caucus is an imprecise science, it appears going into a House Democratic caucus some time later this month, House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, has more than enough votes at the moment to win the majority nomination as House speaker.

While that would be a victory for those wishing to (mostly) maintain the status quo in House leadership, and a victory for the labor unions that backed Miley, the biggest winners in a Miley speakership (at least they seem to think so) is the state GOP.

2014 will be the last election cycle that state Republicans will be able to use President Barack Obama as the boogeyman in the campaign.

While the GOP tried to link Obama with Joe Manchin in the 2010 U.S. Senate special election, and with Earl Ray Tomblin in the 2011 and '12 gubernatorial elections, voters didn't buy that the two conservative Democrats were aligned with Team Obama.

However, that strategy might have a better chance with a more liberal, labor-backed trial lawyer as leader of the House of Delegates.

Remember, Republicans need to pick up just five seats to take control of the House, after an 85-year stretch as the minority party. Fueling GOP optimism is that Shelley Moore Capito will be at the top of the ticket, likely with no serious Democratic opposition in the 2014 U.S. Senate race.

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To that end, a whisper campaign trying to link Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, to an alleged federal investigation of Team Mingo PAC seems to have had the desired effect, making uncommitted House Dems leery of siding with the Finance chairman in the speaker's race.

Peculiar timing, then, that GOP operative Rob Cornelius just happened to file election law complaints against White, Sen. Art Kirkendoll, D-Logan; Senate candidate Mark Wills; Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick; and Treasurer John Perdue on May 23 and 24 (and distributed press packets on the 24th), right in the midst of the speaker's race.

Never mind that these are minor, slap-on-the-wrist, refund-the-contributions type infractions, or that White's contribution was from surplus from his 2010 campaign; the timing is of primary interest here.

Virtually all the activity in question took place prior to the May 2012 primary elections, and the pertinent financial disclosures were filed by the PAC between April and mid-June of 2012, and have been gathering dust (or the electronic-record equivalent thereof) in the Secretary of State's office ever since.

Considering that the PAC raised and spent a grand total of about $5,000, it couldn't have taken 11 months to analyze those reports, could it?

However, the timing has seemingly proved quite effective in putting the possibility of a link between White and any Team Mingo investigation in the heads of uncommitted delegates.

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I've been leery of rumors of federal investigations ever since unfounded rumors of an investigation cost then-Senate Finance Chairman Oshel Craigo the election in 2002.

Likewise, how many times did we hear that indictments were imminent against the Manchin administration, when ultimately, one interior decorator ended up doing six months for stringing some state contracts?

I'm advised that at least one area of inquiry by federal authorities in Mingo County involves an ongoing issue of drug dealers being tipped off on pending grand jury indictments.

(Recall that the Legislature this session passed a bill sponsored by Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, making it a crime for members of grand juries to disclose such information. Marcum, an assistant county prosecutor, stressed there had been a rash of incidents of drug dealers being tipped off, and skipping out-of-state before warrants could be issued.)

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White, meanwhile, sounded resigned to the fact that he doesn't have the votes in the speaker's race, barring a bunch of delegates changing their commitments in the secret balloting.

White was displeased that labor -- the West Virginia AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, and the West Virginia Education Association -- had been so overtly involved in the race, formally endorsing Miley and pressuring delegates to support him.

On one level, labor leaders may realize this is their last hurrah in terms having the ability to select House leadership. On the other hand, it would seem to play right into the GOP's strategy for trying to win control of the House in 2014.

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Finally, regarding the uncertainty of vote-counting in legislative caucuses, I'm reminded of the story senators like to tell regarding the election of an acting Senate president, after Tomblin moved to the governor's office following Joe Manchin's election to the U.S. Senate.

Supposedly, the three hopefuls -- Jeff Kessler, Mike Green and Brooks McCabe met informally to gauge who had the most support going into the Senate Democrat caucus.

They quickly ascertained that they had more commitments between themselves than there were Democrats in the Senate. After some analysis, they realized that Truman Chafin had "committed" to all three senators.

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


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