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Statehouse Beat: White knew numbers don't lie

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From a purely selfish standpoint, I was hoping to witness an unprecedented contested floor vote for House speaker.

However, being a banker by trade, House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, knows how to count numbers -- and couldn't come up with a scenario where the numbers worked out in his favor.

Going into White's withdrawal announcement Friday, House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, had commitments from about 37 of the House's 54 Democrats (with the 54th member, the replacement for former Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, to be appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in time to participate in Tuesday's speaker election).

That was enough to win the party's nomination in caucus, but not to secure the needed majority of votes on the floor to win the speakership.

Meanwhile, it was anticipated that the 46 House Republicans would be committed to vote for their nominee, Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, on the first ballot.

In that scenario, if White had been nominated from the floor, he would have finished third in the first round of balloting, and would have been eliminated.

(White's only chance would have been if there were two candidates nominated from the floor -- if he survived the first round of balloting, he could have hoped to peel off votes from Republicans and conservative Democrats in the second round ... )

Going into White's announcement Friday, Armstead was hoping that after the contested first ballot, he would go head-to-head with Miley in second and any subsequent rounds of balloting, needing to pick up votes from just five conservative Democrats to pull a true upset of having a speaker elected from the minority party.

While that would have been unprecedented, Armstead noted that the unprecedented has become the norm in state politics ever since Sen. Byrd's death in June 2010.

"In the last few years, there have been many unprecedented things that nobody could have anticipated," Armstead told me.

True -- 10 years ago, who would have predicted that Tomblin -- or any other legislator from south of the Kanawha, for that matter -- would be governor?

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Speaking of speculation, think how different the speaker's race would have been if, back in January, Tomblin had appointed Miley -- instead of Sam Cann

-- to fill the vacancy in the 12th Senatorial District when then-Sen. Joe Minard

, D-Harrison, resigned to become Senate clerk.

Up until the speakership suddenly opened, Miley, of course, was looking at a 2014 Senate race against Cann.

(Generally speaking, going to the Senate is a promotion, but the House speaker does get somewhat nicer accommodations than a rank-and-file Senate office ... )

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Update: Remember Ronald Morris, the longtime Sharpe Hospital employee who was not only fired but arrested in January for making an offhand comment to co-workers: "I can't believe someone hasn't come in here and cleaned house."

The Gilmer Free Press reports that a Lewis County jury last week found Morris not guilty of charges of making terroristic threats, in a trial that took just one day -- including jury selection.

At the time of Morris' arrest, Public Employees Union UE 170 field representative Gordon Simmons argued that Morris had been the victim of harassment from supervisors at the Weston psychiatric hospital, since winning a case against them in the state Public Employees Grievance Board in 2011.

Folks at the Board of Risk and Insurance Management might want to start warming up the settlement checkbook on this one ...

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A reader wanted to know how much former House Speaker Bob Kiss'

will bump up his state pension with his return to state government as Department of Revenue secretary.

Considering that he left the Legislature prior to the legislation increasing legislative salaries from $15,000 to $20,000, and increasing the additional pay for speaker from $100 to $150 a day, a ballpark calculation is that Kiss will go from about $8,500 a year to a $38,000 a year state pension -- he if stays at least three years as revenue secretary.  

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Finally, one of the ironies of Kiss' appointment as revenue secretary is that he will be the boss of his wife, Melinda Kiss, who is the assistant insurance commissioner.

(As Rick Staton, who was House majority leader when Kiss was speaker, tweeted, "That's the only place he gets to tell her what to do ... ")

Which reminded me of 2004, when in a rare move, Kiss served as co-chairman of a legislative interim work group on Workers' Compensation reform.

At one meeting in the Senate Judiciary Committee room, the work group got into some complicated technical issues regarding Workers' Comp finances, and Melinda Kiss was called to the podium to answer an extensive series of questions.

At one point, the co-chairman was asked if he had any questions, to which Speaker Kiss dead-panned, "No. She scares me."

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

 


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