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Speaker elections lacked drama

Alas, the House of Delegates speaker's election last week did not have the high drama of multiple nominees and multiple ballots.

About the biggest drama was little-known Delegate Ryan Ferns, D-Ohio, crossing party lines to vote for Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, for speaker. Ferns decried "strong-arm tactics" by union lobbyists backing House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison. (Suggesting they won't support you or will support your opponent in the next election doesn't exactly sound like Tony Soprano tactics. It sounds like politics as usual.)

It's also no surprise that Miley had not even left House chambers after his election before the state Republican Party was putting out releases calling him a liberal personal injury attorney "right out of central casting for the Left."

As noted here, GOP operatives had done a little smear campaign on challenger Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, to put doubt in delegates' minds and help assure Miley's election.

(By the way, whatever happened to those "imminent" indictments in Mingo County?)

In 2014 legislative races, the GOP's mantra will be: "Send a message to Obama and the liberal trial lawyers who run the House and Senate." That's much more powerful than, "Send a message to Obama, the liberal trial lawyer who runs the Senate and the conservative banker who runs the House."

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More interesting, perhaps, is the speculation about how Miley will structure House leadership.

Miley indicated he will minimize change and will keep White in his leadership team. However, it would be unprecedented for a new speaker to allow a challenger to retain arguably the second-highest position in the House -- not to mention that it wouldn't sit well with those who lobbied for Miley's election as speaker.

Miley also has to fill the vacancy created when he gave up the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee.

The easiest option would be to promote current Vice Chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion, but speculation is that Miley may opt to make history by naming Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, as the first black woman to chair a major legislative committee.

Poore is regarded as an extremely competent attorney, and did a good job in her first session as chairwoman of the Rule-Making Review Committee, an often overlooked but very important committee that approves agency rules for carrying out legislation passed in the previous session.

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While members of the Legislature were in Wheeling, not Charleston, for the sesquicentennial, that's not to say there weren't any fireworks.

During a photo-op with the governor at Independence Hall on Wednesday evening, Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, dropped her clutch purse, which hit with a loud thud -- exposing a pistol inside.

Naturally, Tomblin's security detail was a little intrigued, and pulled Sobonya aside to verify that she has a conceal-carry permit. (Like about two-thirds of the House, she does.)

Sobonya told me she was carrying the pistol after being advised by interims organizers that the neighborhood between her hotel in downtown Wheeling and Independence Hall was a little sketchy.

Sobonya said she didn't see any posting prohibiting firearms in Independence Hall, where she had had an interim meeting earlier in the day, and said Tomblin was never in danger, since her gun was unloaded.

She said Tomblin was good-humored about the incident.

"He took it in stride and chuckled," Sobonya said. "I told him, "Now you know you always have someone who has your back.'"

Sobonya said she figures publicity about the gun incident will gain her more votes than it would cost her in her in the 18th District (southern Cabell County and a portion of Wayne County).

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I skipped the Wheeling interims, since it looked like most of the meetings were either organizational, ceremonial or site tours.

In fact, the Wheeling paper had an article decrying the lack of activity at interims, with the headline, "Not Much To Be Accomplished During 'Organizational' Interims."

Likewise, I talked to several lobbyists who normally attend interims, who skipped Wheeling for the same reason.

Even so, Wheeling is a tough town to find hotel rooms under normal circumstances, and the combination of interims, sesquicentennial events and the Marcellus Shale boom made it impossible last week.

One attendee found hotels in Wheeling, Weirton, Steubenville and St. Clairsville, Ohio, and Washington, Pa., all booked solid. The closest location was Waynesburg, Pa., and that location was down to its last available room.

Which may be good reason why the Legislature has cut back on the number of out-of-town interim meetings.

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Finally, it's interesting how attitudes change.

When the Legislature held interims in Wheeling in 1990, no legislator dared even mention the Wheeling Downs greyhound track, let alone set foot there.

When lawmakers returned to Wheeling in 2002, most of the interim activities were at Oglebay Resort, but one of the evening receptions was at the then-Wheeling Downs Racetrack and Gaming Center.

This time, not only was the Wheeling Island Casino hotel the primary host hotel for interims, but many of the committee meetings were held in the casino-hotel's conference rooms. Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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