CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Despite House Speaker Rick Thompson's brave talk last week, when the House of Delegates gavels in to start the 2013 regular session, chances are that someone else will be holding the gavel.
Count the addition of 11 Republicans (to 46 of the 100 seats) and losses of members of Thompson's leadership team (Delegates Ron Fragale, Larry Barker and Greg Butcher), as well as of delegates that Thompson could count on for support (John Doyle, Bonnie Brown, Bobbie Hatfield and Helen Martin), and things start to look shaky for a left-of-center, pro-Labor Democrat.
Then there's wild card that Thompson will likely lose another member of the leadership before the party caucuses:
Longtime Senate Clerk Darrell Holmes will be retiring next month, and the tradition is to appoint a senior senator to that position. (In this case, Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison.)
The most logical (and likely) candidate for appointment to fill Minard's Senate seat is House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, which would mean more dismantling of Thompson's leadership team.
Everyone I've talked to seems to think House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, is the front-runner for speaker, although no one would be surprised if the de facto leader of the Kanawha delegation, Delegate Doug Skaff, makes a run, even though he's only served two terms in the House.
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There's also could be a fight for the Senate presidency, where current President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, saw his support weakened Tuesday, though he's not nearly as vulnerable as Thompson.
Some see it as no accident that two Kessler supporters lost re-election bids this year -- Economic Development Committee Chairman Richard Browning in the primary and Judiciary Vice Chairman Mark Wills in the general election.
Another likely supporter, Dan Foster, did not seek re-election, and his seat was one of three Republican gains in the Senate (though they still have only nine of 34 seats).
Kessler prevailed in the 2011 Democratic caucus over Sen. Brooks McCabe by a 17-11 margin.
If a conservative Democrat (Sen. Mike Green's name has been mentioned) can peel away 10 or 11 votes in the upcoming caucus, and secure a majority vote of Republicans on the floor, its not inconceivable that there could be a change of leadership in both houses of the Legislature.
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To that end, the biggest losers election night may not have been senators or delegates, but members of the state teachers' unions.
For years, the teacher union-friendly House Education Committee has been a reliable location where the West Virginia Education Association or American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia could bottle up bills -- particularly bills intended to give school administrators more flexibility in hiring, promoting, or removing schoolteachers.
Tuesday's election left the current committee relatively intact -- four Democrats and three Republicans lost (notably, four of the seven ousted are current or retired public school employees) -- but the overall makeup of the House is going to make it much more difficult for committee members to sit on education reform bills.
That will be especially true next session, because reforms recommended in the state audit of public education will probably be a key part of the Tomblin administration's 2013 agenda
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Speaking of the Senate, 11th Senatorial District candidate Margaret Kerr Beckwith has already petitioned Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for appointment to the Senate seat that will become vacant in January when Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, stops herding bottled water to become agriculture commissioner.
She makes a good case, considering that she got nearly 13,000 votes against incumbent Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, despite being outspent by a margin of about 45-to-1.
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Give Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper credit for the best line from the election: "In my Father's house, there are many Manchins, but only room for two from Marion County."
He was referring to the re-election of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, and Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, but the defeat of Joseph Manchin IV for Marion County Commission.
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Finally, knock on wood, West Virginia will finally enjoy a year without an election.
However, the next time there's an opportunity to put a referendum on the ballot, there's one constitutional amendment that's critically needed.
That's to waive the provision that delays the start of the legislative session for one month in years following a gubernatorial election in those years when the sitting governor is re-elected.
When the constitution was drafted, governors couldn't succeed themselves, so lagging the session one month made sense, to allow the incoming governor an extra month to get organized.
However, when the Governors Succession Amendment was adopted in 1970, the authors of the amendment failed to put in language waiving the delayed session when the incumbent governor is elected to a second term.
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.