We got a sample of the potential contentiousness in a House of Delegates divided, with 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans, in two heated debates last week over the magistrate pay raise bill (HB2434).
With three exceptions, the passage vote and the debate leading up to it was partisan - and to a great extent, more ill-tempered than usual. (It's not unusual to see legislators stage intense debates on the floor, then pat themselves on the back and share a drink in junior rules - but the exchanges last week seemed more angry and personal than usual.)
Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, who in his new role as minority whip is the target of many of the Democratic delegates' barbs, said despite last week's exchanges, he believes the members of the newly configured House will manage to work together this session.
Also confounding was why the first bill the House leadership took up this session was a controversial pay raise bill that died in Senate Finance last year, and appears to have no better chance of passing the Senate this session.
During the debate, the point was made that the House frequently makes a point that the first bill passed is significant, be it Ethics Act reform, or prescription drug cost management a few years back.
The most plausible theory for why the House this year instead fast-tracked the unpopular and likely doomed magistrate pay raise bill may have something to do with the political aspirations of its lead sponsor, Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison.
Miley is expected to run against appointed Sen. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, in 2014.
(Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin selected Cann over Miley to fill the vacancy created when Sen. Joe Minard retired to become Senate clerk in January.)
While the pay raise bill will fade from voters' memories by 2014, the magistrates in the five counties in the 12th Senatorial District won't forget what Miley tried to do on their behalf - particularly magistrates and staff in Lewis County, who dropped to the lower pay tier effective Jan. 1 because of population losses in that county.
When it comes to elections, magistrates yield a lot of influence in small, rural counties, and that includes Gilmer, Braxton and Clay counties in the 12th.