CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Though the timing may have caught people by surprise, it was no secret that House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, was looking at his options.
One rumor was that he was planning on running for sheriff of Wayne County in 2016 -- an option that remains possible even with his pending appointment as secretary of the Department of Veterans' Assistance.
It was also no secret that his law practice had essentially been dormant since he shut it down to run in the 2011 special gubernatorial primary. You may recall it was about this time last year that the Ethics Commission shot down Thompson's request to work as a general counsel for the West Virginia Education Association.
Thompson's legislative pay in 2012 was $62,600. (The speaker and Senate president get an additional $150 a day pay for each day the Legislature is in regular, extended, special session or interim meetings, and can claim $150 a day for each day spent performing legislative duties when the Legislature is not in session.)
That meant Thompson claimed about 158 duty days. Add in the 96 days when the Legislature was in session or in interims, and that's pretty much full-time. (By comparison, Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, had total legislative pay of $45,200, or about 42 duty days.)
Thompson's legislative pay was $52,100 in 2011, and $54,650 in 2010. Assuming he stays three years as secretary of Veterans Assistance (at a salary of $95,000), that will bump his state pension from about $20,300 to $34,200 a year.
Not that Thompson is the first or last legislator to take a full-time state job to bump up his pension. Word is that his predecessor, Bob Kiss is considering an offer to become state Revenue secretary for similar reasons.
It's also no secret that Thompson's ongoing tenure as speaker was tenuous, with the composition of the House becoming more conservative and more Republican.
There was talk of a challenge after the November 2012 elections, when Republicans gained 11 seats, and seven progressive, pro-labor Thompson Democrats were defeated, but that didn't come to fruition.
In fact, Thompson did a stellar job keeping the larger Republican contingent under wraps during the regular session. Other than the pro-gun amendment inserted into the municipal home rule bill, GOP initiatives were squelched, and fears that Republicans would use their numbers to keep the House procedurally tied up in knots never materialized.
(Some GOP leaders say they were on their best behavior anticipating a Republican takeover of the House in 2014 or 2016, and didn't want "paybacks" from the new Democratic minority.)
So who will be the new speaker?