CHARLESTON - West Virginia's House of Delegates elected Tim Miley as its new speaker Tuesday - though only after one of his fellow Democrats crossed party lines to vote for the GOP nominee.
The Harrison County lawyer prevailed 53-44 over House Minority Leader Tim Armstead of Kanawha County during a brief special session convened by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Miley, 47, had been Judiciary Committee chair under former Speaker Rick Thompson, who resigned over the weekend to join Tomblin's Cabinet as secretary of Veterans' Assistance. Miley will preside over the House through the end of 2014, with all 100 seats on the ballot that year. The Legislature holds a regular, 60-day session each year along with monthly interim study meetings during much of the remainder. June's three-day series of meetings begin today in Wheeling.
In a floor speech after Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis administered his oath as speaker, Miley described growing up in a bipartisan household. Thanking his wife, daughter, parents and other family members present, he pledged to focus on education and the state's road and Internet infrastructure while linking both to economic development.
Those voting Tuesday included newly minted Delegate Timothy Kinsey, a retired banker appointed earlier in the day by Tomblin to take Thompson's seat representing Wayne County. The election tested the slim majority of Democrats, who hold 54 seats. They faced a tight window to unite: Finance Chairman Harry Keith White had also sought the speakership before endorsing his rival on Friday.
With three GOP delegates absent - Troy Andes of Putnam County, Amanda Pasdon of Monongalia County and Ron Walters of Kanawha County - Miley and Armstead followed a House tradition and each voted for the other. Delegate Ryan Ferns, an Ohio County Democrat, voted for Armstead during the roll call.
"West Virginia first. Party second," Ferns tweeted from his desk in the House Chamber.
Ferns afterward said he objected to outside groups interfering with the House's internal affairs. Several labor groups endorsed Miley's candidacy, and White had complained while in the running of the resulting lobbying.
"I think there were bully tactics involved," said Ferns, who had backed White. "I think it was excessive in the way it was done."
The state Chamber of Commerce had also weighed in, targeting several of Miley's supporters by seeking to link them to President Barack Obama. The president's deep unpopularity in West Virginia has become a recurring headache for fellow Democrats, who hold all but one statewide executive office as well as a majority of the Legislature and state Supreme Court.
Ferns also said he has no plans to switch parties, respects Miley highly and told his fellow Democrat beforehand he planned to vote for Armstead. Miley said he thanked Ferns for the heads-up, adding that he can handle honest disagreements.
"I would have liked to have gotten his support," Miley said. "All that means is now I have to earn his support going forward."
Miley's tasks also include deciding who should chair committees and fill the floor posts of majority leader and majority whip. Miley echoed his comments from his candidacy that he expected minimal change.
"I expect most of the leadership team to resemble what you've seen before," Miley said.
While not committing to keeping White in charge of Finance, Miley said he expected the Mingo County banker to remain part of the leadership team. The interim meetings complicate the timing of any chair changes, Miley said, as they feature joint House-Senate versions of the regular committees. Judiciary Vice Chair Tim Miley of Marion County will step up in that committee for now, he also said.
Miley joins Senate President Jeff Kessler of Marshall County as the top leaders of the Legislature. The northern lawmakers reflect a regional shift in that branch, which had long been dominated by southern legislators. Tomblin had been part of that bloc as a nine-term Senate president representing Logan County - until he became the first governor from southern West Virginia since the 1960s.
While urging bold steps to improve West Virginia and the lives of its citizens, Armstead vowed to seek a good working relationship with Miley and the Democrats in a floor speech introducing Miley as the House's 56th speaker. The state Republican Party and GOP operatives, meanwhile, attacked Miley as a personal injury lawyer and liberal. The state Chamber had also cast Miley in those terms. Miley describes himself as moderate-to-conservative.