CHARLESTON - All but one of the Democrats representing the Northern Panhandle in the West Virginia House of Delegates announced Wednesday they will support House Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Miley to be the next speaker of the House.
Dels. Randy Swartzmiller and Ronnie Jones, both D-Hancock; Phil Diserio, D-Brooke; and Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, all indicated they would vote for Miley, D-Harrison, when the House convenes to select its next speaker.
Del. Ryan Ferns, D-Ohio, was not included in the announcement. He did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Current House Speaker Richard Thompson, D-Wayne, is set to step down in mid-June to become cabinet secretary for the state Department of Veterans Assistance. After this, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has 10 days to convene a special session to select a new speaker.
The session is expected to happen in Charleston either before or after the Legislature meets in Wheeling for interim sessions June 19-21 as part of West Virginia's 150th birthday celebration in the city.
Miley and Finance Committee Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, are believed to be the leading candidates to replace Thompson. Swartzmiller serves as speaker pro tempore under Thompson.
"Tim brings a balance and a certain amount of comfort to the table," Swartzmiller said. "Members have always respected him. ... When he took over the Judiciary Committee, he put a balance back in the committee. He has an open door policy that is fair to everybody. ... Tim has a strong reputation as a person who is honest, with integrity, and who always works to do what is right. When an individual has those traits, it's a tough hand to beat."
Swartzmiller said he believes Ferns is supporting White.
"And that's his prerogative at the end of day," Swartzmiller added. "There was no arm twisting, and people are lining up for what they think is best. We believe Tim has the ability to unite all members and has the ability to go in and have a good session."
Swartzmiller noted supporters of White want to make changes, while those behind Miley believe he will maintain Thompson's agenda and current leadership team.
"The way Delegate Miley is looking at it, if the quarterback is hurt and out of the game, you just replace the quarterback - not the whole team," Swartzmiller said. "This has been a good Legislature that has done good things for the state, and he doesn't want to interrupt that by changing everything."
Jones agreed the current leadership team needs to stay in place.
"I don't think it's good to change (leadership) in the middle of the session," he said. "(Miley) has the same agenda as Rick, and I would like to keep him in there. I don't want changes in the middle of the session."
Diserio said his focus is to "just keep the (Democratic) party united, and to stay strong together through the 2014 election."
"I don't have anything against Harry Keith, and I don't doubt his abilities or leadership," he said. "But we lost a lot of seats in the last election. Miley is from Harrison County - and he will look around at the whole state. He will be fair and do the best for the state as a whole."
Ferro is assistant majority whip in the House and a member of the Judiciary Committee under Miley.
"I anguished over this decision, and I just made up my mind Monday evening," he said. "Both men - Delegates Miley and White - are good men who are highly capable. But I felt more in tune with Tim. He has been my judiciary chair for the past four years. I know he is a man of great knowledge and integrity - not that Harry Keith isn't."