UPDATE: Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, will leave the Legislature to become Cabinet Secretary of the Department of Veterans Assistance.
Tomblin made the announcement Thursday at the Capitol. Thompson’s appointment will be effective following the retirement of current veterans assistance secretary Keith Gwinn. Gwinn will step down in mid-June due to health concerns.
Tomblin praised Thompson for his “strong commitment to the people of our state, especially our veterans.” He noted Thompson pushed for a bill during the most recent legislative session that would have provided veterans with more flexibility in finishing college courses after being called up for active duty.
Thompson is an Army veteran, serving in active duty from 1972 to 1974 as a military policeman. He then served in the Army Reserves from 1974 until 1978, when he was honorably discharged. He is a life member of American Legion Post 93, in Kenova, W.Va.
Gwinn is a U.S. Navy veteran.
House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, will resign his House leadership position to take a new role in the cabinet of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Delegate Doug Skaff told the Daily Mail Thompson “is taking a new position” and the Kanawha County Democrat will run for speaker.
Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said there will be an announcement this morning about the speaker and the governor.
Radio talkshow host Hoppy Kercheval reports “sources” say Thompson will leave his post as speaker to become the next secretary of the West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance. Current cabinet secretary Keith Gwinn is expected to resign.
Other media outlets also reported the anticipated announcement and shifting position for Thompson. None used any sources by name.
Skaff has kicked around the idea of running for U.S. Congress after U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced earlier this year she is running for U.S. Senate. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is retiring.
After former state Dem0cratic party chairman Nick Casey announced his plans to run for Congress, many speculated Skaff and the party wanted to avoid an intense primary.
There was talk before the start of this year’s legislative session that Skaff was interested in challenging Thompson for the speaker’s position. Right now Skaff said he’s sitting in a good position to make a move for speaker.
“I have a pretty good following of anywhere from 18 to 20 votes,” Skaff said.
There are 54 Democrats in the House. It would take votes from the majority–28 delegates—to secure the speakers roll.
Other House Democrats who will likely run for the spot include Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, House Finance Committee Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison.
Boggs and White both confirmed they would be interested in becoming the next speaker. Miley told Kercheval he “probably” would run for speaker.
Boggs said he was headed to Charleston anyway Thursday morning, but had heard Thompson could resign. If that is the case, the 17-year veteran of the House said he would be interested in running for speaker.
“If the vacancy occurs, that’s something I would certainly have an interest in,” he said.
Boggs praised Thompson’s ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats, using an effective “open door policy” to find compromise. If Thompson does resign, Boggs– who has served as majority leader for the last five years–said now is the time for continuity in the House.
White said he feels like he’s represented all of West Virginia in his last seven years as chairman of the finance committee. Working with the governor and both parties in both chambers to craft the state’s massive budget has given him good perspective as leader of the House, White said.
Being speaker is a full-time position, White said. He commended Thompson on the job he has done, adding finance chairman is also a position that requires a great deal of work outside of the regular legislative session.
Skaff thinks it will come down to himself or Miley, but there will be plenty of political wrangling in the next few days. Skaff said he thinks the House needs someone who is politically moderate and able to work with both parties to create jobs, help seniors and move West Virginia forward.
He questioned whether Boggs or White could be seen as the status quo.
A message left with Thompson was not immediately returned.
Thompson was first elected to the House in 1980, but left and became assistant prosecuting attorney for Wayne County in 1981, according to the Legislature website. Thompson returned to the House in 2000 and was first elected speaker in 2007.
A new speaker must be elected within 10 days of Thompson’s resignation, said House Clerk Greg Gray. White said he expects the resignation to take affect June 15.
Once Thompson officially resigns, Gray said Tomblin must call a special session of the House (not the Legislature, as the Senate isn’t needed). Both parties will meet in caucus–a private meeting–and nominate someone as their candidate for new speaker, Gray said.
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