I suspect that West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead had barely finished his announcement to a closed door House Republican caucus Friday morning that he was not running for re-election before some of the members started thinking about who would replace him.
Here are some names that continually come up when talking about a successor. Not all of these Delegates have even indicated they are interested; they are simply the most talked about members when discussing the future Speaker’s race. I list them in no particular order.
–John Shott. The Bluefield lawyer is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He has established a reputation as thoughtful and hardworking, while managing to stay out of some of the most public political fights. He turns 70 this year and may not be interested in the considerable headaches that go along with the Speaker’s position.
–Daryl Cowles. As Majority Leader, the Morgan County Republican holds the number two spot in the House. That’s both good and bad. On the plus side, he could be considered “next in line” to succeed Armstead. But in that number two position he sometimes has to serve as “bad cop” and deliver disappointing news to fellow Delegates. He could also have issues on his right flank.
—Eric Nelson. He is chairman of the Finance Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the Legislature because all spending runs through his committee, so he has considerable experience. One of the challenges for the Kanawha County Republican is that he’s not considered conservative enough for some in the House.
–Paul Espinosa. The Jefferson County native has cut his leadership teeth as chairman of the important Education Committee. Additionally, he is conservative enough to appeal to the bulk of the caucus. Espinosa may not be ahead of others already mentioned in the pecking order, but remember that the political strength of the eastern panhandle region is growing.
–Roger Hanshaw. The Clay County lawyer is only 37 and has far less experience in the Legislature than many of his fellow lawmakers—he was first elected in 2014. But he is regarded as knowledgeable about a broad range of issues. He has also established credibility by leading the Republican caucus discussions. However, some may feel he hasn’t paid enough dues.
–Riley Moore. The Jefferson County Delegate is an up and comer in the Republican Party. He also has politics in his blood; he’s the grandson of former WV Governor Arch Moore and nephew of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito. However, after just one term in the House, Moore will probably have to gain more experience.
–Wildcard. The House Republican caucus includes some on the far right and even a couple members who are more libertarian. Collectively they don’t have enough support to elect one of their own, but they can influence the outcome of the election.
Here are a couple of other points to keep in mind about the Speaker’s race:
This is an election year and all 64 Republicans in the 100 member House are up (as well as the 36 Democrats). Republicans first have to maintain the majority, otherwise it will be the Democrats who decide the next speaker.
Also, because it’s an election year, anyone interested in being Speaker has to first worry about winning their own Primary and General Election.
And finally, Armstead’s decision to not run again could have a dramatic ripple effect on the House leadership. The Speaker chooses their own leadership team, meaning committee chairs and vice chairs will all be subject to change.
The remaining 48 days of this legislative session will not only determine what bills pass and how much the state will spend next fiscal year, but it will also serve as an open audition for the next Speaker of the House of Delegates.