House Republicans are scheduled to caucus Tuesday night at the State Capitol to pick a replacement for Tim Armstead, who resigned last week to run for a seat on the State Supreme Court, and has since been appointed to the Court. Armstead is the only Speaker the Republicans have had since assuming the majority in the 2014 election, and he was typically chosen by acclimation in caucus and then a roll call vote on the floor, but now there is a campaign on for the powerful leadership position.
Armstead announced earlier this year that he was not running for re-election and that caused some initial jockeying among delegates for a replacement. However, Armstead’s somewhat surprising resignation last week instigated furious campaigns by several delegates.
Predicting front-runners is tricky because the candidates themselves are not always confident about their level of support, since a delegate may privately pledge their backing to more than one persons. However, here is what appears to be the lay of the land at the moment.
Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay) and Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha) are the front-runners, with a slight edge going to Hanshaw. He has several members working on his behalf, notably Riley Moore (R-Jefferson). Moore expressed interest in the position earlier this year, but then decided to pull out and support Hanshaw.
Hanshaw has only served two terms in the House, but he has quickly risen in responsibility. He is vice-chair of the House Judiciary Committee and he serves as chair of the House Republican caucus, an important position of authority and stature.
Nelson is trying to personally contact all 62 Republicans who will have a say in the leadership position to convince them that his time for Speaker has arrived. Nelson was first elected in 2010 and he is among the Republicans who are credited with the turning of the political tide in the House. Nelson also serves as chairman of the Republican Leadership Committee, the campaign organization that supports and helps promote Republican House of Delegates candidates across the state.
He is currently serving as chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee, which wields considerable influence in state spending and tax policy. Reportedly, he and Hanshaw have talked several times about the Speaker’s race and are working to keep the contest from becoming acrimonious and dividing the caucus.
House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles (R-Morgan) has offered up a temporary solution to filling the vacancy. The current number two man in the House announced last week that he would be willing to serve as Interim Speaker until after the November General Election, and then elect a permanent Speaker if the Republicans have maintained the majority.
Cowles said on Talkline last week that he’s not necessarily interested in the permanent position, unless that is the will of the caucus. The Cowles plan does not appear to be catching on, however, because the sentiment appears to be for a more stable solution now.
Delegate Jim Butler (R-Morgan) is a latecomer to the race. The current Assistant Majority Whip is farther to the right than any of the other candidates and that will have some appeal given the strong conservative lean of House Republicans. However, Butler would have to be considered a long shot.
Delegate Marty Gearheart (R-Mercer) also threw his hat in the ring on Friday. Like Butler, he has support among the far-right flank of the party, but like Cowles, he would only be an interim placeholder as he opted to run for (and subsequently lost) a primary bid to be the party’s nominee in the 3rd Congressional District.
Today, this looks like a two-person race with perhaps a slight edge to Hanshaw. However, as mentioned earlier, this is new ground for the caucus and since the voting is by secret ballot the House Republicans head into the election Tuesday night with a high degree of uncertainty.