This week’s election has reopened debate over who should be the Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Last summer, Kanawha County Delegate Tim Armstead resigned his seat in the Legislature to run for the State Supreme Court, opening up the Speaker’s position. After some jockeying and a closed-door caucus, Republicans chose Roger Hanshaw from Clay County.
However, the caucus vote was close. Hanshaw bested Kanawha County Delegate and House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson by just two votes.
Republicans lost five seats in Tuesday’s election, and there are 18 new faces on the GOP side that could change the dynamic in another Speaker’s race.
Hanshaw wants to hold on to the position, while Nelson would like to try again to ascend to the Speaker’s office. The two have a friendly relationship and they are expected to meet to try to resolve the leadership question without dividing the caucus again.
The election cost Hanshaw his wing man. Jefferson County Republican Riley Moore lost his bid for re-election Tuesday. Moore rounded up votes for Hanshaw in the Speaker’s race last August and was rewarded with the position of Majority Leader in the House.
Hanshaw, if he retains the Speakership, will have to choose a new Majority Leader. I’m told that Nelson is not interested in that position, but there will be no shortage of House Republicans who covet the post.
Meanwhile, some House Republicans are still stewing over outside efforts to influence the Speaker’s race the last time. The 1863 PAC ran advertisements on broadcast media (including West Virginia Corporation stations) and on social media supporting Hanshaw for the position.
Veteran Republican Delegate John Overington said at the time, “In all my years, I cannot recall any time we had radio ads or newspaper ads in favor of one candidate over another.”
MetroNews’ Brad McElhinny reported that Bob Murray, CEO of the coal company Murray Energy, hosted a fundraiser for the 1863 PAC. Murray is no fan of Nelson because the House Finance Committee chairman opposed a plan by Governor Jim Justice (and supported by Murray) for a sliding scale of severance taxes—lowering the tax during a soft market, but raising it during boom times.
The stakes are high in this post election scrum over the House leadership. The Speaker appoints committee chairs and has final say on the legislative agenda. A Speakers race may be the ultimate in political inside baseball, but the outcome is significant in public policy for the state.