The in-house races for leadership positions in the two chambers of the West Virginia Legislature are typically affairs kept behind closed doors. The lobbying for votes within the party is usually in hushed tones that produce promises of support that may or may not materialize.
However, this year’s race for Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates has spilled out into the open. Delegate Brandon Steele (R, Raleigh) publicly announced earlier this week on WJLS’s “Radio Roundtable” show with Fred Persinger II that he is challenging current Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R, Clay).
The election will occur after the November General Election.
Interestingly, Steele is currently a key member of Hanshaw’s leadership team, since he serves as chairman of the Government Organization Committee, but he is displeased with the direction at the top.
“I believe our progress is stalled under the current leadership and a new direction and new focus is necessary,” Steele said.
Steele, who is only in his second two-year term, is one of the more outspoken members of the most conservative wing of House Republicans. He believes the Republican supermajorities should be more effective at passing legislation reflective of the conservative values of voters who sent them to Charleston.
The Beckley lawyer cites the recent special session as an example of when lawmakers could not agree on an abortion bill or tax cuts, and during the regular session the Legislature did not approve a bill prohibiting the instruction of Critical Race Theory in schools or legislation banning mask mandates.
Steele is not alone, but it is unclear if he can gather enough support to unseat the current speaker. Hanshaw is generally well-liked and respected by most members of his caucus for his intelligence, steady hand and calm demeanor.
However, he is more interested in economic issues than social causes, which creates trouble within the GOP caucus. Hanshaw has often found himself at odds with fellow House Republicans over bills that he felt were too far out on the fringe.
Hanshaw is not commenting on the power struggle, but I am told he is determined to keep his position. That means marshalling his leadership team to solidify his support.
The power struggle within the House Republicans is a result of electoral success. The views and objectives of the members were fairly consistent when the GOP had only a handful of members. Plus, the minority party was more about blocking or changing legislation, rather than originating and passing significant policies.
But now the Republicans hold 78 of the 100 seats, with more gains likely in November. The caucus is more diverse and the leadership’s effort to guide the group can be like herding cats. Discontent is inevitable.
Steele already believes he has enough support to make it a close race. However, there is a significant difference between a delegate who is disgruntled and a member who is willing to take a chance on supporting a sea change that would lead to a top-to-bottom restructuring of the House leadership and committees.