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Statehouse Beat: Tomblin, Republicans do lunch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With gains made in the November election, Republicans don't yet have the ability to control the legislative process in 2013, but they have sufficient numbers in the House of Delegates to wreak havoc if they chose.Perhaps with that in mind, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hosted lunch for about a dozen or so ranking Republican delegates and senators at the close of November interim meetings on Wednesday.Tomblin reminded the legislators that the 2013 session will be a crucial one, with much work to be done on education, health care, and job creation.He stressed that much can be accomplished if everyone works together, and noted that, when it comes to key issues, they agree more than they disagree.House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said he thought it was a good sign that Tomblin was willing to reach out to Republicans."We were encouraged that he was willing to sit down with us, and share what his thinking is for the session," Armstead said.From Tomblin's perspective, it's important to keep an open door with House Republicans, who with 46 members, will have sufficient numbers to tie the House up in knots if they choose."We're not going to be contentious for the sake of being contentious," Armstead said.*Meanwhile, if there was to be any change of leadership in the House for the 2013 session, the maneuvering would have taken place during the November interim meetings, in preparation for the party caucuses that are held the Sunday evening before December interims, this year on Dec. 9.That didn't happen, as the most viable challenger to House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, has stayed true to the current leadership team. (As noted before, it doesn't make a lot of sense to risk the chairmanship of the Finance Committee for a chance to make what could be considered a lateral move to House speaker.)Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, had been mentioned as a long-shot candidate for speaker, but again, he would have had to be putting the pieces in place during November interims.There's a line of thought that it behooves House Republicans and conservative Democrats to keep the current leadership team in place in the event that the 2013 and '14 sessions end up in gridlock. That way they could use that to campaign for a call for change in 2014.*
Wednesday's luncheon was at the Governor's Mansion, not in the party tent set up for the governor's holiday parties that started over the weekend.
Although the $24,500 lease with A-to-Z Rentals of Huntington runs through March 15, 2013, Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said the administration has exercised a 30-day out clause, so the tent will come down at the end of the month. (Under state purchasing law, the state can get out of any contract on 30 days' notice.)After the holiday parties this month, plans were to use the tent for inaugural and legislative receptions, but the decision was made that those events aren't sufficient to justify the cost of renting it for an additional 2 1/2 months.Rental costs run about $6,600 a month, including costs of propane to fuel the heaters in the tent.*Finally, more on the saga of the black bears outside Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office at the Capitol.
Linda Harvey, administrative assistant to Ken Hechler, said Hechler has notified the state that he would like to have at least the larger of the two bears relocated to his office in Imperial Tower, where he now resides, upon completion of McGraw's term. (Hechler purchased the two bears while secretary of state, and loaned them to McGraw after leaving office in 2000.)Harvey said Hechler intends to donate the bears to the state at some point, presumably after Patrick Morrisey is out of office."These are Democrat bears," she said.A similar fate probably awaits the third, "baby bear," which I was advised had been in Warren McGraw's office in the state Supreme Court. After losing his re-election bid to Brent Benjamin in 2004, McGraw gave that bear to brother Darrell to add to the display.Department of Administration spokeswoman Diane Holley-Brown said none of the bears are state property, so their disposition is a matter to be resolved between Hechler, McGraw and Morrisey.Meanwhile, former secretary of state Betty Ireland reminded me that the taller bear made a return to its original location during her tenure (2005-09).She recalled chiding McGraw at her first Board of Public Works meeting, calling on him to let her display one of the bears in its rightful location outside of the secretary of state's office.McGraw didn't seem very receptive to the idea during the meeting, but about a half-hour afterward, there was a great rumble in the Capitol hallways -- as workers wheeled the bear back to her office.Ireland said McGraw insisted that she sign legal documents verifying that the bear was on loan from his office.Reach Phil Kabler at or 304-348-1220.  
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