CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Five moderate House Democrats who had been part of an uncommitted coalition, as well as a Webster County delegate, announced Wednesday their decision to support House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, in the House speaker's race.
"This morning, we said both these guys are great guys and we love them both, but we thought Tim Miley would be best for our area," said Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, head of the informal "We Are West Virginia" coalition of moderate Democrats from central West Virginia. "We wanted to assure what is good for our area, and what is best for West Virginia."
Following discussions, she said five members of the coalition -- herself; David Perry and John Pino, both D-Fayette; Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh; Peggy Donaldson Smith, D-Lewis; in addition to Dana Lynch, D-Webster, committed to support Miley in the Democratic caucus for House speaker.
House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, announced May 16 that he would be resigning from the House next month to accept a gubernatorial appointment as secretary of the state Department of Veterans Assistance.
While at least a half-dozen delegates initially expressed interest in becoming speaker, within a matter of days, Miley and House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, emerged as the two top contenders.
Last week, Staggers issued a statement indicating that she and six other uncommitted delegates had formed a coalition, saying: "The group's goal is seeking a new speaker that is a master facilitator, peacemaker, and able to compromise to find a middle ground."
Two members of that coalition, David Walker, D-Clay, and Larry Williams, D-Preston, did not commit to support Miley Wednesday morning, Staggers said.
"It was not unanimous, but we agreed to stick together as a group," she said of the six delegates.
Miley put out a press releases later Wednesday listing Walker among 15 delegates who individually announced their support for Miley. Miley's releases did not include the six new Democrats who pledged their support for him Wednesday.
Also Wednesday afternoon, three labor groups -- the West Virginia AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association -- issued a joint statement endorsing Miley for speaker.
In what is believed to be a close race, the commitment of the six-delegate coalition could be critical.
With 54 Democrats in the House, 28 votes are needed to win the majority party caucus, although it is uncertain whether a replacement for Thompson will be appointed prior to the brief special session of the House of Delegates to elect a new speaker.
Traditionally, the individual that wins the Democratic caucus is supported by all Democrats in the floor vote in the House, making the official vote to elect a speaker a formality.
Staggers said she's hopeful the House will unite behind the new speaker.
"I wish a big hand could come down from heaven and anoint one of them," she said.
Neither Miley nor White could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1220.