CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was the eve of last week's special session when reality dawned on Del. Tim Miley in his quest to become speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates. Miley's main party rival had recently endorsed him, giving the Harrison County lawyer a likely shot at succeeding Rick Thompson as speaker, given the Democrats' majority. "It really began to hit me how my role would change, and how many more people would be looking to me and counting on me to lead the House in helping to move West Virginia forward in a meaningful and positive way," Miley told The Associated Press. The 47-year-old had been chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee under Thompson, who stepped down as speaker and a lawmaker to become secretary of Veterans Assistance. First elected to the House in 2004, Miley became speaker Tuesday in a close 53-44 vote that mainly followed party lines. "I have come to accept the reality that I've been given a position by my peers of incredible honor and responsibility," Miley said. Miley expressed surprise at the deluge of people who now want some of his time, both to congratulate and encourage him and to discuss pet issues. He said he hoped to maintain what he termed an open-door policy from his tenure as Judiciary Committee chair. "I try to ask meaningful questions about their issue," Miley said. "I try to find out what the opposition is to their issue or their legislation, and then I try to reach a satisfactory point where all the parties involved can agree on a piece of legislation. That does not always happen." Thompson gave his committee chairs leeway in how they managed their workloads, Miley said. While he has yet to announce his choice of chairs -- he's said he expects minimal changes -- Miley plans to continue that approach. Judiciary advanced 171 bills during this year's regular session, which ended in April, out of more than 620 referred there for review. Besides picking a leadership team, the speaker's power also includes overseeing the powerful Rules Committee. This group decides which bills, once they clear the committee process, go before the full House for a vote on passage.
"I intend to try to identify those bills that are good public policy that have been thoroughly debated and vetted, and see those come down to the House floor," Miley said. Both that role and his handling of committee assignments risk potential conflicts with the House's large GOP minority. Republican delegates expressed frustration toward the end of this year's session when the key proposals from their agenda failed to advance, with most bottled up in committees, including Miley's. The 60 days also featured several partisan flare-ups over some of the Democrats' priority topics, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education overhaul measure and a proposed pay raise for county magistrates and staff. "I reject such criticism," Miley said, adding that "simply because they didn't get what they want" doesn't mean the leadership ignored good public policy. Miley argued that at least part of the GOP agenda reflects attempts to secure ad fodder and talking points for next year's elections. Republican lawmakers counter that their quest for a new appeals court and drug testing for people receiving welfare-type benefits reflected the will of most West Virginians. As he has previously, Miley cites how seldom legislation passes along party lines. "Most bills that reach the floor and pass the floor do so with overwhelming bipartisan support," Miley said. But he also said he hopes to increase the focus on the interests of the typical citizen.
"My biggest concern is, the people that elect us who don't have a paid lobbyist down here are the ones who are often neglected. They want us to be their representatives," Miley said. He added, "I'm not saying that what the lobbyists are proposing is bad legislation. It's just that they interact so often with legislators, that's where the attention goes. That's who you see and that's who you interact with on a daily basis." Besides any special sessions called by Tomblin, Miley's term as speaker includes the 2014 regular session as well as the monthly interim study meetings scheduled for this year and next. The entire 100-seat House is up for election in 2014, and those who prevail in November will then choose a speaker for a new two-year term. "I hope I can live up to what I want to be a positive contribution," Miley said. "I don't want to let anyone down in that regard."