Women take lead in House of Delegates

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia House of Delegates will have a new majority leader going into the 2019 legislative session — the first woman to ever hold the role.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, named Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, as majority leader, representing the Republican caucus in the House. The majority leader position is the third most powerful position in the House, with only the House speaker and speaker pro tempore positions being higher.

“Having worked with Amy the past four years on the Judiciary Committee, I’ve seen firsthand the reasoning and tenacity that will help her excel as Majority Leader,” Hanshaw said.

Summers, a registered nurse, a former county medical examiner, and a farmer, was first elected to the House in 2014 when Republicans took the majority for the first time in more than 80 years. She represents the 49th District, encompassing Taylor County and parts of Marion and Monongalia counties.

“I’m honored by the confidence Speaker Hanshaw has shown in me with the Majority Leader appointment,” Summers said. “West Virginia is at a key turning point. Our caucus’s bold, conservative leadership has pulled the state out of the morass in the past few years, and now we have a tremendous opportunity to build a brighter future for all. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the coming years to create a more prosperous state for generations to come.”

Committee assignments for Summers include being vice-chair of the House Health and Human Resources Committee, and sitting on the Agriculture and Natural Resources, Judiciary, and Political Subdivisions committees.

According to research by the House Clerk’s Office, Summers is believed to be the first woman to hold the majority leader title. House Communications Director Jared Hunt said their research has only found women holding majority whip positions in either the House or the state Senate.

Former state Sen. Jae Spears, D-Randolph, was the first women to hold the majority whip job in the Senate in 1982. Two years later she became the first woman chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Former Del. Marjorie Burke, a Democrat who represented Gilmer County in the 1980s and 1990s, also served as majority whip.

Summers will replace former Del. Riley Moore, R-Jefferson, who was slated to take the majority leader chair until he was defeated for re-election in November. Moore filed pre-candidacy papers to run for state treasurer.

Another member of Hanshaw’s leader team is Del. Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, who will serve as assistant majority leader.

“Kayla was the second-youngest member of the Legislature when she was first elected, but in four short years she has become one of the leaders within our caucus through the way she fiercely tackles issues and works to effect change,” Hanshaw said.

Kessinger is starting her third term in the House after being elected in 2014. The human resources director for Synergy Sand in Mount Hope, Kessinger is vice-chair of the Select Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse. Kessinger follows Carol Miller, the former assistant majority leader and majority whip, who just won election to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from Cabell County.

“I am greatly humbled by this appointment and look forward to working with all members to make a difference in our state,” Kessinger said.

Hanshaw also appointed Del. Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, as the new majority whip, replacing Carol Miller. Espinosa was first elected in 2012 and serves as the chairman of the House Education Committee.

“I am grateful for this appointment and the Speaker’s confidence in me,” Espinosa said. “As Whip, I look forward to working with our caucus to build consensus, educate them on the intricacies of the issues facing our state, pass legislation and find new and innovative ways to move our state forward.”

Hanshaw is expected to announce committee chairs and assignments over the coming days.