Tim Miley, elected Tuesday as the new speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates, has been saying all the right things during the past couple of weeks. He pledges to handle the office in a bipartisan manner and to focus on education, jobs and infrastructure.
Now comes the hard part, as Miley is well aware. He becomes one of the most powerful officials in the state at a very challenging time, when the winds of political change have been blowing – but no one knows with certainty what direction they will take in the future.
Miley, a Harrison County Democrat, replaces former Speaker Richard Thompson of Wayne County. Within days of announcing he would seek the position, Miley had garnered enough support to overcome the other leading candidate, Delegate Harry Keith White, D-Mingo.
But on Tuesday, Miley was elected by a vote closer than in other contests for speaker for many years. He won by a 53-44 vote – a comfortable margin, but nothing like the years when Democrats overwhelmingly controlled the House. Now, 46 of the 100 delegate seats are held by Republicans.
Miley is right to stress bipartisanship, simply because hefty GOP gains in the House during last fall’s elections signal many West Virginians no longer think one-party rule is good for our state. And special-interest politics, with Democrats bowing to labor unions, also is being frowned upon by more and more Mountain State voters.
Democrats still control the House, the state Senate and the Governor’s Mansion. Still, it will be more important than for many years for them to try to build consensus with Republicans.
Miley seems to be indicating he will do that. He should make it a priority – even if that angers some of his party’s traditional supporters.
A good start would be to work more closely with Republicans on job creation. For years, GOP leaders have promoted tax and regulatory reform, but their pleas have fallen on deaf Democrat ears. With the state’s budget facing severe new challenges and economic development a critical need, it may be time for Miley to be more open to such suggestions.
Again, Miley seems to have his priorities in order in terms of moving our state forward. As he grasps the reins of power in the House, he should resist attempts to keep him mired in the politics of the past.