CHARLESTON - The speaker of the House of Delegates will step down in June to become part of the governor's cabinet.
Rick Thompson will become cabinet secretary of the Department of Veterans Assistance. The appointment was announced Thursday by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and will be effective following the retirement of Secretary Keith Gwinn in mid-June.
Tomblin will have 10 days following Thompson's resignation to call a special session so the House can elect a new speaker.
Delegate Dan Poling, D-Wood, said he has not heard of anyone with a definite edge, but believes there will be a number of lawmakers looking at the spot.
"I imagine there will be several candidates," he said. "There are always people interested."
Democrats expressing interest in succeeding Thompson as speaker include Majority Leader Brent Boggs of Braxton County, Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley of Harrison County and Delegate Doug Skaff of Kanawha County.
But with Republican delegates holding 46 seats after the November election gains, House Minority Leader Tim Armstead plans to seek the speakership as he did in January.
Of Thompson, Poling said he has never met anyone more fair.
"He was fair to everyone," Poling said. "That will be hard to replace."
Thompson had a way of bringing different people together to get legislation done that no one believed would get done with so many differing opinions on it, Poling said.
"He could bring people together under tense conditions and get something done," Poling said. "I really hate to see him leave."
Gwinn is retiring and stepping down due to health concerns.
"Secretary Gwinn accomplished much during his tenure, including his role in helping to secure the largest federal grant for a state veteran's cemetery," Tomblin said. "I'm truly grateful for his service."
Thompson, a Wayne County native, began his career in public service as a member of the U.S. Army-serving on active duty from 1972 through 1974 and serving on standby reserves from 1974 through 1978. He was honorably discharged 1978. During his military career, he served as an MP. Thompson was elected to the State Legislature in 2000 and has served as Speaker of the House since 2007. Thompson is a life member of American Legion Post 93, in Kenova, W.Va.
Thompson has described himself as always being an advocate for veterans.
He comes from a family with strong ties to the military with a number of relatives who have served and others who gave their time to veteran causes.
"It is a family thing," he said. "I look forward to this opportunity to be an advocate for our veterans."
Thompson will work with Gwinn on the transition. He also was invited to Washington, D.C., Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia to meet people at the federal level and begin building relationships. He also believes his experience as a lawyer and as the House Speaker will help him navigate through state and federal agencies dealing with veteran affairs.
Thompson is excited with the appointment.
"I look forward to working with the staff at our state's veterans' facilities, collaborating with our many veterans organizations across the state as well as ensuring we continue to provide support to the men and women who have served our state and nation," he said. "Our state's veterans exemplify our proud history of service and I'm honored for this opportunity to serve them."