CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Even before House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, announced his resignation, fellow delegates began debating who would be next to lead the House.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Thursday Thompson is leaving his post as speaker to become the new cabinet secretary of the Department of Veterans Assistance. Current Secretary Keith Gwinn is retiring this summer.
There were rumors last December that Thompson, who has severed as speaker since 2007, could lose his post. Although the grumblings didn't amount to action, Kanawha County Democrat Doug Skaff was mentioned as a potential replacement at the time.
Skaff was one of many delegates Thursday to confirm interest in being the next speaker. Others include Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton; House Finance Committee Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo; House Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison; and House Health Committee Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne.
Skaff also kicked around the idea of running for Congress after Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced earlier this year she is running for U.S. Senate.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in January he won't run in 2014.
After former state Democratic Party chairman Nick Casey announced his plans to run for Congress, many speculated Skaff and the party wanted to avoid an intense primary.
Skaff said he's now in a good position to make a move for speaker.
"I have a pretty good following of anywhere from 18 to 20 votes," he said.
There are 54 Democrats in the House. It would take votes from the majority - 28 delegates - to secure the speaker's spot.
Skaff considers Miley the other frontrunner. He thinks the House needs someone who is politically moderate and able to work with both parties to create jobs, help seniors and move West Virginia forward.
He wondered whether Boggs or White might be seen as the status quo.
Head of the judiciary committee for the past four years, Miley said any of the members who expressed interest Thursday would make a good candidate. He would be honored to be speaker, but he said his primary concern is a smooth transition of Democratic leadership.
"If it's not so smooth, then that suggests of perhaps divisiveness and bitterness over the selection process, which is at risk for extending into the remainder of the ... next legislative session," Miley said.
"If the body of Democrats can get together and rally around and support one person as their next leader, it would be much better in my opinion."
Boggs attended the press conference announcing Thompson's new position. A 17-year veteran of the House, Boggs praised Thompson's ability to work across the aisle.
The majority leader for the last five years, Boggs said everyone would prefer Thompson to remain. With his departure, he thinks now is the time for continuity in the House.
"I think he's done a pretty good job in the period of time he's been there," said White, who's been in the House for almost 20 years.