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W.Va. House speaker hopeful denies coalition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The race for speaker of the House heated up Monday as one candidate denied the creation of a coalition with one of his opponents.

Speaker Rick Thompson's announcement last week that he would leave the post for a cabinet-level position in the Tomblin administration set off jockeying for a new speaker. At least six high-ranking Democrats have said they are interested in the post.

House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, said last week he was considering a run but officially threw his hat in the ring Monday.

The 19-year veteran of the House touted his experience as a key component of his candidacy, but he also played up a partnership with Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha.

Skaff, who has served for five years and is seen as an advocate for the "young gun" faction, declared his intent to seek the speaker's role last week.

White said Monday he hoped Skaff would drop out of the race and work with him to secure a new leadership team in the House.

"The goal is, with me officially announced, I hope the goal would be that Doug would take his resources and I would take my resources and (Skaff would) back me as the candidate for speaker in the House," White said Monday. "It makes no sense for both of us to run . . ."

Skaff denied the creation of any coalition Monday. He said White wanted him to go on the radio with talk show host Hoppy Kercheval Monday to announce the deal.

Skaff didn't go on the show, but White encouraged Kercheval to give Skaff a call.  

Skaff said he is still in the running for speaker.

Skaff said the "so-called young guns" he represents in the House aren't necessarily young. Some are simply new to the House and want to see it move in a different direction.

"Everybody can talk and say they want to get young guns involved," Skaff said. "But it's whoever actually does it and has a plan who is actually going to be the next speaker."

Last week Skaff said he thought he had 18 to 22 votes for the position among the House's 54 Democrats. He wouldn't say on Monday how many people were included in the "young guns" faction but said he's confident it's enough to sway the race.

To get that support, Skaff said any delegate or team of delegates is going to have to make room for "a few of those young guns to have a major seat at the table."

"Everybody deserves a seat at the table. It just might be a different seat. That's the bottom line," Skaff said.

If Skaff were selected, that table would include four younger delegates and four experienced delegates in leadership positions, he said. He would like to have a member of the less experienced faction to serve as either majority leader or majority whip. The other position then would go to an experienced delegate.

Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, is also running for speaker. Of the people who have openly expressed interest in the spot, Skaff said Boggs is the only one who hasn't personally called him. Speaker Pro Tempore Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, spoke with Skaff on Boggs' behalf, Skaff said.  

Skaff said if he becomes speaker, there could be another role for Boggs in leadership. He said he respects White and House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley; he said he would "immediately want them on my team."

Skaff suggested leaving them in their current positions, implying leadership changes for other major committees.

Last week, Miley said he, too, was interested in becoming speaker. Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, and Health Committee Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, also have said they would like to vie for the spot.

It's crucial for the next leadership team to include cooperation between experienced and new delegates, White said. He's confident he could bring many of those experienced delegates to a coalition with Skaff's younger members.

In mentioning "young guns," Skaff specifically referenced Delegates Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln; Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson; and Doug Reynolds, D-Wayne. Stowers is the vice chairman of the education committee, Lawrence is an assistant majority whip and Reynolds is vice chairman of the finance committee.

White said it was too early to officially count the number of votes he had, and he didn't mention any delegates other than Skaff by name.  

"I've been through this before, you've got to work it all the way to the ends," White said. "You can't assume you've got anybody."

Both White and Skaff said there's still plenty of work to be done before the race is over.

Thompson, D-Wayne, is expected to resign in mid June. After his resignation, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has 10 days to call a special session. The Democrat and Republican parties will meet in private caucus sessions to nominate their choices for speaker.

The delegate with a majority of the House's 100 votes will be the next speaker.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.  

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