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Dissenting Democrat wanted to make a point in speaker's race

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A lone Democrat broke ranks to vote for the Republican candidate for House speaker, saying outside interest groups were too aggressive in their push for House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley.

Delegate Ryan Ferns, D-Ohio, voted for House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, in the speaker's race.

Related: W.Va. House elects Miley as new speaker

"As I said, my views are what they are, and my decision to support Tim Armstead had more to do with my displeasure with the process of this election," Ferns said.

The House met Tuesday in a special session called by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to choose a replacement for Rick Thompson as speaker. Thompson resigned Saturday to become the cabinet secretary for the Department of Veterans Assistance.

Thompson announced his intention to leave a month ago, quickly spurring a bit of Democratic politicking. Miley and House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White eventually emerged as frontrunners in the race, but it took awhile for the two to reach a consensus.

In late May, the AFL-CIO and the state's two largest teacher's unions - The American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association - all began to push for Miley.

The state Chamber of Commerce didn't make an official endorsement, but it voiced support for White and was critical of candidates who backed Miley.

Ferns, 30, declined to specify which groups he was referring to, but he said he was displeased at the impact outside groups had on the race for speaker.

"My understanding is, some of my fellow colleagues were, I think, excessively persuaded for different means by special interest groups," Ferns said.  

"I think there were bully tactics involved. I think it was excessive in the way that it was done."

White and Miley both acknowledged outside groups influenced the race but had different takes on the impact of the groups.  

"Obviously (Miley) did have the labor support. There was a lot of members at that point and time that felt they were obligated to labor to support Tim," White said Tuesday before the election.

It's common for interest groups to show support in a speaker's race, Miley said. He also mentioned the groups' endorsement process as a potential reason why some might have been upset.

Groups send questionnaires to legislative candidates and use the answers to make endorsements. Some questionnaires ask if candidates will wait for a group to make its recommendation for speaker before the candidate publicly supports someone, Miley said.

"And I think that's what they got frustrated with at times, when some people committed early, without waiting for those groups to make their recommendation.

"I don't think any group ever expects anyone to follow them to a T as far as what their recommendations are . . . But at the same time, they want to weigh in, too, so that everyone knows what their thoughts are."

Miley said he was aware of no strong-arming by interest groups concerning the speaker's race. However, he said he wasn't sure he would have known if it did happen.

Miley won the speaker's election on a 53-44 vote. Miley and Armstead voted for one another - following House tradition - and three GOP delegates were absent.

Ferns was the only delegate not to vote for his party's nominee.

Ferns told Miley before the start of session Tuesday how he would vote. The vote wasn't necessarily against Miley, Ferns said, adding he has much respect for the former Judiciary Committee chairman. It was more about his displeasure with the influence of outside interest groups.

Ferns, 30, a physical therapist from Wheeling who is serving his second term in the House, said he would have voted for White if he were the party nominee.

Miley thanked Ferns for his candor but said he was disappointed in his decision. In coming to Miley, Ferns also mentioned his frustrations with interest groups.

"I had encouraged him to not hold that against me, because I certainly didn't facilitate that or encourage that," Miley said. "But he had to make a tough decision and that's the decision he made."

Armstead thanked Ferns for his vote and for standing by what he thought was right.

"I think that's what we need more of in West Virginia, people who are willing to say 'Here's what I think is right, and I'm going to do what I think is right for the people of West Virginia,' " Armstead said. "I think Ryan has been willing to do that."

Although he said he didn't know Ferns would vote for him, Armstead thinks Ferns agrees with many GOP goals. He added Republicans would "love to see him" switch parties.

Ferns said he expects the Republicans to ask him to change his affiliation.

"I have no plans to switch parties at this time," he said.

There could be ramifications for the vote, Ferns admitted. He hopes to sit down and speak more about it with Miley soon.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at



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