CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With the front-runners now apparent in the race for a new speaker of the House of Delegates, state labor groups are throwing their support behind House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley.
The state AFL-CIO and the West Virginia Education Association announced their support for Miley Wednesday afternoon. The union's executive board unanimously voted late last week to back Miley.
The West Virginia AFL-CIO includes state chapters of the United Mine Workers, the American Federation of Teachers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, United Steel Workers and the Communications Workers of America. The WVEA is not part of the AFL-CIO but joined in its support of Miley.
Miley, D-Harrison, said he was glad to have the unions' support. But fellow speaker contender and House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, said he would have preferred the AFL-CIO not make an endorsement at all.
"They're going to create a lot of division among the members," White said. "I've been through these things before, and I know what happens to members. People don't get over it easy."
White said he believes House leadership in recent years has done a good job of maintaining a moderate agenda. But he said with organized labor backing Miley and his leadership team, those delegates might feel pressured to support the unions' liberal-leaning agenda in the future.
He said the race for speaker would have been easier without the AFL-CIO entering the fray.
Joshua Sword, AFL-CIO secretary and treasurer, said the union hoped there would not be a speaker race at all, that Democratic leaders would pick one candidate for speaker and move on.
"Unfortunately, it hasn't played out that way," he said.
Sword said White announced his candidacy for speaker before Thompson's leadership team was able to come up with a consensus candidate.
"That's absolutely not the truth," White said.
He said other members of House leadership decided to run Miley for speaker, but White was not part of those conversations. White said union leaders didn't discuss the race with him, either.
"I was shut out of it. I don't know why," he said.
Sword agrees the current race between Miley and White could hurt Democrats in the long run. He said infighting could poison voters against the party in the 2014 midterm elections, when all members of the House will be up for re-election.
Losing the Democratic majority in the House would then lead to another race for speaker of the House, but this time a Republican would win the office, Sword said.
"This race, now, causes chaos. I don't think now is the right time for there to be a speaker's race. We don't want to put the Democratic leadership in jeopardy," he said.
Sword said the state AFL-CIO endorsed Miley because he has a record of supporting both labor and business and knows how to balance the needs of each group.
He said the unions' backing probably would not win Miley the post but would make a difference.
"I'm not going to suggest to you there's any single delegate that will go that direction because we want them to, but I think it certainly has an impact on their decision-making process," he said.