CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Miley became the Democrats' expected nominee for speaker in West Virginia's House of Delegates on Friday, after fellow contender and Finance Committee Chairman Harry Keith White endorsed the Harrison County lawyer.
White, a Mingo County banker, announced his support of Miley ahead of an expected Tuesday special session for electing a new speaker.
"Tim and I are good friends, and we've worked closely together over the last four year," White said. "I have faith in Tim to lead the House, and now's the time to get our Democrats united."
Speaker Rick Thompson is stepping down from that post and leaving the Legislature to head the Department of Veterans' Assistance. A Wayne County Democrat, Thompson will succeed Secretary Keith Gwinn, who is retiring Saturday because of health concerns.
Miley must now unite the House's 54 Democrats, who will likely meet behind close doors to nominate a speaker candidate on Tuesday before the House convenes. Republicans have one of their largest minorities in the 100-seat House in decades, after significant 2012 election gains. GOP delegates hope enough Democrats might defect to hand them the speakership.
"Obviously, the numbers are close," Miley said Friday.
Miley had attracted public commitments from more than three dozen fellow delegates before Friday's announcement. The state AFL-CIO and other labor groups had also endorsed Miley. The state Chamber of Commerce labeled him as the race's most liberal candidate and targeted several delegates who had endorsed him by seeking to link them to President Barack Obama. The fellow Democrat is deeply unpopular in West Virginia.
The 47-year-old first won election to the House in 2004. He became Judiciary chairman under Thompson in 2009. Miley said it was premature to discuss picking committee chairs ahead of Tuesday's session. He also cited his approach to the post, given that the current legislative term continues through the end of 2014.
"I've campaigned on stability, but not necessarily the status quo," Miley said, adding that "I do not anticipate any wholesale changes in personnel" if he were elected speaker.