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House speaker expects a productive session

Even though his party will hold a narrower majority, House Speaker Rick Thompson expects the House of Delegates to have a productive session next year.

"I don't anticipate any problems," Thompson, D-Wayne, said Wednesday.

When the 81st Legislature convenes in February, House Democrats will see their majority fall from 65 to 54 following a Republican gain of 11 seats in this year's general election.

Some have wondered if that could lead to more gridlock in the House, as Republicans try to maneuver more of their legislation through.

But Thompson said he already has met with House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and expects both parties will continue working as in prior years.

"I think we'll do what we've always done, which is run the House with the business that the people of West Virginia have elected us to do," Thompson said.

"People have different ideas on how to better West Virginia - that's always present in the House of Delegates - and my job is to blend all that together," he said. "I think we'll be fine . . . it will be a very productive session."

Democrats will caucus on Dec. 9 to formally elect their nominee for House speaker. There had been rumblings that someone - such as current House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, or Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha - would make a run for Thompson's post.

But when asked if anyone had declared their candidacy for his post, Thompson replied, "Not that I'm aware of."

Delegates already have begun filling out sheets listing their committee preferences. Thompson also has raised the House Health and Human Resources Committee to major committee status for the next session.

Both developments seem to indicate Thompson's position is secure.

Thompson said the most important matter in the coming session would be passing a balanced state budget, and he said that would be no easy task given tightening revenue forecasts.

"It's going to be a tough year to pass a budget," he said. "There's going to be a lot of concentration on the budget process, and I just hope we can all get together in a non-partisan manner to address these budget issues."

Thompson said he would let Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin take the lead in proposing changes to the state education system.

The state Department of Education and Board of Education have been in the spotlight lately with the firing of Superintendent Jorea Marple and the board's response to last year's education audit.

Thompson said he is interested to see what Tomblin will propose.

"My first interest is hearing what Gov. Tomblin says we should do with education and working along those lines," he said. "It's his audit, his report, and I want to see what his proposals are and try to help him move those proposals forward."

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.


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