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November 24, 2014 - Volume 34 Issue 22

Commentary

“Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” - Anne Louise Germaine de Stael (1766-1817), a French-speaking Swiss author living in Paris and abroad who influenced literary tastes in Europe at the turn of the 19th century.

 


 

 

 

By Nanya Friend

Bill Cole and Tim Armstead might be counting their mixed blessings this Thanksgiving.

They’re poised to move into powerful positions in the West Virginia Legislature, but the challenge is to wield that power effectively.

Cole, 58, a Bluefield car dealer, is expected to be elected president of the West Virginia Senate when Republican members of that body caucus in December.

At the other end of the wide marble hallway in the state Capitol, Armstead, 49, an attorney, hopes to emerge from his side’s meeting as speaker of the House of Delegates.

This is to happen because their party achieved historic victories in the Nov. 4 general election and will constitute majorities in both houses.

Did I say historic? The GOP hasn’t commanded such power in this state since the 1930s.

If all goes as expected, Armstead and Cole will move into nice big offices. They’ll draw higher pay than other legislators. They’ll have staffs to help field all the invitations to speak, to dine and to cut ribbon.

Perks aside, they have big choices to make and skills to master before they pound the big wooden gavels for the first time.

As they shore up support among Republican delegates and senators, they must prepare to appoint their leadership teams.

Who will be majority leader? Who will chair the powerful finance and judiciary committees? That’s just the top of a long list.

Perhaps no one will feel shoved aside. However, these are human beings with ambitions and feelings, so some dissension in the ranks could emerge.

The appointees will move into their own nice new offices, displacing the vanquished Democrats, who will have to settle for the lesser digs of the minority party.

Armstead and Cole also have hiring decisions to make. The Legislature has a sizeable year-round staff and takes on more employees for the 60-day general session.

Some House and Senate staffers are no doubt updating resumes and combing job postings as they fear the worst. The new leadership should proceed with caution. The Legislature is an unruly beast to manage, and they’ll need some experienced help.

Then comes Jan. 14, when the regular session convenes.

The new leaders will mount the dais in their respective chambers and call the buzzing memberships to order.

That part of the job, standing at the podium and orchestrating the session, requires fingertip knowledge of legislative procedures. Later, as bills start to flow and debates ignite, there will be little time to consult the rule book.

However, the real power will have been wielded before then.

If they are to accomplish their goals, legislative leaders must try to determine the fates of important bills before they hit the floor.

Bills can be blocked, slowed or put on a fast pace to passage from the moment they are introduced. The leadership teams in both houses meet regularly to discuss strategies.

For example, they can decide to send bills to multiple committees. Many bills die in committee since chairmen decide whether they will even be placed on the agenda.

If a bill does emerge from committee, a chairman — and the leadership team he answers to — should have a sense of how it will fare on the floor.

The Legislature draws criticism for back-room maneuvering, but the process is not evil. The path of a bill is convoluted by design.

Even as the leadership is greasing, blocking or ignoring legislation, pressure is coming from all sides.

Lobbyists are grabbing the ears of both the leadership and the rank-and-file. And nearly every interest you can think of — even the governor — has a lobbyist.

If you’re a mere constituent, don’t underestimate your own power. Legislators will answer to you in the next election so they care what you think.

Much has been made of Republicans’ ascension to power after such a long wait on the sidelines. The state has problems aplenty to tackle, and it’s their turn to call the plays.

So the pressure is on. Here’s wishing them the best and hoping they can enjoy their turkey.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the Saturday, November 22, edition, of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Used by permission of the Gazette-Mail.

Nanya Friend retired in 2013 as editor and publisher of the Daily Mail.