CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Ohio County Delegate Ryan Ferns, a Democrat, crossed party lines today to vote for House Minority Leader Tim Armstead as the next speaker.
The crossover by Ferns didn't make a difference, though, as House members, by a 53-44 vote, elected Delegate Tim Miley, D-Harrison, as the new speaker.
"West Virginia first. Party second," Ferns tweeted from his desk in the House Chamber.
Ferns afterward said he objected to what he described as bullying tactics by Miley's labor union supporters. Several labor groups endorsed Miley's candidacy last month, and Delegate Harry Keith White had complained while a candidate for speaker of some of the resulting lobbying.
Ferns also said he has no plans to switch parties, respects Miley highly and told his fellow Democrat of his plan to vote for Armstead beforehand.
A Harrison County lawyer, Miley, 47, had been Judiciary Committee chair under former Speaker Rick Thompson, who resigned over the weekend to join Tomblin's Cabinet atop the Department of Veterans' Assistance. He will preside over the House through the end of 2014, with all 100 seats on the ballot that year.
The Legislature holds a regular, 60-day session each year along with monthly interim study meetings during much of the remainder. June's meetings begin Wednesday in Wheeling.
In a floor speech after Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis administered his oath as speaker, Miley described growing up in a bipartisan household. He pledged to focus on education, improving the state's road and Internet infrastructure, linking both to economic development.
Tuesday's vote tested the slim majority of Democrats, who hold 54 seats. With three GOP delegates absent - Troy Andes of Putnam County, Amanda Pasdon of Monongalia County and Ron Walters of Kanawha County - Miley and Armstead, R-Kanawha, voted for their opponents, following a House tradition.
Ahead of the special session, Timothy Kinsey was sworn in to take Thompson's seat representing Wayne County. Tomblin had appointed the retired banker earlier in the day.
Armstead offered to seek a good working relationship with Miley and the Democrats, in a floor speech that followed the vote. The state Republican Party and GOP operatives immediately attacked Miley as a personal injury lawyer and liberal.