By VIC SPROUSE
CHARLESTON -- OK, let me heap some praise first for the House leadership before I head down the road of criticism.
I have tried to put my finger on what has made Rick Thompson such a better Speaker than Bob Kiss.
Wait, first, let me say that both Democrats and Republicans in the House are stunned at the difference in leadership style between Kiss and Thompson. All that I have spoken with have praised Thompson's openness and just the different, more inclusive way that Thompson has run the House.
But, then I look at all the bills that were killed in the House and say, wait, there were just as many "big" bills killed this year by the House leadership as there was in any other year.
So, why are the people who are normally screaming when bills are not taken up now heaping praise on Thompson?
I mentioned earlier that Thompson's "style" was different, but I think it's something else.
And, after watching the TiVo'd version of Final Night coverage on PBS, it finally came to me.
Three qualities certainly not associated with the last Speaker. In fact, it is the polar opposite of Kiss' style of leadership. Thompson's humble approach is in such striking contrast he has been gratefully embraced by both sides of the aisle.
The previous Speaker would do everything he could to show you how much smarter he was than everyone else. He would come off the podium and nearly berate the House into supporting his position. Sometimes that works. But, after a while, it gets old.
Watching Thompson reminds me a great deal of another successful, likable leader ... Earl Ray Tomblin. While Thompson is more on the trial lawyer/labor side of the aisle, he has the same soft-spoken and friendly nature as Earl Ray.
To House members who've been under the jackboot of the last decade, Thompson's conciliatory approach is a breath of fresh air.
OK, so much for the lovefest.
While Thompson's approach is refreshing, he still has a leadership team under him who is in charge of putting the kibosh on bills that should be passed.
And, despite his likability, major legislation that would have moved our state forward did not pass.
As for the more "open debate", yes there was more open debate ... on the bills the leadership wanted passed.
As for the claim by the House leadership that they were going to take up bills that they didn't philosophically agree with ... it didn't happen.
Remember just two short months ago I scoffed at the House leadership saying they were going to give bills a fair hearing, even those that they didn't necessarily agree with ...
What a laugher.
You couldn't help but get a chuckle out of House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster's explanation of why she couldn't run the Parental Notification Bill.
Of course, Webster despises this bill.
Why can't she run it? Well, she didn't have enough time. And, the House Judiciary Committee couldn't take up controversial bills with so little time left in session.
When did she say this? NINE DAYS before the end of session.
I had to think to myself at the time, what day is this? Again, NINE days before session ended.
So the Senate certainly shouldn't have taken up the Table Games bill or the Pharmaceutical bill or ANY controversial bill that the House sent over.
It was one of the more absurd excuses I ever heard.
Look, if you don't like the bill, just say, I don't like this bill and it's not going to be put on the agenda. Don't make yourself look silly by telling people you don't have enough time to pass a controversial bill when the Senate is spending days on Table Games and there is NINE days left in session.
So, my prediction was right.
The new House leadership certainly did allow more debate… ON THE BILLS THEY WANTED TO PASS.
Asbestos? Never heard from ...
Parental Notification? Not enough time ...
Any tort reform? Well, no, we aren't going to debate that ...
The Castle Doctrine to allow people to defend themselves in their homes without being sued? Squelched ...
Major Tax Reform? Well, the timing isn't quite right ... (OK, I'll give you passing the business franchise tax reduction was a solid positive, but had the Senate not brought it out, it simply wouldn't have happened.) But, serious tax reform? No way.
Look, I'm not even being critical of the House leadership.
This is the way it works. Committee chairmen bottle up bills they don't like. They find ways to NOT take them up. They make excuses.
Leadership doesn't allow bills to pass they don't support. They don't put issues on the agenda they are fearful may pass that they are opposed to ...
My point now is what it was then.
Don't PRETEND like this is going to be a more "open" process.
There are areas the House leadership deserves credit. On the bills the leadership allowed to run, they absolutely treated the Republicans and opponents more fairly than the Kiss Regime. They allowed full and open debate on table games.
But, in the end, the Thompson leadership team did exactly what the Kiss leadership team did, bottle up the bills that would have made a significant difference to the future of our state.
There were a couple of bright spots on the House leadership team, a few that surprised me, at least, outside of how well Thompson was liked.
Joe Delong was a terrific spokesperson for the Democratic majority. He was impressive.
Harry Keith White was a solid Finance Chairman (as I expected he would be).
And, Mary Poling held her own on the Education Committee and I thought handled the teacher pay issue very well.
But, let's not get too teary-eyed with praise.
Republicans and Democrats alike were throwing rose petals at Carrie Webster's feet after that Table Games debate. They praised and praised the new leadership on how wonderful it was for them to allow such open debate. Then, a few weeks later, Carrie did what every Judiciary Chair in recent history did -- stuck the heads of the bills she didn't like into the toilet and flushed. She single-handedly killed Parental Consent, the Castle Doctrine and Asbestos reform.
But, that's the legislative process and I think it's been proven when it comes to the issues of Abortion or Asbestos or Castle or Tort, this team is the same as the last.
Hoppy Kercheval of Metronews Talkine told me when I wrote the first negative commentary on the subject, "Let's give them time to get into their offices."
Well, they are in now, and the result is what I predicted.
More debate on the bills they want, and no debate on the bills they don't.
Sprouse has served in the Legislature since 1995 and resides in Charleston. He graduated from Penn State University with a Chemical Engineering degree and currently owns and operates several fitness centers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.