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Skaff names leadership team

Photo Courtesy/WV Legislative Photography Delegate Doug Skaff was chosen last month as the new minority leader of the House of Delegates.

CHARLESTON — The new minority leader of the 23 Democrats in the West Virginia House of Delegates has named his leadership team and new committee minority chairs.

Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, is preparing to lead the smallest Democratic minority since Republicans took the majority in 2016.

Skaff was elected as minority leader on Dec. 9 by the House Democratic Caucus, replacing delegate and former house speaker Tim Miley, who declined to run for re-election.

When Skaff was in the House a decade ago, Democrats had 65 delegates to the Republican’s 35. The GOP first took the majority in the Legislature in more than 80 years, with Republicans controlling both the House and Senate, in 2015. After the general election in November and a party switch in December, House Democrats only control 23 seats.

Skaff said don’t let the numbers fool you.

“We have a mighty task ahead of us…but those that are in our caucus right now are definitely up to the challenge,” Skaff said. “Although we may be a small in numbers, we are great in institutional knowledge, seniority, and experience.”

Of those Democrats elected to the House in 2020, only four are new. Skaff said the 23 members of the House Democratic Caucus represent a diversity of political thought, traditional conservative Democrats, moderates and liberal/progressives. Skaff took this diversity into consideration when selecting his leadership team.

Joining Skaff is Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, as minority whip. Assistant minority whips include Delegates Nathan Brown, D-Mingo, Phil Diserio, D-Brooke, Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, and Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall. Skaff said he would also announce additional positions, including liaisons for the Senate and the governor’s office.

Skaff also created the new position of minority leader pro tempore, selecting Delegate . Hornbuckle, D-Cabell. Hornbuckle will step into the minority leader role when Skaff is unavailable.

“I have much respect for Sean,” Skaff said. “He is a fantastic person, a fantastic leader, and just a great all-around good West Virginian. He rolls up his sleeves. He has a child. He’s a single parent. He works hard. He gets it. And I’m so excited to create this position for someone like him.”

With House Republicans holding a solid supermajority, getting Democratic priorities through the legislative process will be a challenge. Skaff said House Democrats are prepared to work with Republicans on areas of agreement, such as broadband expansion. But they will stand up to Republicans when they push legislation they feel detrimental to their constituents and the state.

“I think we find common ground where you can,” Skaff said. “You’ve got to pick and choose your battles. I want to work together for the good of West Virginia coming out of this pandemic. The last thing we need to do is have a divisive session where we’re constantly fighting… but we’re going to hold the Republicans accountable when the time comes, and we’re not just going to fold our tent and take our ball and go home and play.”

An issue Skaff feels strongly about is reviewing the emergency powers the Legislature gives to the executive branch during a state of emergency. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have raised concerns with Gov. Jim Justice issuing executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic without legislative oversight and appropriating federal C.A.R.E.S. Act dollars without legislative approval.

“When an emergency becomes a long-drawn-out situation, I think that those powers need to revert to those elected officials and other people, rather than just one person to make all these tough decisions,” Skaff said. “Why would one person want to be single-handedly responsible for whether or not you send your kids back into a classroom or not? That’s why you have a Legislature.”

Major committee assignments include:

* Committee on Finance: Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton – chair. Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha – vice chair.

* Committee on Judiciary: Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell – chair. Delegate Nathan Brown, D-Mingo – vice chair.

* Committee on Energy: Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell – chair. Delegate Dave Pethel, D-Wetzel – vice chair.

* Committee on Education: Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell – chair. Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph – vice chair.

* Committee on Government Organization: Delegate Phil Diserio, D-Brooke – chair. Delegate Jim Barach, D-Kanawha – vice chair.

* Committee on Health and Human Resources: Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha – chair. Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia – vice chair.

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