By Matt Young, WV Press Association News Sharing
BECKLEY, W.Va. – Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, announced Monday that he will be seeking the speakership of the W. Va. House of Delegates ahead of the 2023 Regular Legislative Session. The current Speaker, Del. Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, has held the position since his election in 2018. Both Delegates are up for re-election this November, however, Steele is running unopposed.
“Our leadership has moved towards the middle,” Steele said, while speaking with members of the media Monday evening. “There’s a disconnect there between the leadership and the rank-and-file delegates. I think there comes a time – the current speaker has been there for four years. I think there is an appetite for change that brings new energy and new freshness to it.”
Steele, who considers Hanshaw to be “a friend,” cited the frustration that he and other delegates felt at the conclusion of the July Special Legislative Session as the primary motivation behind his bid for the speakership.
“It was incredibly disappointing to come out of the Special Session the way we did,” Steele said. “Having an opportunity to provide meaningful tax-reform for the folks who voted us in as well as getting into abortion after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. I think due to leadership miscalculations and misgivings we walked away empty-handed.”
“The governor clearly was trying to hand us a win for everyone across the state,” Steele added. “We didn’t fulfill the task. And that’s symptoms of a larger problem that I believe we’ll be able to change.”
Steele, who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2018, currently serves as Chairman of the Committee on Government Organization. As one of the more conservative members of the state’s Republican party, Steele stood in staunch opposition to the rape and incest exceptions that were adoped into the House’s abortion bill (HB 302).
“I think philosophically, the majority or our caucus identifies as very conservative,” Steele noted. “That’s what the voters of West Virginia elected us to be. One of the things that became apparent to me – throughout this Special Session and after – is there was a desperate need for change. The current Speaker was not willing to make the changes necessary to progress the state forward.”
Another question mark surrounds current House Majority Leader Delegate Amy Summers, R-Taylor, and whether she will remain as leader regardless of the speaker.
“I would tell you that I feel that a lot of upper-leadership needs to change,” Steele said, after explaining that he has not spoken to Summers about whether she intends to remain as Majority Leader. “That’s not a reflection of how I feel about someone as a person. I didn’t get elected by the folks here in Raleigh County to go up and make a bunch of friends. I got elected to go up there and instruct, vote for, and implement conservative policy. That’s what I told them I’d do.”
Despite his differences with Hanshaw, Steele does shares the Speaker’s belief that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey severely mishandled the situation surrounding the enforceability of §61-2-8 – West Virginia’s 173-year-old abortion code.
“I’ve been very critical (of Morrisey),” Steele said. “I went on the radio and every news outlet I could to say I thought it was a terrible idea what he did. I think Patrick Morrisey did more good for Planned Parenthood than George Soros ever did. That memo he released was the most short-sighted thing I’ve ever seen an attorney do. Someone files a lawsuit, and you’re the one who defends that suit – two days later you release a memorandum that basically agrees with your opposition. Then he goes into court and fumbles the ball. I like Patrick as a person. But folks elected me to do the right thing, and in that situation I can’t justify what he did as being appropriate.”
“As far as working with the attorney general, I think the thing that we’ve got to keep in mind with government is that it’s necessary for the House and the Senate to work together to achieve the policy goals that the people of West Virginia want,” Steele continued. “The attorney general – being an executive official – it’s his job to carry that out. His job is to go into court and enforce the laws of the state that we put into place. He seems to want to do a little bit of everything, which is not appropriate.”
While Steele is unopposed in his bid for re-election, Hanshaw is challenged by ACT Party candidate Laura McGinnis. However, Steele fully expects to face Hanshaw in the race for House Speaker, stating, “I don’t foresee Roger losing an election. That isn’t going to happen. He’ll be there for the Speakership-race in November. He is a formidable politician. But does the outcome of this (Special Session) change people’s minds in the House? Well, it changed mine.”
While Steele is confident in his support from fellow house-members, he does not anticipate public endorsements from either Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley or Gov. Jim Justice.
“These are internal things,” Steele said, before explaining that the 2018 House Speaker election was the first vote he cast as a member of the House of Delegates.
“I voted for Hanshaw the first time around,” Steele added. “It was a secret ballot back then, so there is no way of proving it. But I did vote for Speaker Hanshaw. And the very reasons that I did are the reasons I’m running today. I saw that decision as the best decision I could make to ensure that we were advancing the most conservative policy we could. I think, given the choices at the time, I felt more confident that we would pursue more conservative policy goals with Roger. Four years later, I don’t feel the same way.”
“You have to have the courage to get past comfort, and get to a place of growth,” Steele concluded. “I won’t have any regrets about it (challenging Hanshaw for the speakership). I think I’ll win because I believe there’s a hunger in the house for more conservative leadership.”