House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles (R-Morgan) moved yesterday to have Robert Thompson (D-Wayne), a history teacher at Wayne High School, censured for remarks made during an impassioned speech on the House floor in opposition to a Senate four percent pay raise proposal.
The Speaker of the House, Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) refused to censure Thompson, but instead warned all House members.
Delegate Mike Caputo (D-Marion) said today that he thinks the move to censure Thompson was “insane.”
Tensions were running high in the West Virginia House of Delegates yesterday when Thompson took to the floor of the House.
West Virginia teachers announced earlier in the week that they will go on strike Thursday and Friday because the legislature failed to pass an adequate pay raise.
Last week, the House voted for a five percent pay raise (two percent the first year, then one percent raises in years two, three and four — known as a 2,1,1,1).
Yesterday, the House took under consideration the Senate’s proposal, a four percent raise (2,1,1).
“The Senate must think we are stupid,” Thompson said. “I’m not talking about the people sitting in this room. I’m talking about the teachers and service personnel of this state. We passed a pay raise bill from this House that was a two percent increase for the first year, followed by one percent for the following three years. That’s five percent. And virtually everybody in here got up and said — that’s not enough. We scratched and we clawed to raise it to three, three and three for our teachers, service personnel and state troopers. Couldn’t get it done.”
“So we passed out a pay raise bill that was five percent for teachers over five years. Now the Senate has caved and dropped the pay raise to two percent for the first year, followed by one percent for two years. That’s four percent. That’s elementary school math. That is less than what we passed out of this House and we said — that’s not enough.”
“Do you honestly think that passing this new, even more inadequate pay raise is going to stop thousands of teachers and service personnel from showing up on your doorstep Thursday and Friday of this week — and potentially longer?” Thompson asked. “I know it won’t. And I look forward to seeing them. I’m going to be up there in the rotunda shaking hands and talking to them, because I work with a lot of them. A lot of people in this chamber will be hiding, in here, in their offices, somewhere else in the capitol. Teachers are some of our most highly educated people in this state. They know when they are getting the shaft.”
“And I cannot support this nonsense. Five percent over four years wasn’t enough. Four percent over three years is ridiculous. This is elementary school math. Two, one, one is not enough for teachers, service personnel or troopers. So I urge you to vote no and come back when you are smarter than a fifth grader.”
Cowles then stood up to challenge Thompson.
“Mr. Speaker, under House Rule Numbers 35 and 36, words of a member could be taken down for words spoken in debate,” Cowles said. “Mr. Speaker, my colleagues words should be taken down at the clerk’s desk. And he should be subject to admonishment and censureship (sic) for violations of these rules if the Speaker so choose.”
At that point, the Republican leadership huddled for more than five minutes to see whether Thompson would be censured.
After breaking out of their huddle, Armstead took the microphone.
“I’m going to say this to all 100 of us,” Armstead said. “We are sent here to debate issues. Obviously there is passion related to these issues. But we are also sent here to do it under the rules of this House, and to do it as ladies and gentlemen. And to do it in a way that hopefully, when we walk out that door, we’ll still be friends with one another. I expect that of every member of this House, every one of us. And I will call it down if I think it is getting beyond that.”
“I’m hopeful from this point on in this discussion we can have a discussion on whether we will concur in the Senate amendment and keep our remarks to that rather than discussing each other and each other’s intelligence or each other’s motives or bills that were done in the past or remarks that were made last week.”
“We should be able to have a debate as ladies and gentlemen all of whom have the best interests of the state at heart and be able to do that in a way that respects each other. And that’s my job as speaker — to make that happen. And I’m going to make that happen. If there are transgressions, I will continue to make points of order and to rule on those. I hope we will have no more of that tonight. Let’s have a discussion about that amendment.”
While there was no formal ruling, Cowles motion to censure Thompson was effectively shot down.
The House passed the Senate pay raise bill by a vote of 59 to 37. Thompson was one of those voting against. Cowles voted in the majority for the bill.
Thompson was surprised by the Cowles motion for censure.
“This is my first term in office,” Thompson said. “I’ve heard worse on the floor myself. Everybody’s tensions were really high. I was speaking from the heart. That had more to do with it than anything else. There was a heightened state of tension. Several people said they were really surprised by it. It’s water under the bridge. I have never had any ill will at all. No hard feelings on my part. I will continue to work with the Majority Leader.”
Thompson is author of a number of history books, including most recently Uphill Both Ways: A Short History of Wayne County Schools.
Ryan Frankenberry, state director of the West Virginia Working Families Party, was watching the debate on the floor.
“Being a friend and fan of Robert, I was paying attention to his speech,” Frankenberry said. “I thought it was great. He got the point across in language that people at home would understand. Then I heard the Majority Leader call him out, I couldn’t believe it. Robert didn’t understand what was going on. Daryl Cowles is trying to censure a teacher on the floor of the House. I was in disbelief. I watched the scrum at the podium in disbelief for several minutes. I could not imagine that Speaker Armstead would go along with that ridiculous idea. Luckily, he didn’t. I didn’t think that Robert said anything inflammatory directed at any individual. It was an incredibly poor decision by the Majority Leader to single out a teacher to censure.”
It was the second incident in two weeks where the House leadership sought to shut down speeches from the floor of the House.
Last week, Lissa Lucas of Ritchie County was forcibly removed from the House floor after she began reading the list of fossil fuel contributors to members of the House Judiciary Committee.
“People are getting dragged out of the House for saying things that offend the chairman,” Delegate Mike Caputo (D-Marion) told Hoppy Kercheval on Talkline this morning. “They are getting dragged out of the galleries for coughing too loud. The Senate shuts down an entire day because they don’t want to deal with so many teachers and school service personnel.”
“This is the people’s House,” Caputo said. “We can’t lose sight of that.”
“We had a big speech by Daryl Cowles the other day using the word union bosses,” Caputo said. “I’ve been around the labor movement for a long time. This movement is from the bottom up. It is not from the top down. Teachers have not had a pay raise since 2014. And to throw some crumbs around at these folks is insulting. They think they are being disrespected down here. And I agree with them.”
“There has been a lot of disrespect going on under this dome,” Caputo said. “There was a freshman delegate (Thompson) who had a point of order called on him yesterday. And the Majority Leader wanted to censure him. He’s a freshman delegate and a teacher.”
“That’s insane. Because he made a comment — we are acting like fifth graders?”
“Do you know how many times I would have been censured over the years for comments I made on that House floor?” Caputo asked. “Picking on him, a school teacher at that, is insane.”