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'Rookie' W.Va. lawmakers settle in

February 04, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Freshman delegates Jonathan Miller and Daryl Cowles have been assigned ground-floor offices "under the stairs" in the main building of the State Capitol complex in Charleston, W.Va., but both said Friday their digs are not that bad.

"I probably got the least privacy," said Miller, R-Berkeley, who along with Cowles occupies space once used by the state's Court of Claims.

Cowles' office is far from the roomy environs that his predecessor, Charles Trump, had as House Minority Leader.

"It's not bad at all for a rookie," said Cowles, R-Morgan.

Little more than three weeks into their first session, Miller, 22, and Cowles, 36, said they have managed to find their way around in the Capitol complex.

And both have been reminded of the impressions left by their respective predecessors.

"Charlie Trump has immense respect from everyone down here," said Cowles, who feels he has benefited as a result.

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Miller said lawmakers have asked him about former 53rd District delegate Larry Faircloth, who he said everybody seems to know.

As the youngest delegate in the 100-member House and the fourth youngest ever elected to serve in the Legislature, Miller said he has experienced a few occasions where his age has caused a bit of confusion. Only former delegates Larry Swann, Cecil Underwood, who later became governor of the state, and the late A. James Manchin were younger than Miller when first elected, he said.

At a dinner held for freshman lawmakers by House Speaker Richard Thompson, Miller said Thompson's wife, Beth Chambers, mistook him for being with the clerk's office.

And when he went to get pens and paper at the Capitol supply room, Miller said he was asked "for which delegate?"

At his first House Education Committee meeting, Miller said he joked about his age, introducing himself as having years of experience, if only as a student.

"People see that I treat it with good humor," Miller said.

From a policy perspective, Cowles said he was surprised at how important the committee process is to considering legislation and the lawmakers who sponsor it.

"So much relies on who's who and who's pushing" a bill, Cowles said.

On Wednesday, Miller said he was part of a Health and Human Resources Committee meeting that ended with a 11-11 vote on a bill proposed to improve health-care coverage for workers who are employed by contractors on publicly funded projects.

"We had a great debate for about two hours," said Miller, noting the room was packed with people interested in the outcome.

The tie vote on House Bill 2438 at least stalled, if not killed, the legislation, but Miller said he offered a compromise that has attracted some interest, and now is working on a measure that he believes wouldn't be as harmful to small contractors.

Both lawmakers said they have been well-received by their counterparts in other parts of the state, which debunked Miller's belief that he would be somewhat disparaged as just another Republican from Berkeley County.

"They've all been very, very friendly," Miller said. "I think this new leadership is making an effort to reach out to everybody."

"I feel privileged to be here," Cowles said.

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