Speaker of the House

Speaker of the House

Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States provides that the House of Representatives is to choose a presiding officer to be known as the Speaker of the House. Such a position became necessary as the Founding Fathers looked for a way to have checks and balances among the branches of government since they had rejected a parliamentary form of government that would have had a prime minister serving as leader in both the executive and legislative branches at the same time.

While the challenge of choosing a leader acceptable to the members of the majority party is concerning, even more disturbing is the realization that a member who came within several votes of being elected Speaker on an open vote had on a secret ballot fewer than half the number of votes needed to win. Apparently in the majority party there is so much fear of retaliation and retribution that members will publicly support someone who is known for his bullying approach and who participated in the attempt to undo the results of the last presidential election. If we as Americans allow this kind of activity to go on, we have in the eyes of citizens of other democracies lost our position of leadership among democracies.

In the current election year all seats for the General Assembly are open for election—100 seats in the House and 40 in the Senate. The Lieutenant Governor who is on the same election cycle as the governor is the presiding officer in the Senate. In the House the Speaker of the House is chosen by the majority party in a caucus meeting, and that selection is customarily ratified by the full House membership at the beginning of each new session. I do not recall any instance where the selection by the majority caucus was opposed by anyone in the minority caucus.

I was once a candidate to be Speaker of the House but was defeated by a woman who was the first woman speaker and the first Jewish speaker. I was happy for her election for she led the House during the most progressive era in its long history. As soon as the elections are decided in November, persons in the majority will start to meet to decide who the person is who will be Speaker. I do not expect the kind of chaos that we are now witnessing at the national level.

The Speaker of the House who is the presiding officer of the House wields enormous power. The Speaker is called that because all debate on the floor passes through the Speaker. Members of the House have to have permission to speak on the floor, and then all debate must be directed through the Speaker. The system for the most part leads to orderly debate. The Speaker makes all committee assignments and assigns all bills to committees. The Speaker is second in succession to the governorship preceded only by the Lieutenant Governor should the office of Governor be vacated for whatever reason.

The Speaker of the House is too important a position to be handled as we now see it being done at the federal level. I am sure that the next Speaker of the House in Virginia will be handled in a much more professional and dignified way.