- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., who announced his resignation Thursday night, had not formally stepped down from the position as of yesterday evening.
"I had not received anything up until the time I left. I was hoping I would have something by the close of business," said Bruce F. Jamerson, clerk of the House of Delegates, when reached at home last night.
Mr. Wilkins, Amherst Republican, announced his intention to resign because of a sexual-harassment scandal. Several attempts to reach Mr. Wilkins last night failed.
Mr. Jamerson said such delays were not unusual. He said it was several days before Delegate Jerrauld C. Jones, Norfolk Democrat, submitted his letter of resignation after receiving an appointment by Gov. Mark R. Warner this month.
Once Mr. Wilkins' resignation becomes official, Delegate Lacey E. Putney will became interim speaker.
Mr. Putney, a conservative independent from Bedford, was away on vacation yesterday, but his colleagues expressed confidence in his ability to lead.
"I am sure he will do a great job," said Delegate Watkins M. Abbitt Jr. of Appomattox, the only other independent in the 100-member chamber. "He has a tremendous knowledge of how the General Assembly works."
Mr. Putney takes over for Mr. Wilkins, 65, because he is chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee. House rules dictate that should a vacancy occur in the speakership while the legislature is out of session, the chairman of that committee becomes speaker until the General Assembly reconvenes and can select a permanent speaker.
Mr. Putney, 73, is the longest-serving member ever in the General Assembly. He was first elected in 1961 as a Democrat, but left the party six years later, saying it was moving too far to the left. He has recently begun caucusing with the Republicans.
In 2000, after the Republicans took control of the House chamber for the first time, Mr. Putney was considered a compromise choice for speaker, as dueling factions within the Republican Party competed for the top post. But Mr. Wilkins was selected, largely to reward his recruiting efforts in the 1990s, and he was re-elected two years later.
Mr. Wilkins announced his resignation three days after he acknowledged he paid $100,000 to settle sexual-harassment accusations by a 26-year-old Amherst woman. Mr. Wilkins, who is largely credited with giving the Republican Party control of the House, said he did not do anything wrong. He did not resign his General Assembly seat.
"Lacey is a true statesmen and a good Southern gentleman," said Delegate Riley E. Ingram, Hopewell Republican. Mr. Ingram supported Mr. Putney in his attempt to become speaker in 2000, and said he would do so again next year should Mr. Putney run for the permanent slot.
"He brings a lot of experience to the table and he is very fair," Mr. Ingram said.
The House speaker is the most powerful legislator in the state. He controls committee appointments and can influence and craft legislation, as well as control which bills live and which ones die. As the presiding officer of the House session, he can also determine the flow of debate on bills.
The House chamber votes on the speaker. A special session would have to be called by either two-thirds of the members of both the House and the Senate or by Mr. Warner, a Democrat, for a speaker to be selected before the assembly convenes in January 2003.
Mr. Wilkins said Thursday that he opposed the move, saying, "There is no sense in wasting the taxpayers' money to have special session."
With the legislature out of session, the position of interim speaker is largely ceremonial, but Mr. Putney will be responsible for filling several appointments.
"We've never had this situation before, and it will be interesting to see what Lacey does," said Bill Wood, director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.

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