Tom Miller: Election campaigns becoming messier
The general election where West Virginia voters choose a governor for the next four years -- as well as many other state and county officials -- is now less than a month away. While it might seem impossible to top the recent flood of political ads that voters have been subjected to in recent weeks, you can bet the campaign claims will get even more flagrant between now and the election on Nov. 6.
It got so bad just a few days ago in the race for the governor's office that a half dozen TV stations in West Virginia refused to run a political ad from Opportunity West Virginia -- identified as a group backed by the Democratic Governors Association -- that targeted Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Maloney. Al Marra, manager of WOAY-TV in Oak Hill, told The Associated Press that Opportunity West Virginia appeared ready to spend between $300,000 and $400,00 in the Bluefield-Beckley-Oak Hill market alone.
And in the race between incumbent Attorney General Darrell McGraw and Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey, the two candidates trashed each other during a meeting with a Charleston newspaper editorial board last month. Morrisey accused McGraw of setting aside part of the $2 billion his office has brought in from consumer protection lawsuits "for the private piggybank of the office of the attorney general."
McGraw countered that Morrisey, a former congressional staffer who lives in the Eastern Panhandle and is now a Washington, D. C., lobbyist, was not licensed to even practice law in West Virginia until several days before he filed to run for attorney general in this election. He also ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives in New Jersey in 2000, adding credence to McGraw's assertion that "this man knows nothing about West Virginia law or how West Virginia law operates."
In a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a sizable margin, the campaign finances of some GOP candidates for statewide office reflects a distinct disadvantage. State Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, who is trying to defeat incumbent State Treasurer John Perdue, had the largest campaign fund of four statewide Republican candidates prior to the Sept. 28 deadline for the first report.
And Hall had raised only $23,851 at that point so he loaned his campaign an additional $50,000. So he had a campaign fund balance of $65,541 at the time that report was filed. In contrast, former legislator Larry Faircloth reported total contributions as the GOP's nominee against incumbent State Auditor Glen B. Gainer of $462 at that point -- nearly half that amount a single $200 contribution from the Ritchie County Republican Executive Committee.
Even the advent of social networking has become a part of this general election campaign. Last week Twitter shut down accounts set up in the names of McGraw and state Senator Walt Helmick because Democrat party officials complained they were fakes. Twitter also suspended at least three other accounts operated by West Virginia Republicans. Derek Scarbro, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said most of the messages posted on Twitter "were very derogatory."
Who can blame state Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, for criticizing West Virginia University's recent decision to hire two contract lobbyists that will try to curb anticipated reductions in research funding as a result of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's planned 2012 budget cuts.
Prezioso is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and his district includes part of Morgantown. He said he doesn't think WVU needs to hire lobbyists even though he attended a dinner last month in Charleston at the Chop House restaurant along with Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, that presumably was paid for by WVU.
Two well-known lobbyists at the State Capitol, Paul Hardesty and John Cavacini, registered last month to lobby for WVU Research Corp., the university's nonprofit affiliate. They will each be paid $10,000 for three months of work with contract renewals possible, according to a Charleston newspaper.
"WVU is in my district -- they are my constituents," said Prezioso. "I don't know of any constituents in my district that need a lobbyist to talk to me."
There were 1,230,585 registered voters in West Virginia at the end of August -- the last date for which information was available -- eligible to vote in the Nov. 6 general election in West Virginia but history suggests at least one in three will not bother to participate in the election.
In the 2008 presidential election, there were a total of 713,362 votes cast for president with Republican John McCain getting 397,466 votes to 303,857 for President Barack Obama despite a 2-1 edge in registered Democrats. Three other minor candidates split the remaining 12,039 votes. Based on the number of Democrats who voted for a man in a Texas prison in the Democratic presidential primary, it seems likely many Democrats will be voting for the Republican presidential candidate this time.
Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.
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