Four West Virginia GOP governor candidates vie for party nomination at debate

Three candidates with deep family ties in West Virginia politics and one who moved to the state two decades ago staked their claims in a debate Tuesday night to being the best choice in the Republican primary for governor.

In a deeply red state that twice overwhelmingly voted for former President Donald Trump, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, ex-state delegate Moore Capito and car dealer Chris Miller called themselves the most conservative candidate in the May 14 primary contest.

“I think West Virginia needs a proven conservative with a record of getting things done,” Morrisey said.

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Secretary of State Mac Warner, though, said the governor’s race “isn’t about being the most conservative. This is about serving the people of West Virginia.”

The four men took turns supporting additional income tax cuts, pay raises for teachers, the death penalty for fentanyl traffickers, and the state’s current restrictions on abortion. They gave differing views on way’s to grow the economy and stop the state’s decadelong exodus of residents. From 2010 to 2020, West Virginia lost a higher percentage of its residents than any other U.S. state.

The winner of the May 14 GOP primary will face Democrat Steve Williams in the November general election. Williams, who is mayor of Huntington, is running unopposed in his party’s primary. Republican Gov. Jim Justice is prohibited by law from seeking a third consecutive term.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is seen here at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 6, 2020. Morrissey is running for the Republican nomination for governor of West Virginia along with ex-state delegate Moore Capito, car dealer Chris Miller, and Secretary of State Mac Warner. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Morrisey moved to the state from New Jersey in 2006 and was elected to the first of three terms as attorney general in 2012. To grow the state’s economy, he envisions a “robust” competition with bordering states through an examination of policies such as taxes, regulations, workforce and licensing rules, and teacher pay.

“That alone is going to drive economic growth,” Morrisey said.

Last year Justice signed a 21% cut in the state’s personal income tax. Miller wants to eliminate the tax altogether — and quickly, saying he’d do it as soon as he becomes governor. He said businesses and prospective workers are attracted to states with no such tax, such as Tennessee, Texas and Florida.

“Capital flows like water to the places it’s most welcome,” Miller said. “You have to unleash capitalism.”

Miller’s mother, Carol Miller, is a longtime state delegate who is seeking her fourth term in the U.S. House. His grandfather is the late U.S. Rep. Samuel Devine of Ohio.

Capito, the son of U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, is hoping to join his late grandfather, Arch A. Moore Jr., as governor. Arch Moore is the only governor elected to three terms.

Capito said completing roads, water and other infrastructure projects are one key to growing the state’s economy. He pointed to his record in the House of Delegates, “and as your governor, we’ll continue to get things done.”

Capito resigned his seat in the House of Delegates in December to run for governor, drawing criticism from Warner.

“That’s a quitter,” Warner said. “Nobody likes a quitter. You don’t walk away.”

Warner’s brother, Kris, is a former state GOP chairman who is running for secretary of state. Other brothers are Monty Warner, a GOP candidate for governor in 2004, and former U.S. attorney Kasey Warner.

Mac Warner said education is the way “to get West Virginia off the bottom.” He emphasized funding early education initiatives and further opening up opportunities in the career technical fields.

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Warner said he sees the primary as a “two-person race” between himself and Miller. In referring to Morrisey, he said, “No respectful Republican in West Virginia is going to vote for an out-of stater who comes in as an opportunist.” Warner also pointed out that former state Democratic Party chairman Larry Puccio, who was chief of staff to then-Gov. Joe Manchin, is a donor to Capito’s campaign.

“I am not for sale,” Warner said.

The debate was hosted at a resort in Daniels by the Raleigh County Republican Executive Committee and aired on West Virginia radio network MetroNews. Two other GOP candidates were not in attendance: Kevin Christian of Chloe, Calhoun County, and Mitch Roberts of Poca. It wasn’t known whether they were invited. A message left with a county GOP official wasn’t returned.

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