Republican gubernatorial hopefuls share stage at the Greenbrier during the W.Va. Chamber’s candidate forum

By RealWV Staff,

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a particularly long article. However, due to the nature of the content, we felt it important to include as much information from each candidate as possible. Please be aware that RealWV has not confirmed the accuracy of any statements made by candidates. We have simply reported the candidate’s words as they were spoken. 

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – The “Decision 2024: West Virginia Gubernatorial Forum” was held at the Greenbrier Resort on Thursday, as part of the W.Va. Chamber’s annual business summit. The forum effectively served as a Republican gubernatorial primary debate. 

Candidates participating in the forum included Moore Capito, a delegate serving Kanawha County, Chris Miller, owner of the Dutch Miller Auto Group, Mac Warner, West Virginia’s secretary of state, and Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s attorney general. WSAZ’s Sarah Sager served as moderator. 

Sager introduced the gubernatorial-hopefuls as being “the four top candidates according to polls,” before allowing them each two minutes for opening statements. Moore Capito was the first to speak. 

“As a lifelong, sixth-generation West Virginian and father of two, I know that the most pressing economic and moral issue that we face as a state is the future of our children and our grandchildren,” Capito said. “Our campaign message is very simple – I am the ‘get it done’ conservative.”

“Time and again, whether it was building the first Republican supermajority, or delivering as Judiciary Chair in the most pro-growth conservative agenda this state has ever seen, I always execute and deliver,” Capito added. 

Capito, an attorney who celebrated his 41st birthday on Wednesday, is the son of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito. He has served in the W.Va. House of Delegates since 2016, and cited recent tax cuts, improvements to election security, and progress with the WV First Foundation as examples of his accomplishments. 

Next to speak was Chris Miller, who said, “If I ran my businesses the way the government spends our tax dollars, I’d be broke.”

“Right now our state faces a major problem,” Miller continued. “Our number one export is not coal, it’s not natural gas, it’s not our lumber – our number one export is our educated kids. We have to create an economy that thrives to prevent that from happening any further.”

“We need to run the state government more like a business,” Miller added. “We need to audit every single dime. We need to treat our taxpayers like customers – with a simpleminded focus of making their lives better. And you know what else we’ve got to do? We’ve got to break up the ‘good ol’ boy’ system that’s been running our state for far too long.”

Miller was born and raised in Huntington. In addition to his auto group, Miller owns 25 other companies, and employs more than 600 workers. Miller’s companies service the automotive, insurance, real estate, and energy industries. 

Third to the podium was Patrick Morrisey, who said, “I would argue that on this stage, there is one proven conservative with a record that is second to none on all the major issues that West Virginians care about.”

“West Virginia has some significant challenges,” Morrisey continued. “But for all the promises that are going to be made by all the candidates up here, I would argue that you have to go with the person who’s been there, who’s done that, who’s proven his conservative (values) time after time. I’ve taken on the federal government when they had their sights set on West Virginia, and I’ve delivered.”

“When I’m the next governor of West Virginia, education is going to be my top priority,” Morrisey added. “We must educate our kids, and protect our parents from the craziness of the cultural wars around us.”

Morrisey – who was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in northern New Jersey – spent the majority of his adult life in-and-around the political circles of moderate Republicans in the North East and Washington, DC. He was elected as West Virginia’s attorney general in 2012, a position he has held since that time. 

Last to deliver his opening statement was Mac Warner, who began by saying, “This event is the most important job interview we candidates will face. In all likelihood, one of us will be the next governor of the State of West Virginia.”

“I’m a graduate of West Point and WVU College of Law,” Warner continued. “I hold two Masters Degrees, and I have lived a life of service – both with the U.S. Military, and the State Department. As you make your decisions, carefully consider the life experiences of the people to best lead the state as governor.”

“I am the sole (military) veteran in this race,” Warner added. “When West Virginia has a disaster and we call in the National Guard, we deserve a commander in chief who is ready to command. I’ve run the world’s largest rule of law program – I’ve managed the Supreme Court, Ministry of Justice, Attorney General’s Office, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan. I’ve traveled to every state in the nation, and I’ve deployed to hot-spots on four continents.”

According to Warner, West Virginia has become a national leader in election security, and ease of starting a business during his time as secretary of state. Warner is a father of four, and he and his wife celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary last week. 

Sager’s first question referred to West Virginia’s ongoing population decline, and how each candidate would counteract it if elected. Capito, once again, was first to answer.

“Let’s start off by recognizing that things in West Virginia are on the right track,” Capito said. “When you look back at some of the studies over the past year, it shows that more people have actually come into West Virginia than left. The trend lines in West Virginia are good. What we are hearing from West Virginians is that they’re so optimistic, and they’re feeling good about being West Virginians again. And as somebody who has played sports my whole life, you can’t win the game unless you believe you can.”

“To attract more people, we have to continue with the economic development announcements,” Capito added, “But we have to take care of the businesses that are here.”

Next to answer was Miller, who said, “Capital flows like water to the places that it’s most welcome. If we want to make West Virginia a thriving economy, we have to be welcoming to capital and investment.”

“The data is clear, we are in the beginning stages of a demographic shift in our country – social, political, economic, and cultural,” Miller continued. “At the end of the day, West Virginia has what people are looking for. We have a high quality of life, and a low cost of living. We also have some of the best people on planet Earth.”

“All you have to do is adjust some of the rules,” Miller added. “Three of the four fastest growing states post-pandemic, Tennessee, Texas, and Florida, all have one thing in common and that is a zero state income tax. We’ve got to get rid of that quickly.”

Morrisey echoed Miller’s call for quick changes, saying, “As we look at this incredible challenge, we know that we have to make changes very, very quickly. As your attorney general, I’ve developed the knowledge base and experiences working with all the major challenges facing our state.”

“What we need to do is have a 100-day plan,” Morrisey continued. “When I take office as governor, here’s what it’ll be: first, we’re going to look at every single state that surrounds us, […] and then we’re going to look at West Virginia. We’re going to make sure that on the issue of taxation, on the issue of regulation, on the issue of licensing, on the issue of workforce – West Virginia is going to win against all those states.”

Warner was the last to answer Sager’s question, rising from his seat as he spoke.

“As a lifelong West Virginia, I’ve seen the roller coaster ride in this state,” Warner said. “I’ve seen Charleston with 100,00 people, and I’ve seen the state with five and six representatives in Congress – now we’re down to two. I’ve seen the empty streets of today in Charleston, and I know where I want to take it as governor – back to those thriving days.” 

“Education is the key,” Warner continued. “I’m going to be the education governor. The way you do that, is you emphasize teaching – you reinforce the teachers. We need to stop the drug epidemic, the opioid crisis. West Virginia is twice what other states are in deaths per thousand. We’ve got to attack that, and I’ve got a plan to do that.”

Sager began her second question by saying, “West Virginia has more state and local government employees than 37 other states. Our state also has 55 separate county governments that vary wildly in size and population.”

“Is this appropriate given our state’s rural nature?” Sager asked. “Should we begin to find ways to streamline services?”

Once more, Capito was first to answer.

“Over the past summer we have engaged in a tour around the state of West Virginia, talking about public safety,” Capito began. “We’ve done that strategically in different parts of the state. We talked to a lot of public officials. I am a firm believer that local officials know best. The problem that has happened is that the state government talks to the local governments too often, and doesn’t listen enough. […] The efficiency is broken down because there’s a lack of communication.”

Miller was next to respond, saying, “We’re top heavy. […] At the end of the day we have to remember that we are the customers – the taxpayers are the customers.”

“It is the obligation of the government to provide a better quality of life and tangible products to the customers to make their lives better,” Miller continued. “They waste our money. There are efficiencies that we can create to manage the taxpayers’ dollars better, and there’s systems that we can set up to do this in a much better way.”

Morrisey was the third respondent, saying, “As we look at a lot of these challenges, one of the biggest things that’s going to be critical is to shrink government.”

“I do think we need to shrink government, and make sure that we’re dealing with the priorities of the future,” Morrisey added. “Government is still too big, and I’m not afraid to say that. When I get into office as governor, we’re going to look through every state agency. We’re going to conduct an audit and look at how the government is operating across West Virginia. And we’re going to engage in those efficiencies, those back office strategies – the way to make sure that you’re not having duplication.”

Warner, once again, was the last to answer.

“As a battle-tested leader, I’m not afraid of making the tough decisions,” Warner began. “As many of you might recall, when I took over as secretary of state – I’m not afraid of streamlining my office. In fact, I’ve reduced the office about 15 to 20%. We’re working with fewer people, but we’re doing more, getting more done with less people, and the people in my office are happier now than ever before.”

“The answer to streamlining the government […] is moving from dependence to interdependence,” Warner continued. “It’s that collaborative effort. That’s what we need to do with state government and local government – municipal government. Those governments are the ones that work best. We don’t want to eliminate just for the sake of eliminating. We need to collaboratively work to see what the proper solution is.”

With her third question, Sager began by explaining, “Every two years the National Center for Education Statistics releases the national assessment of education progress. In 2022 the results showed that when looking at students who were considered at or above proficient, West Virginia ranked 50th in fourth grade reading, 49th in eighth grade reading, 50th in fourth grade math, and 50th in eighth grade math. As governor, you will be responsible for appointing members of the West Virginia Board of Education, who in turn are responsible for overseeing public education in the state.”

“What ideas do you have to begin improving these results?” Sager asked, this time requesting that Miller be the first to answer.

“If you look at the structure of education in our state, we’re way too top heavy,” Miller began. “If you think about it from a business perspective, the most important people are teachers who are interfacing with the customer, and the customers are the students and the parents.”

“Right now, we have this big, bloated layer of bureaucracy that soaks up all of the resources before the money flows into the classroom to benefit the teacher, the students, and the parents,” Miller continued. “One of the most important things we can do is give our teachers more flexibility to actually teach, but also help them to establish the appropriate culture to interact with students. (We need to) focus on making the kids’ lives better, to focus on making sure they have all the resources they need, and focus on making sure they have the technology they need to be able to learn.”

“If we are going to fix education in our state, we have to provide a culture that focuses on growth and learning,” Miller said. “We don’t have that right now.”

Next to answer was Morrisey, who said, “West Virginia needs to make education its top priority, and one of the things that we have to do is remain committed to what the legislature and others have been pushing – to what I’ve been pushing – to advance toward school choice.”

“I want to make sure that money follows the child much more aggressively,” Morrisey continued. “West Virginia will always have the broadest school choice law in the country […]. We’re going to have to build on the success of charter schools. We need to do things different so we’re not 50th in all the categories that matter.”

“The changes aren’t going to happen over night,” Morrisey added. “They’re going to take four, eight years. They’re also going to take a commitment to ensure that parents are involved in the educational system. We’ve seen other states where the craziness of the far left focuses more on whether a biological male can play sports with women. That’s not the right focus. We need to focus on reading, writing, ‘rithmetic. That’s how it was when I grew up.” 

Capito, who has two young children, said, “This is very important to me. I think the biggest economic issue that we have facing West Virginia right now is education.”

“I’m the proud product of our public school system,” Capito continued. “In fact, some of my teachers and coaches were some of the most influential people in my life. They were more than just the people who wrote on the chalkboard and handed out assignments, they were mentors and they were guides.”

“We have to let our teachers get back to inspiring our students,” Capito added. “They are not able to do it because they are so overwhelmed with so many things that they weren’t trained to do. And I’m really proud that in the legislature, we really have taken affirmative steps to grow educational opportunities in the state of West Virginia. That starts with providing school choice to parents. I’m a parent, I think I know what’s best for my kids – and I think you all know what’s best for your kids.”

Warner, who was once again the last to answer, said, “I may be the only teacher on this stage. I understand the importance that every minute you’re in front of that child is like gold, because as soon as they walk out the door, that moment dissipates.”

“I understand the question was about grading schools and that sort of thing,” Warner continued. “Some teachers don’t like to be graded, and some students don’t like to be graded. […] Whether we like it or not, whether our schools are going to be graded officially through some format or another, that doesn’t matter.”

“Do you realize that under COVID, in 43 states the school averages dropped?” Warner asked. “Only seven states improved during COVID. We can’t have that sort of thing happen. Somebody is going to be rating us whether we do it ourselves or not. I propose we do look at ratings of some sort, but deal with the professionals to determine what is the best form of the rating system, and then benchmark it to see whether we improve or not.”

“I guarantee you, under my administration, we will move West Virginia forward in the education arena,” Warner added.

Delegate Moore Capito, Businessman Chris Miller, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, and Secretary of State Mac Warner participate in a Republican gubernatorial candidate forum at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, on Aug. 31.

Sager’s final question consisted of three parts.

“Do you see tourism as an essential catalyst for economic development, if so, what’s your plan to build tourism, and how do you market West Virginia?” Sager asked. 

Morrisey was first to respond.

“Tourism should be a lifeblood of our state,” Morrisey said. “I know that in recent years there has rightfully been a focus on investing more in our State Parks. I know that when I first moved to West Virginia, I fell in love with the many State Parks and the National Parks we had. It’s an amazing, and a beautiful place. We need to sell that much better to the whole country.”

Miller, who was next to answer, said, “Tourism is a function of marketing […]. There’s a major opportunity here, and we need to build on what we already have because we know through data that we’ve got what everybody’s looking for.”

“More importantly,” Miller continued, “When you look at the State of West Virginia on a map – because of the continental divide and the aquifer system – more water passes through our state than any other state in the country. We have an incredible river system, and we also own the Ohio River to the high mark in Ohio. […] We need to leverage this resource to do some big things.”

Warner was the third candidate to respond to Sager’s question.

“Chelsea Ruby (W.Va. Secretary of Tourism) has been doing a wonderful job with tourism, and bringing people home to West Virginia,” Warner said. “But, do you realize the absolute gem that we have at the Summit Bechtel Reserve? Folks, there is nothing like what we have right here. We need to be exploiting that.”

“All of these wonderful things that West Virginia has – we need to get that message out to the world,” Warner added.

The last to answer was Capito, who said, “I think tourism is one of the biggest recruiting tools we have in West Virginia.”

“When you look at the natural bounty that we have – of course we have incredible power underneath us with our fossil fuels,” Capito continued. “That’s powered this country for a long time. But that’s not the only natural bounty we have in West Virginia, and it’s attractive to so many people. What I want to be, as your governor, is the person that is out there selling all of that to the rest of the country. We have a story to tell in West Virginia.”

Finally, each candidate was given 30 seconds to share their “final thoughts.” 

Warner spoke first, saying, “I challenge each and every one of you to join me in making West Virginia the education state.”

Speaking next, Morrisey reiterated his opening statement: “West Virginia needs a proven conservative, with a record that’s second to none.”

Speaking third, Miller asked, “Why don’t we leverage our resources and become the state in the Union that has the cheapest power in the country, and use that as the foundation for all of our economic growth?”

And lastly, Capito closed by saying, “To take West Virginia to the next level, we need to strengthen our communities. We have to have world-class education, we have to continue to promote pro-growth economic policies, and we have to unlock West Virginia’s energy.”

The 2024 Republican gubernatorial primary election is scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, 2024. No further gubernatorial candidate forums or debates are currently scheduled. RealWV will provide updates regarding potential debates as additional information is made available. 

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