Secretary of State Mac Warner discusses his candidacy for Governor, and his vision for West Virginia

By Matthew Young, RealWV

As the weather turns colder, West Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial primary campaigns are beginning to heat up. But with four noteworthy candidates on the ballot and election day still more than seven months away, who will emerge as the GOP’s nominee for Governor remains anyone’s guess. 

In an effort to provide our readers with the most expansive election coverage possible, RealWV will be conducting a series of interviews with the contenders. These interviews are designed to provide the candidates with an additional opportunity to speak directly to the voters, as well as an opportunity for the voters to get to know the candidates through their own words. 

We begin with West Virginia’s current Secretary of State, Mac Warner. 

“I have lived a life of service,” Warner told RealWV, explaining that the foundation for that service began during his childhood in West Virginia. 

“I became a Boy Scout – literally in [a] church across from the capitol,” Warner said. “(Boy Scout principles) are things that have been ingrained in me from the earliest age, and manifested themselves in me at West Point when I raised my hand to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” 

An attorney by trade, Warner is a 23-year veteran of the United States Army, where he served as a member of the JAG (Judge Advocate General’s) Corps. After his retirement from military service, Warner worked as a contractor for the U.S. Department of State (DOS). 

Each of Warner’s four children have followed in his military footsteps by either currently or previously serving in the U.S. Army, and his wife, Debbie Warner, is a member of West Virginia’s House of Delegates. Warner was elected Secretary of State in November, 2016.

“I served five years overseas in Afghanistan,” Warner noted. “My life has been one of service to God, country, and state. When I left Afghanistan, and came back here and was elected Secretary of State, I was privileged to represent the people of West Virginia, and to clean up the elections.”

Read more about Mac Warner’s thoughts on election administration here.

“I bring these skill-sets – a set of talents and experiences from across the globe,” Warner continued. “I’ve served on four continents in hot-spots around the world, and I’ve served in some great spots. I can bring all of those experiences back here to West Virginia. The things that have worked well, I want to implement.”

“I just feel, not necessarily an obligation or a duty, but a desire to help the people of West Virginia – to help the state,” Warner said. “I think that when you look out across the other candidates, I have more to offer.”

“I feel a desire – a burning desire,” Warner added. “You’ll hear a lot of people talk about being ‘battle-tested.’ But literally, I’ve been there, I’ve had the bullets coming in my direction. You have to keep focused on the mission. West Virginia is just one spark away from the next Sago Mine disaster, or the next flash flood. We saw in 2016 that we do have calamities here in the state. Who better to be the commander in chief of the West Virginia National Guard than somebody who has actually worn the uniform? I’m the only veteran in this race.”

“It’s a culmination of those factors that make me want to be governor,” Warner said.

Since assuming his current position, Warner’s “mission” has been two-fold: purging the names of ineligible voters from the state’s registrars, and encouraging young people to take an active role in election processes. During an April, 2017 appearance on MetroNews Talkline, Warner announced that nearly 50,000 ineligible voters had been removed from county rolls. More than six years later – just this week, in fact – Warner participated in an event to celebrate the 100,000th high school student to register during his time as the state’s chief elections officer. 

According to Warner, West Virginia currently has approximately 1.1 million registered voters, meaning the additional 100,000 registered young people represent a 10% increase during his tenure as secretary. 

“One-tenth of the population that is going to be voting in this upcoming election will be those students,” Warner noted. 

A staunch conservative, Warner has been an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump. After Trump’s loss in the 2020 general election, Warner publicly supported a lawsuit which sought to invalidate the results in four states won by President Joe Biden. In December of that year, Warner participated in a “March for Trump” rally in Charleston. 

Former President Donald Trump with West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner.

However, despite his core ideologies, Warner expressed his belief in the need for political balance. 

When asked how, as governor, Warner would effectively serve both liberal and conservative West Virginians, Warner said, “You can only find a win-win situation when you first seek to understand, and then to be understood – so keep your mouth shut and listen to people.” 

“Listen to both sides of the issues, and then look for that common ground that can move you ahead,” Warner added. “You’re looking for synergy. I’ll be the governor for all of West Virginia, and, in doing so, I’ll listen to all of West Virginia – and bring those ideas into the administration.”

“I don’t look for ‘yes men,’” Warner noted. “[With me as governor] you’ll have a receptive ear, and a participant who wants to help all of West Virginia, not just one side or the other.”

Warner expanded on this concept, explaining that while recent years have seen West Virginia shift to a Republican majority, the state “still has many of the same players.”

“You have people who were Democrats, but have now changed to the Republican party,” Warner said. “But I don’t know that their ideologies or thought process has changed. They’re bringing that into the Republican party, which is a good thing – it’s a big umbrella.”

“I welcome everybody into the Republican party,” Warner continued. “I think its values align more with traditional, conservative West Virginia. The people who live in the mountains typically have an independent mindset to them that they’re going to take care of their problems themselves. They don’t need government to come in and impose itself with regulations, or tell people, ‘Give me your taxes – we know how to spend it better than you do.’ That doesn’t resonate with the typical West Virginian.”

“I’m a believer in ‘iron sharpens iron,’” Warner added. “The debates, the discussions are good. What it forces you to concentrate on is your own position – is it really as strong as you think it is? Debate also gives you perspective from other people. I welcome that.”

Warner, who is nearing the end of his second term as Secretary of State, will not be endorsing any potential successors to his office. 

“You’ll find that I don’t endorse anyone because of my role as chief elections officer,” Warner explained. “I’ve never endorsed anybody, and don’t intend to endorse anybody. That would eliminate my impartiality should there be a challenge to the election – a recount, an audit, those sorts of things. I need to remain impartial in that capacity. Even though I’m a Republican, that label comes off when I step foot on Statehouse property.”

If elected, Warner’s top priority will be the need which he believes comes before all else.

“It’s education, education, education,” Warner said. “Everything starts with education. I think we’ve made some good steps with recognizing that we have to have people reading at grade level. In grade-three, the phrase is, ‘In the first three grades you’re learning to read. After that, you’re reading to learn.’ We have to have students reading at grade level, that’s where things begin.”

“Think of the benefits – now we would have an educated workforce,” Warner continued. “We’ve got people who are ready to go into business – either as the kinds of laborers that business leaders in West Virginia are looking for right now, or creating their own businesses. Then they’re also ready to start their families, create jobs, and grow the economy. All of that stems from an educated workforce.”

“If people are educated, they have a higher likelihood to get good jobs,” Warner added. “They understand more about nutrition – right now we’re leading the nation in obesity, and that sort of thing. The saying in the past has been, ‘Jobs fix a lot of society’s ills.’ But getting a good job begins with getting a good education, and I want to be the education governor.”

Simply put, Warner believes that the role of a governor is to, “Manage state agencies – from DMV to DHHR, and all the various boards.”

“I bring that experience from day one,” Warner said. “I have that experience managing agencies.”

During his five years in Afghanistan, Warner ran the nation’s largest-ever ‘Rule of Law’ program – overseeing the Afghan Supreme Court, Ministry of Justice, Attorney General’s Office, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. 

“I think that once the word gets out to the people of West Virginia, the choice will be clear who is the most qualified to be the chief executive of the state,” Warner added.

Primary Election Day in West Virginia is Tuesday, May 14. Early in-person voting begins on Wednesday, May 1. The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, April 23. 

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