Taking advantage of the anti-Obama sentiment in the state (even if the president has nothing to do with the Supreme Court race), the Republican State Leadership Committee's Judicial Fairness Initiative is running ads that link the president to State Supreme Court candidates Bill Wooten and Darrell McGraw. The first ad of the nearly quarter-of-a million-dollar ad buy is currently running and it criticizes Wooten and McGraw for not stopping President Obama as he "rolled over West Virginia."
Here's the ad:
It should be noted that candidate Brent Benjamin condemned the ad and called on the other two candidates, Beth Walker and Wayne King, to do the same. Not surprisingly, they haven't.
Could WV's newly passed right-to-work law be a victim of a Wooten or, more likely, a McGraw victory?
I checked at Open Secrets to see who contributed to the Republican Leadership Committee and the #1 contributor in 2014 (doubling #2 in money given) was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at over $3 million. I then thought about the recent legislative session and what they backed including their unqualified support for a right-to-work law. With more research I found that earlier this month the American Prospect ran an article about right-to-work laws and specifically Wisconsin's law which was recently found to violate that state's constitution:
For many in the labor movement, it was hard not to take pleasure in Friday’s news that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s right-to-work law was found by a judge to be in violation of the state’s constitution.
The ruling was a small bright spot for a union movement that’s been subjected to the governor’s anti-worker crusade for more than five years. It was also a potential victory for the national labor movement, which in recent years has seen right-to-work laws pass at a startling pace in states that were once formidable union strongholds.
The article notes that the winning argument was based upon the "takings" clauses found in many state right-to-work laws. Labor lawyer Paul Secunda is quoted in the article that the strategy might work in West Virginia:
The quickest way for this strategy to gain traction, Secunda says, would be for unions to lodge a challenge against West Virginia’s brand new right-to-work law, which could ultimately be brought before the Fourth Circuit, a far more liberal court than the Seventh, which upheld Indiana’s right-to-work law. If the Fourth Circuit overturns the law, going against the Seventh Circuit, the Supreme Court could bring the conflicting rulings up for review. With a liberal majority lying in wait for the confirmation of Merrick Garland or of the appointee of President Obama’s likely Democratic successor, the Court could potentially overturn all states’ right-to-work laws.
With more research I found The Mackinaw Center, the largest of the state-based free market think tanks, commenting on West Virginia's Supreme Court race: "West Virginia Right-to-Work May Turn on Supreme Court Race." Since most of the site's libertarian research and articles dealt with Michigan, I wondered why it was dealing with West Virginia's right-to-work law. It appears that they were covering it because it could have implications for right-to-work laws nationwide (including Michigan). The article by F. Vincent Vernuccio mentioned the recent Wisconsin decision but then focused on the importance of the upcoming WV election:
The main concern of those who favor giving workers the freedom to choose whether or not they have to pay a union to keep their job is that with McGraw on the bench, the West Virginia Supreme Court may have the majority it needs to issue a ruling similar to the one recently made by a Wisconsin judge striking down the state’s right-to-work protections.
As Vernuccio concludes:
If McGraw is elected, it would take only one justice siding with a likely Davis vote against right-to-work, to make worker freedom in West Virginia history.
Worse, if Merrick Garland or someone of similar persuasion is appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the outlook for right-to-work across the country could be in jeopardy.
The Intelligencer dumps Benjamin
The first half of this post was written yesterday (Thursday). This morning's "newspaper" carried a surprising AP front-page story on Brent Benjamin who looked to be the paper's endorsement for the Supreme Court as little as a month ago when it carried back-to-back stories on him. "Surprising" is an understatement on my part because the AP article contains material that was probably under-covered or not-covered at the time and has not been mentioned since:
In 2004, former coal baron Don Blankenship spent $3.5 million to help get a West Virginia Supreme Court candidate elected in a wild race that inspired a John Grisham novel.
At the time, Blankenship's company, Massey Energy, had a $50 million case pending before the court. Blankenship's Republican candidate, Brent Benjamin, won the election, and Benjamin and two other justices later ruled 3-2 in Blankenship's favor in the Massey case, saving the company a massive payout.
Now, 12 years later, Blankenship is headed to prison for a mine safety conspiracy and Benjamin is facing his first re-election fight - and opposition from many of the same people who once supported him.
Most of the article, which is long (1200 words) by Intelligencer standards, details the Benjamin-Blankenship connection. It also explains why those who supported him then have now turned on him: he's accepted public funding and he was part of a decision against a health care organization. Simply put, he's not conservative enough. The article even quotes a former supporter from West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse who cynically admits what most followers of West Virginia politics knew when he was elected:
"I think that Justice Benjamin happened to be the candidate who made it through the primary election in 2004, and the groups involved, it was their goal to defeat Warren McGraw and to see someone else," Stauffer said.
Benjamin has criticized the outside money, he's shown some independence on the bench, and both his former financial supporters and Ogden newspapers have now dumped him -- I know what happens if you lie with dogs but I'm beginning to have some sympathy for the guy.
More on outside money
This morning's Charleston Gazette-Mail has a excellent article by their political reporter, David Gutman, on the large amount of money flowing into the state Supreme Court race. It's a good article -- Gutman details some of the groups and the money they're spending. He also describes some of their ads.
I don't think that I'm going too far out on a limb, but I think the Ogden "newspapers" will endorse Beth Walker this weekend or soon thereafter. Here's one of her ads - it touches all the right (wing) buttons including a number that have nothing to do with the judiciary: