CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Forty years after first being elected to the state Supreme Court, former Justice Darrell McGraw, who later served five terms as West Virginia’s attorney general, sees himself bringing a different point of view to the current Supreme Court if he’s elected next month.
“I’m reflecting what others have told me and reflecting what others have suggested as they have asked me, requested me and encouraged me to be on the ballot this time,” McGraw told MetroNews.
His supporters, he said, see him as a potential “more progressive ingredient.”
“If one looks at a constitutional issue, you look at the language of the Constitution and the words that are in the language of the Constitution to guide you in the definition of a response to an issue,” McGraw said of the law.
Of consideration of intent, “Well, one would suppose that the words were intended to convey the thought.”
McGraw, a longtime Democrat, was among the last of the candidates to file his paperwork for a 2016 run before the January deadline and surprised a lot of people by doing so.
He joined Beth Walker, a Morgantown attorney, Justice Brent Benjamin, the incumbent, Wayne King, a Clay attorney and Bill Wooton, a Beckley attorney and former state lawmaker, on the ballot for a 12 year term that will run through 2029.
For the first time, West Virginia’s all of West Virginia’s judges, including a Supreme Court justice, will be elected on nonpartisan ballots on May 10th.
So far, McGraw said he has seen few difference in campaigns for nonpartisan versus partisan judicial races.
“After the campaigning, we have to wait and see. There are a lot of glitches in the system and the law, you know, develops through experience and most public policy issues develop through experience,” McGraw said on the nonpartisan aspect.
This year, Benjamin and Wooton are drawing on public campaign financing through the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Public Financing Program, administered through the State Election Commission.
“It doesn’t address the issue of third parties mounting negative campaigns,” McGraw told MetroNews of the public financing option. “They (third parties) can choose a candidate who is publicly financed and he’s limited, in a lot of ways, but they can choose that candidate and seek to demonize his opponent.”
In the closing weeks of the campaign, McGraw was expecting to “learn things he never knew about himself” through attack ads. “In the election business, it’s always part of the game, it seems, to have to deal with negatives at the end of the process.”
McGraw, a Wyoming County native, has been through many elections over the years.
He was first elected to the state Supreme Court in 1976 and served as chief justice in 1984 and 1988, the last year of his term.
Four years later, McGraw won his first attorney general election and was re-elected every four years after that until Nov. 2012 when current Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, beat McGraw with 51 percent of the vote to McGraw’s 49 percent, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office. His 5th term ended in Jan. 2013.
“Sort of,” he answered when asked if he’d felt at a loss since then following a long career of public service.
“My wife and I have always been hard workers at what we do and what we did and so, I guess, we’d say that the existence of a retirement is not something that we want to practice.”
McGraw’s wife, Jorea Marple, was abruptly fired from her position as state superintendent of schools in 2012. Last November, the state Supreme Court dismissed her lawsuit that alleged wrongful termination.
McGraw, now 79, would be 92 at the end of a Supreme Court term, if elected.
“I’d be blessed to serve the full term,” he said.
“I embrace my age and as I embrace my age, I embrace the age of many West Virginians and, with these many West Virginians, I have the blessing of being able to apply myself with no significant diversions to doing service again and I believe our community is better off for that opportunity.”
Politics runs in the McGraw family. His younger brother is one example. Warren McGraw, a former Senate president, was elected to an unexpired, six-year term on the Supreme Court and served until 2004 when Justice Benjamin successfully unseated him.
Asked what the well-known McGraw name means in West Virginia, “I would want it to mean service, good servant, to the people of the state,” McGraw responded.
This story is part of a series of MetroNews profiles on the West Virginia Supreme Court candidates.
Early voting ahead of the May 10th primary election begins on April 27. The last day to register to vote is April 19.