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Arch Moore left dynamic, controversial legacy

Current U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito with her father Arch Moore in 1999.


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Arch Moore, the former U.S. Representative and three-term West Virginia governor whose political career ended amid corruption charges, died Wednesday. He was 91.

From receiving a Purple Heart in World War II to serving 32 months in prison during the early 1990s, Moore was an iconic and controversial figure.

Early years and WWII

Arch Alfred Moore Jr. was born at Moundsville, W.Va., in 1926, the grandson of Mayor F.T. Moore.

He attended Lafayette College and West Virginia University where he earned a law degree and joined the family’s Marshall County law firm. 

Moore was a decorated veteran of World War II, rising to sergeant in the U.S. Army and leading an infantry combat unit in the European theater.

During an advance on the Sigfried line in Germany he suffered a bullet wound that pierced his jaw and tongue. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for for his action during the attack. Moore rarely spoke of his war time experience until much later in life.

“In my platoon I had 36 people and only three of us survived,” Moore said in a 2003 interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “I’ve run for public office for over 50 years and I’ve never talked about those times because I live with them daily. What happened to me happened to a lot of fine young Americans, some of whom never made it back.”

Launching his political career

When Moore recovered from his war wounds he returned to West Virginia, earned his law degree and ran for office. Elected to the House of Delegates in 1952, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954 and lost to Bob Mollohan. Moore ran again in 1956 and defeated C. Lee Spillars by a thin margin of 0.4%. He was continuously re-elected until 1968.

During his time in the U.S. House, Moore was instrumental in helping forge U.S. policy in Vietnam, traveling to the country many times.

“As a member of Congress I probably spent more time in Vietnam than any other member because of the great influx of refugees from the north making their way into South Vietnam,” said Moore. “I had the responsibility to develop the country’s position on how we were going to handle that.”

Moore faulted the U.S. for not making “a commitment on what it was attempting to do there.” When the U.S. was unable to preserve the southern portion of Vietnam and “keep it on the side of freedom,” Moore said Vietnam “became an unexplainable event in which Americans lost their lives.”

Running for governor

In 1968, Moore left Congress and returned home to run for governor. Two days before the election, Moore’s helicopter crashed in Lincoln County following a campaign stop in Hamlin. The aircaft plummeted 30 feet onto a car in a parking lot, but Moore suffered broken ribs and three others on board were not seriously hurt.

Within hours Moore told reporters, “I’m convinced the Lord voted for us yesterday.”

He went on to defeat Democrat Jim Sprouse by just over 8,000 votes and celebrated the victory in a wheelchair


Years later Moore received a piece of the helicopter wreckage, donated by the son of a state trooper who was at the crash scene. Moore also kept the suit, tie, and coat he wore that day in his closet for the rest of his life.

During his first term as governor, Moore was the beneficiary of the 1968 Modern Budget Amendment that expanded budgetary powers of the governor. Moore led the establishment of the Department of Highways and oversaw construction of the state’s interstate system that began during the Cecil Underwood administration.

Other first-term accomplishments included creating the Board of Regents to manage the state’s public colleges and universities. Moore was successful in getting black lung classified as a coal mining disease and helped foster development of public school kindergartens.

In a highly controversial move he fired the state road workers and Charleston transit workers who walked off the job during a labor dispute. Moore called the strike “highly illegal.”

“It went on for about three or four days and I just indicated if you’re not back to work in the morning I’m going to have to take care of this thing because I’m bound to take care of the safety of everybody,” Moore later recall. “They basically told me to go hang my hat in some far off place—they weren’t coming back.”

The firings wee appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Moore’s action was upheld.

Moore also helped negotiate a settlement to a national coal strike. 

A key amendment passed in 1970 known as the Governor’s Succession Amendment, allowed Moore to succeed himself in office. He ran for re-election and became the first governor to serve in consecutive terms since 1872. Moore defeated then-Secretary of State Jay Rockefeller by more than 73,000 votes.

During his second term, Moore helped establish medical schools at Lewisburg and Marshall University. He also helped develop what we know today at the West Virginia Culture Center at the Capitol Complex.

Buffalo Creek tragedy

On Feb. 26, 1972, and earthen dam on Buffalo Creek in Logan County failed, sending millions of gallons of black coal slurry down the valley below. The disaster killed 125 people who slept in their homes. Another 4,000 lost their homes.

“I spent four days at Buffalo Creek. We had a major proportion of human hurt and so many people who died.” Moore later recalled. “I never thought it would ever happen, and by the same token, you’ve got to feel there wasn’t any deliberateness. You’d like to think nobody was cheating on what was required to be done.”

Pittston Coal Company, which owned the dam, paid $13.5 million to flood survivors in a single class-action lawsuit. Each survivor received $13,000 in the settlement after legal expenses were covered. The state also sued Pittston for $100 million, of which the company settled for $1 million.

It was widely reported Moore negotiated the deal, but during an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting he vehemently denied having any hand in the matter other than signing it.

“I had nothing to do with the lawsuit,” said Moore. “The legislature directed the attorney general to direct the lawsuit. I wasn’t asked about the amount sued for. I had nothing to do with the pleadings. My office never saw any of that.”

Moore said two days before leaving office, he received a visit from Attorney General Chauncey Browning Jr. who indicated the suit was settled, but Pittston’s attorneys wanted Moore’s signature. 

”I told him my signature isn’t important, it’s your suit,” Moore explained, but the governor did sign the settlement at the behest of Browning. Moore later said he the settlement figure was too low and wished he had never attached his name to it.

Corruption charges

In 1975, a campaign manager and Moore were indicted on charges of extortion, making him the first sitting governor to be officially charged with a criminal act. Both were acquitted of the charges.

Moore left office and established a private law practice with offices in Charleston, Moundsville and Washington, D.C. 

But, he wasn’t finished with politics.

He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1978, losing to incumbent Democrat Jennings Randolph. Then he ran for governor again in 1980 but lost to incumbent Jay Rockefeller by nearly 65,000 votes. Moore gave it another try in 1984, this time successfully defeating Democrat Clyde See to become the first governor elected to three four-year terms.

But in 1985 Moore inherited a state in dire straights, suffering the highest unemployment rate in the country and the coal industry struggling to cope with the national recession. Trying to revive the state’s economy, Moore expanded corporate tax credits to attract business to the state and the legislature reduced the amount coal companies paid into workers compensation.

Controversy and scandal dogged Moore during the latter days of his final term. He eventually lost his bid for re-election in 1988 to insurance executive Gaston Caperton. 

In 1990, following an extensive federal investigation, Moore pleaded guilty to five felonies. The charges ranged from accepting illegal payments during the 1984 and 1988 campaigns to extorting more than $573,000 from Maben Energy Corporation of Beckley. He served 32 months in federal prisons in Alabama and Kentucky. He spent the last four months of his sentence on home confinement in Glen Dale.

In the aftermath, Moore repeatedly attempted to withdraw his guilty pleas. The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his attempt to withdraw the plea in 1991 and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal in 1995.

As part of his sentence Moore could never run for public office again and was stripped of his law license. He sought to have his license reinstated by the state bar, but in 2003 the state Supreme Court rejected his attempt. The justices ruled the former governor “…showed a shocking disregard … for the public trust and the standards of the legal profession.” The high court furthermore ruled Moore’s lack of remorse was a substantial factor in their decision. The opinion stated Moore “had an ample opportunity to come to a realization that his conduct was wrong and to take steps to demonstrate that realization.”

To his dying day Moore refused to acknowledge committing any crime. During an address at the Logan Country Club in 2008 while promoting sales of his biography “Arch”, He referenced the matter:

“I think about this all the time. I think about standing before a crowd of my friends, such as is gathered here today. I think about looking all of you in the eye and saying, ‘I apologize.’ But I cannot do that. I cannot do that today or any other day. I am sorry for what my family went through. I am sorry for what my fellow West Virginians went through, but I cannot apologize.”

Moore was a powerful figure in West Virginia politics, whose leadership style created enemies and won him friends. When asked by Public Broadcasting in the 2003 interview how he wanted to be remembered, he summarized:

“I’m proud of my governorships, all three of them. You’ll run into Arch Moore stories the rest of your life and nine-and-a-half out of 10, I think, will be a positive reflection. I’m still working on the other half.”

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