Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 21, 2012

Grilling the candidates: Bevy of political hopefuls in Telegraph hot seat

I have become entirely too comfortable in our conference room these past weeks. Hour after hour, day after day, we’ve been interviewing political hopefuls from both Virginias. From the U.S. Senate to town mayors, we’ve brought a plethora of candidates into the proverbial hot seat.

Many of the candidates are editorial board veterans; for some, it’s a first-time, eye-opening event.

Members of the editorial board include myself, Telegraph Publisher Darryl Hudson, Assistant Managing Editor Charles Owens and Senior Editor Bill Archer. One might think after years upon years of interviewing candidates we would tire of the process.

We don’t.

At the Daily Telegraph, editorial board sessions with candidates are a sacred rite. We believe the public needs to know how candidates stand on the issues. We don’t do 15-second television sound bites. We press them on issues — hammer them when needed — to get to the heart of the subject, and the real person.

• • •

Business office manager and human resource guru Rhonda Watson is stalking me. Due to the editorial board sessions, I have been delinquent on PAFs and a host of other forms whose acronyms hold no special meaning for me.

Paperwork tends to fall by the wayside when breaking news abounds and an election draws near. On a recent Monday, I get a look — which translates to a hand slap — for being late on payroll. “But there was a homicide!” I explain. “Death, destruction, web updates ... headlines!”

My plea falls on accountant ears. Rhonda lowers her glasses and gives me another look. Murder and mayhem hold no meaning when payroll and end-of-month expense reports are due.

• • •

Last Wednesday I play catch-up. With no editorial board sessions scheduled I attempt to clear the backlog of paperwork from my desk. Then comes another problem. It’s a slow news day — a slow, slow news day.

It’s hard to believe just two weeks ago I was writing a column about a hectic news week. The fates can be fickle that way.

• • •

Friday morning I am reminded of one of the strangest editorial board sessions I’ve ever attended.

Scott Will, campaign manager for Patrick Morrisey, who is challenging current Democratic Attorney General Darrell McGraw, tweets: “If I had $1 for every time a reporter told me ‘I spoke w/ one of Darrell McGraw’s “representatives,” not the candidate,’ I’d be rich.”

That’s not surprising. When we last interviewed McGraw in an editorial board session prior to the 2008 election he clearly was not on his game — and that’s an extraordinarily nice way to put it.

Issues during the 2008 race included McGraw’s sole discretion to hire attorneys to handle large cases for the state — such as the OxyContin suit the state brought against drug maker Purdue Pharma, which was tried in McDowell County. The state won the suit, and $10 million from Purdue Pharma. But more than $3 million of that money went to the private lawyers who handled the case.

During the 2008 race, more than $40,000 in political contributions to McGraw’s campaign came from attorneys who benefited from such state lawsuits.

McGraw is also notorious for his trinket chest — using the office of attorney general to blatantly increase his name recognition among voters.

In 2008 we endorsed McGraw’s opponent for attorney general. The editorial read, in part: “Every West Virginian who has complained about the state’s lack of vision, every West Virginian who has lamented the economic woes stifling the Mountain State’s climate of growth, every West Virginian who has ranted about cronyism and ‘good ’ol boy’ politics now has a chance to make a crucial, viable change in the very heart of our state government.

“The solution: Unseat incumbent Democrat Attorney General Darrell McGraw ...”

The editorial also pointed out McGraw’s erratic behavior during our interview with him, noting, “When we tried to quiz McGraw about issues and procedures during the editorial board session, he responded with a barrage of almost incomprehensible comments and an attitude that insinuated we upstart journalists dare not question the reigning attorney general.”

McGraw ultimately stormed out of the editorial board session. Despite all this, he won re-election in 2008. Some things never change in West Virginia.

• • •

Fortunately, this year’s editorial board sessions have included no bizarre behavior, although a few have featured some heated exchange between candidates.

In the past few weeks we have interviewed candidates for the West Virginia Supreme Court, House District 27, Senate District 6, Mercer County Commission and mayor of Bluefield, Va. We were also excited to bring in both Virginia Senate candidates, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen, as well as the candidates for the Fightin’ Ninth House seat, incumbent Republican Morgan Griffith and his Democrat opponent Anthony Flaccavento.

We have also met with a slate of West Virginia Democrats — Senator Joe Manchin, Rep. Nick Rahall and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. And in the coming days — which I’ve dubbed “GOP Week” — we will be interviewing Manchin’s challenger John Raese, Rahall’s opponent Rick Snuffer and Tomblin’s competitor Bill Maloney.

Many stories — and endorsements — from these sessions have already been published in the pages of the Daily Telegraph and the remainder will be appearing in coming days.

With hope, this investment of time and ink have helped our readers make a choice when casting a ballot on Election Day.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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