HNN Staff

With two weeks to go in the Republican Special Election Primary for Governor, Morgantown businessman Bill Maloney may well have peaked too soon.  What began as an impressive start is now beginning to look more like a fizzle.


When Maloney started off this race, he was a total unknown, with no base of support in the Republican Party or elsewhere.  However, because of his story about his trip to Chile, combined with his drilling business's success, he was able to cobble together enough of a narrative for a couple of 30 second TV ads and some expensive direct mail pieces.

Along the way, Maloney picked up Greg Thomas, a political consultant who was batting .500 after last year's Congressional races, in which he helped David McKinley winning campaign and Spike Maynard's losing campaign.   Maynard might have had a chance against Nick Joe Rahall had it not been for his close ties to former Massey CEO Don Blankenship.   Blankenship was already a controversial figure in state politics, even before the Upper Big Branch disaster that claimed so many miners' lives.

But following the Upper Big Branch disaster, Blankenship became so toxic that it was all Maynard could do to keep his distance from a man whom the national media and federal regulatory agencies were focusing on like a laser beam.  Despite Thomas having served as a longtime aide to Blankenship, his candidate, Maynard, had to steer clear of his longtime friend.


Thomas is, by most accounts, a capable political consultant, though perhaps one who likes to go on the attack with a hair trigger. That strategy hasn't always worked, as we saw with the Spike Maynard campaign.  Still, Thomas knows West Virginia, at least his part of the Republican Party in Wheeling, and Maloney needed such a guide in the political wilderness.

However, Thomas found himself with a candidate who wasn't originally from West Virginia and who enjoyed "crabbing in New Jersey" as opposed to more West Virginian pursuits.  In Bill Maloney, Thomas had a candidate who seemed ill at ease with even basic campaigning, rarely reaching out to shake a hand or even greet someone new. 

Maloney's stiff mini-speeches given at county Lincoln Day Dinners this past spring were politely received, but they were cookie-cutter affairs, seemingly with little interest in the issues facing West Virginia.   Attendees heard more about far away Chile than the plight of the West Virginia economy in Bill Maloney's speeches.

Then came this past week with not one but two public policy blunders that showed a lack of study beneath the political veneer for the Maloney campaign.  First, Maloney stated at a function earlier this week that he saw no need for any new regulations for the natural gas drilling of the Marcellus Shale layer across West Virginia.  This statement was significant, because drilling is Maloney's area of expertise. 

But apparently, Maloney forgot that there are regulations beyond the traditional environmental and anti-business regulations conservatives universally despise.  What about safeguards for individual private property owners in West Virginia, to make sure that they get all that they deserve from any in state or out of state drilling concern?  Maloney's lack of attention to this important detail gave him the appearance of wanting to help other drilling companies, similar to the one he used to have in Morgantown, rather than to think of what's best for all West Virginians.


Then his staff got into fisticuffs later this week with Betty Ireland and Company on the issue of finding a solution to the state's $8 billion in unfunded liabilities,  a huge issue with far-reaching significance to all West Virginians.   When Ireland simply suggested diverting existing severance funds to help draw down the unfunded liabilities over several years, the Maloney campaign made a shrill attack on Ireland, accusing her of somehow engaging in a "liberal tax and spend policy."

But Ireland's proposal had no new taxes involved.  She was suggesting simply reshuffling state budget priorities to help reduce the unfunded liabilities of West Virginia. 

When a reporter asked what Maloney's solution for this complex problem would be, the Maloney campaign's lame response was the same as liberal Democrat Natalie Tennant's this week at the Democratic Governor's candidates' debate at West Liberty.  Both Maloney's spokesperson and Secretary of State Tennant said that enough savings to solve the state's unfunded liabilities could be had from simply eliminating waste in the state budget.

Of course, everyone in a Republican primary is for eliminating wastefulness in the state budget.  But even the most strong fiscal conservative will tell you that $8 billion is hard to just "trim" from the state budget.   In short, Maloney showed himself to be either totally unknowledgable about the size and scope of the unfunded liability issue--or perhaps he was just offering up a political bromide instead of any real solution. Either way, his credibility has tanked.

Political historians may record that Bill Maloney, Morgantown's Mystery Man, crested in this year's GOP Primary when his campaign's attack on Betty Ireland backfired so badly that he ended up with the same position as Natalie Tennant on the unfunded liability issue.

Neither Tennant nor Maloney will be getting any Public Policy Genius awards this year, and it is increasingly doubtful that either will be earning their respective party's nomination for Governor