Thanks to a four-decade career in state politics and government, including stints as an aide for U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D), a run for U.S. Congress, six years as a Kanawha Circuit Court judge and a dozen more as the first and only woman to serve on the State Supreme Court, West Virginia knows Margaret Workman.
And she knows it.
So it figures that of all the candidates vying for a seat on West Virginia's highest court in 2008, Workman would be the one wanting to run out the campaign clock.
Workman recently called on her opponents for two open seats on the court -- incumbent Justice Spike Maynard, attorneys Beth Walker and Menis Ketchum, and WVU law professor Bob Bastress -- to limit their campaign spending this season.
Her proposed spending cap: a modest $150,000, as recommended in the Code of Fair Campaign Practices, a document developed by the State Election Commission and the Secretary of State.
"The amount of money that must be raised and expended in judicial campaigns is becoming more and more unseemly," Workman said. "If we all sign the voluntarily limits, it will eliminate the necessity to raise obscene amounts of money."
And indeed it would. But a spending armistice also would cripple something else Workman failed to mention: her upstart competition.
Slapping a $150,000 cap on the ability of lesser-known candidates to make their case to West Virginians would effectively tube her rivals' prospects. Workman has the early lead, as Walker, Ketchum, and Bastress do not have the same name recognition as their veteran competitor.
Why are we supposed to be so afraid of campaign spending in judicial races?
Would it be better that the selection of men and women to serve on our High Court be conducted in near-secret? Would West Virginians be better off knowing less about their judicial candidates?
In effect, that's what Justice Workman is proposing. Less campaign spending equals less campaigning, which means voters know less when they go to the polls. Incumbents become the big winners.
This campaign stunt rings rather cynical to us. Voters could take Workman's call for campaign cash disarmament another way. Does she want her opponents to quiet down because she doesn't have much to say, voters could speculate.
Does she worry about her position on key judicial issues? Is that why she'd prefer this race morph into a gentle popularity contest?
It's nice that rather than riding off into a comfortable retirement, Justice Workman has jumped into the political fray. But just because one's been there before doesn't deem them entitled.
In this election, West Virginia shouldn't let Margaret Workman glide back into office. If she wants it, she must earn it.
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