MORGANTOWN – Beth Walker says the people of West Virginia realize how important the 2016 election for a seat on the state Supreme Court is.
And she wants to bring her conservative vision to the bench.
“I’m starting to travel a little bit around the state,” Walker said Tuesday. “I’m talking to people about the state, the election, the court. Folks understand the perception of our court and how it affects everything in West Virginia. It affects growth, economic development … everything. People know this is an important race.”
Walker announced her plans to run for the one seat on the court up for election in 2016. She is running against incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin. Both previously ran as Republicans, but a new law passed by the state Legislature making all judicial elections non-partisan. That means there are no party affiliations with judicial candidates, and there only will be one court election in May instead of a primary and general election.
“Folks are coming to realize the significant change that was made in making the race non-partisan and how this race is going to work very differently,” Walker said. “They’re talking about this change.”
What won’t change for Walker, she said, is her campaign values.
“The foundation is my conservative vision for the judicial branch of government,” Walker said of her campaign. “I will follow the rule of law, not legislate from the bench and be fair and impartial. That was our platform, if you will, in 2008. And that hasn’t changed.”
Walker said one of the things that inspired her to run this year is the change of guard at the statehouse. Republicans now control both houses of the Legislature for the first time in more than 80 years.
“Obviously, the role of the judiciary is different from that of the Legislature,” she said. “But I sense a positive outlook, a real effort to address the challenges we have in West Virginia whether it be legal reform or education or other issues. I sense a real momentum of moving forward.”
She did say running in a non-partisan election is different.
“We aren’t focusing on party politics,” Walker said. “You don’t have that aspect of whether someone is a Democrat or Republican or if someone can support you based on party affiliation. We can talk about the court and keep politics out of the equation.”
Walker, who previously was a partner at Bowles Rice, narrowly lost a seat on the Court in 2008. She narrowly lost out on the second seat behind Democrats Menis Ketchum and Margaret Workman. She trailed Workman by less than 1 percent for the second spot.
At Bowles Rice, she concentrated her practice on labor and employment law for more than 20 years.
While both she and Benjamin have ran as Republicans in the past, Walker said that won’t be an issue for her.
“I will continue to emphasize convincing voters my view of being a state Supreme Court justice is about fairness and impartiality. I’ll be focusing on me as a candidate, and I will not be criticizing Justice Benjamin or anyone else who might get in the race.
“I think it’s key that this race not be political and be respectful. It needs to be a good discussion about our attributes as candidates.”
Recusal matters have been a key topic of discussion in recent years involving the West Virginia Supreme Court. Walker said she wants to make that issue as easy as possible.
“If I am on the Supreme Court, I don’t want there ever to be a question in the minds of the parties before the court that I am impartial. I think you have to look at every situation and make sure that’s not the case. So, that’s my assurance to voters. I will make sure I’m impartial.”
For example, Walker said she thinks it would be appropriate for her to recuse herself from cases involving Walker Machinery even though her husband’s family no longer owns the business. She said the same goes for West Virginia University Health System, where she is associate general counsel.
“Anyone who becomes a judge, you have to analyze whether you can hear cases involving former clients,” Walker said. “I think it would be appropriate to not hear those cases for a certain period of time. The important things is the parties feel I’m being completely impartial.”
Walker said she’s ready for the challenge of another statewide campaign.
“It’s a tremendous amount of work,” she said. “I’m excited about it, but it does take time. It’s very important work, but it can be very busy.
“But, I enjoy traveling around the state, talking to people about our courts. It’s hard work with a good purpose.”