CHARLESTON – A dozen years after his first campaign for the state Supreme Court, Brent Benjamin says a lot of things are different this year on the campaign trail.
But, he says a lot of the core parts of running an election campaign are the same.
“I’m sure I’ll look back on this and say, ‘That was a lot of work,’” Benjamin says of this re-election campaign. “I am traveling a lot, missing my kids and grandkids. It’s a big state, so we’re always on the go.
“But, in many ways, it’s a little easier this time because I get to run my race. And, I do enjoy getting out and talking to people, getting to listen to them.”
This time around, Benjamin said his campaign is focusing very much on his 12-year record as a state Supreme Court justice and the record of the Court.
“Whether it was non-partisan or not, whether it was in May or November, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Our courts have come so far in 12 years. But, people do need to pay attention and keep an eye on this very important race for a 12-year term.
We’ve gone back to a stable, predictable and fair court system. We’ve been able to develop the drug court programs, the business court division, the Access To Justice program, child abuse and neglect database and so much more. All of these didn’t exist 12 years ago, and it’s all dividends from turning the court in the right direction.
“We have a stable foundation of a predictable court system. It’s responding to problems like the drug courts that handle problems and works to improve the future. The court mission is to keep the predictable stable foundation based on the rule of law.”
Benjamin said his time on the road meeting people is not only a chance to talk about his campaign and his record, but it’s also a chance to listen to concerns of citizens across the state.
“It’s a lot of talking, but it’s also a lot of listening,” he said. “From that perspective, we are hearing that people like where the court is.
“The drug court, they say, is handling a big problem in a good way. And, that’s part of who I am. This is an opportunity to put out the word on what the drug courts are doing. It’s been a big focus of mine for the last 12 years, establishing and growing the drug court system. And, the reaction we’re getting is phenomenal.”
Benjamin is one of two candidates taking advantage of the state’s public financing program for the state Supreme Court race. After fellow candidate Beth Walker filed suit to stop the funding of both of the public financing campaigns, five acting state Supreme Court justices last month ruled the campaigns of Benjamin and former state lawmaker Bill Wooton should receive the funding.
“Public financing, I think, not only was a personal decision, but I felt was the right thing to do,” Benjamin said. “What I’m hearing from all people out there is that court races are different than legislative and executive branch races. There is a desire to keep special interests as far away as possible from court races. It’s a personal decision by each candidate, and I am glad I did it.”
Another difference this year is that all judicial elections in West Virginia now are non-partisan. That means that in addition to not having the candidates’ party affiliation part of the race, the only election in the race is during the May 10 primary. And with five candidates running for Benjamin’s seat, a plurality vote of just more than 20 percent can win the election for a 12-year term.
“This format is quite different from any race we’ve had before,” Benjamin said. “But, look at the circuit judge race in Raleigh County. There are 10 people running for one position, so 11 percent of the vote could win an eight-year term. I think there might be some modification of it in the future, but this is the system we have for now.
“It certainly is different how you approach the race, but what I’m running on for re-election, it doesn’t. We’ve done well in the last 12 years, but we’re not done yet.
“Adult drug courts are almost statewide and will be by the end of the year. The juvenile drug court is about halfway done. The veterans court is at pilot level programs. Now, we need to take those forward based on budgetary issues, as well as expanding the Business Court Division.”
Benjamin said he is proud of his record on the bench.
“There is no better example of what the next 12 years will be from me than the last 12 years from me,” he said. “And, the same can be said for Darrell McGraw. He has his 12-year philosophy of judging that you can see from his time on the Supreme Court.
“And, it’s different than mine, but it’s a record. You know what you’re going to get with Darrell. He’s consistent with that. He’s progressive. I’m the opposite. You know what you’re going to get with me, too.”
Benjamin is being challenged for his seat on the Supreme Court by Wooton, former state Attorney General and Justice McGraw, Morgantown attorney Beth Walker and Clay County attorney Wayne King. The election is May 10.