CHARLESTON – Beth Walker campaigned on her conservative views, and it earned her a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting statewide, Walker had pulled in 39 percent of the vote in the non-partisan election May 10, handily defeating second-place Darrell McGraw. McGraw, the former state Attorney General and Supreme Court justice, garnered 23 percent of the vote.
With Walker’s victory, the state’s high court will have a 3-2 female majority come January.
“We’re just really excited and grateful to the voters of West Virginia that they heard our message and trusted me with a 12-year term on the court,” Walker said Tuesday night. “We knew we were running against a number of very strong candidates. Our plan was to spend 11 months traveling around the state talking to people, sharing my views of a conservative court that follows the rule of law.
“I’m really honored to be the very first non-partisan justice of the state Supreme Court. I take that honor very seriously. I believe that judges should decide cases impartially and adhere to the rule of law. That message clearly resonated with voters.
“West Virginians deserve a fair court system. I will fight to see that they get it.”
Former state lawmaker Bill Wooton had 21 percent of the vote, while incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin pulled in 12 percent. Clay County attorney Wayne King won 4 percent of the vote.
In the only public poll for the race back in February, McGraw led, followed by Benjamin, Walker and Wooton.
In the last few weeks of the race, almost $4 million was spent on advertising in the race by outside groups, almost $3 million of it by a Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee. The RSLC ads supported Walker while bashing McGraw and Wooton. Another group called Just Courts For West Virginia spent about $500,000 on ads critical of Walker.
Walker was endorsed by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, the state Coal Association, the state Business and Industry Council, the state Hospital Association, the state Health Care Association, the state Manufacturers Association, the state Farm Bureau among other groups. U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito also endorsed Walker.
Benjamin congratulated Walker on the victory.
“This race had unique difficulties for the candidates,” he said in a statement. “To prevail was not an easy thing. I wish my best to Beth and look forward to working with her in the transition of office later this year.
“It has been a pleasure serving the people of West Virginia over the last 12 years, and I so appreciate the support we’ve received during this campaign.”
Benjamin also thanks those close to him.
“I want to thank my family, my friends, my colleagues, everyone at work and the state’s judiciary for their support in this endeavor,” he said. “And a special thank you to my campaign and my supporters for their hard work and their efforts to keep my campaign positive and a reflection of the respect I have for the court system and the people of West Virginia. Again, my congratulations to Beth Walker.”
Wooton said the money spent supporting Walker was just too much to overcome.
“I’m disappointed, but I’m proud of my campaign,” Wooton said. “I think the money spent on her behalf … well, you just can’t beat the kind of money.”
“You can always find things you should’ve done differently. But, I’ve met an awful lot of really nice people around the state. I’m proud of the campaign I ran. I’m proud of my grandchildren.
“I don’t know what I could have done differently. There’s just no way you can compete with that kind of money.”
State Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas hailed Walker’s victory. While the race was non-partisan, Walker ran an unsuccessful bid for the state Supreme Court as a Republican in 2008.
“Beth Walker has carried the conservative banner as an attorney and candidate for our state's highest court, and we could not be more proud today to welcome her to the bench,” he said in a statement. “Beth's election guarantees a tough, fair court that should maintain the progress we've made to ensure the lawsuit lottery in our state comes to a stop.
“Conservatives voted by the thousands today to put one of their own into office for the next 12 years. On a personal note, I'm proud to call Beth a dear friend for whom I couldn't be more happy today.
“We also proudly salute the work of fellow Republican, Justice Brent Benjamin who served this state in troubled times and was an elected Republican pioneer on this bench.
“Brent was critical to the rebirth of the Republican Party and we thank him for his service and look forward to his next achievements. Justice Benjamin helped pave the way for many Republican successes in West Virginia and it is an honor to have him in our party."