Photo caption: Four of the Republican men vying to be the state’s next governor, Moore Capito, Chris Miller, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Secretary of State Mac Warner, participated in a debate at the West Virginia Chamber Annual Business Summit held at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (Amelia Ferrell Knisely | West Virginia Watch)

The first gubernatorial debate this election cycle was held Thursday afternoon at The Greenbrier resort


Four of the Republican men vying to be the state’s next governor gathered for a debate for the first time Thursday. The candidates largely focused on building up West Virginia to be home to the next generation while dramatically improving the state’s abysmal education scores. 

The gubernatorial debate was held Thursday afternoon during the West Virginia Chamber Annual Business Summit held at The Greenbrier resort. There’s no Democrat front runner at this time in the 2024 governor’s race.

West Virginia has seen a barrage of economic announcements under Gov. Justice’s administration along with a newly-passed personal income tax cut — it has all been aimed, in part, at reversing the state’s rapid population decline. 

During the debate, candidates zeroed in on how they’d fix the education system, a move to improve families’ lives in the state and better equip the next generation, who they hope will remain in West Virginia. But, their answers failed to mention or address the myriad of long-standing problems facing kids in the poor state.

Del. Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey relied on their years of government experience in many of their answers, touting accomplishments in legislation and government efficiency. 

Secretary of State Mac Warner regularly referenced his military experience along with his time as an educator. And, Chris Miller, who owns dozens of businesses including a car dealership, more than once said his work experience would help him improve government efficiency and minimize waste.

Miller argued there was “too much bureaucracy” in the state education system that swallowed dollars up before they made it to classrooms.

“And one of the most important things we can do is give our teachers more flexibility to actually teach, to also help them in establishing the appropriate culture to interact with the students,” he added.

Warner, who noted he was the only candidate with classroom experience, said that, if elected, education would be the hallmark of his tenure as governor. He said the state needed to prioritize accountability, grades and motivating students. 

“I guarantee under my administration we will move West Virginia forward in the education arena,” Warner said. 

Morrisey, a New Jersey native, pointed to his work as attorney general fighting the “woke mob,” stating he was a “proven conservative … on the issues West Virginians care about.” He hopes to expand charter schools in the state. 

“When I’m the next governor, education will be my top priority,” he said. “We must educate our kids and protect our kids from the craziness of the cultural war around us.”

Capito, a father of two young children, said, “We have to let our teachers get back to inspiring our students. They are not able to do it because they’re so overwhelmed with so many things that they weren’t trained to do.”

But the debate lacked further mention of other issues facing West Virginia kids: a high poverty rate and a high childhood obesity rate alongside child hunger issues

The state has the highest rate of kids coming into foster care — a troubled system facing legal challenges — and is among the top states for grandparents raising grandkids, an issue spurred by poverty and the state’s drug epidemic. Poverty has long been linked to lower classroom performance. 

Warner said at one point that the drug epidemic was a “wet blanket that goes over everything” in the state.

There were no specific plans shared to address the social, emotional and educational needs of the state’s struggling students, who produced the state’s lowest-ever reading and math scores in 2022. Not every school has access to a full-time counselor or social worker to address other student needs.

Capito, Moorisey and Warner all affirmed their support of school choice in the state. Morrisey said the state will continue to have the nation’s broadest education savings account program, The Hope Scholarship. More than 5,000 students have signed up for the program this year, which provides tax-payer dollars for families to use for private school, home schooling and more both in- and out-of-state

The candidates also spoke on their plans for tourism and working with local governments in efforts to improve efficiency around the state. 

The event, hosted by WSAZ, gave listeners a chance to hear differences among the men who, as conservative Republicans, regularly share similar campaign talking points. Miller and Capito are sons of current West Virginia politicians: U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Morrisey is a staunch supporter of former President Donald J. Trump. Trump, who carried the Mountain State by 42 points in 2016, and had similar numbers in the 2020 election that he lost. He was recently indicted on felony charges for working to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Both Morrisey and Warner have argued that the 2020 election was not legitimate, despite investigations, audits and court cases concluding there was no evidence of voter fraud. 

Warner recently spoke at a Mike Flynn event in Las Vegas, where he accused the CIA of running a “psychological operation” on Hunter Biden’s laptop to steal the 2020 election for Pres. Joe Biden.

The primary election will be held May 14, 2024.

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