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Beth Walker is running for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
The name may be familiar to you, maybe because of her unsuccessful bid for the high court in 2008, or maybe because of her legal challenge to opponents Brent Benjamin and Bill Wooten’s use of public campaign financing in the race, but now, Walker is traveling the state to make sure voters recognize her for her conservative values.
“I don’t have other political aspirations. I don’t hope to run for Justice and then run for something else in the future, I just want to be a good judge,” Walker said in a 2008 interview.
In addition to being a good judge, Walker said in the interview she wanted to help rebuild the reputation of West Virginia’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Appeals. Those were the two main reasons she ran to be a justice then and eight years later, those are the reasons she’s trying her hand at a seat once again.
“I have a conservative vision for our Supreme Court of Appeals and that means very simply that the court has to be fair and impartial and decide cases based on the law,” Walker said, “not based on who the parties are, not based on where you are from, not based on an individual Justice’s personal preference, but rather based purely on the law.”
Walker is from Ohio, but has spent nearly 30 years in West Virginia, the past 6 working as in-house counsel for the West Virginia University Hospital system.
Now, she’s traveling the state, meeting with voters and sharing her ideas.
“If you have an activist judge on the court who thinks it’s their place to second guess what the Legislature does, then I don’t think that’s good for West Virginia,” Walker told about a dozen women at a ‘Women for Walker’ event at Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant in Mt. Hope.
This idea, that Justices shouldn’t legislate from the bench, is one Walker discusses a lot. She shared that message with the women at her luncheon, in that 2008 interview, and in one of her recent television ads.
But Walker hasn’t shied away from sharing her opinions about legislation either. Like her stances on substance abuse. Walker says the state needs increased access to treatment and stricter penalties for drug dealers, things she can’t accomplish on the bench, but what she can do is make sure people are talking about it.
“I knew intellectually of course that it was happening and there were problems, but until I started going to our communities and counties all over the state talking to people,” she said, “I’ll admit I didn’t have a sense of how serious it is and I think we have to be talking about it much more.”
Walker also tried to take on another area of legislation — the state’s public campaign financing program.
The program allows Supreme Court candidates who meet certain requirements to fund their campaign with $500,000 provided by the state. Two of Walker’s opponents chose to use the program and Walker sued them both, saying they missed deadlines laid out in the law.
“I have no philosophical problem with the program,” Walker said, “but the reason I filed the appeals were because the rules weren’t being followed as they had been promulgated by the Legislature and I thought that before that amount of state funds was released to the candidate to spend on their campaign that the rules ought to be followed.”
Walker said she chose not to use public campaign financing because she didn’t think it was the best use of state dollars in the tough financial times West Virginia is facing, but had she won her lawsuits, lawsuits that worked their way up to the state Supreme Court, Walker would’ve asked the state to pay her legal fees.
“I felt like in our appeal, we were doing in part what the job of the State Election Commission should have been,” Walker said. “The State Election Commission has the job to certify the candidate as meeting all of the requirements of the statute and our position was the state election commission didn’t correctly authorize that discretion.”
If she were a legislator, Walker said, she would revisit the program given the financial hardships in the state, but as a Justice, she won’t have any say on future rewrites to the law.
Of the five candidates running for the one open seat on the high court, Walker has the longest list of endorsements. Conservative organizations like the West Virginia Business and Industry Council and West Virginia Chamber of Commerce are backing her, as well as Republican lawmakers like Senator Shelley Moore Capito, and third party groups have recently backed Walker as well, spending PAC money on attack ads focused on two of her opponents.
Walker said she can and will separate herself from these special interests as a member of the court and isn’t afraid to recuse herself from cases that may appear to have personal conflicts.