May 2, 2022 - West Virginia’s primary on May 10 could indicate where the Republican Party will head economically and politically. The 2nd Congressional District is pitting two incumbents — a traditional conservative who was a former state GOP chair against a Trump firebrand.
The state needs a qualified workforce and modern highways and byways to recruit skilled manufacturing businesses — the kind of investment provided by the new infrastructure law. The state must get some federal seed money to flourish and lessen its dependence on public programs. Yet, this law, which has helped lure two significant businesses to the state, is a focal point in this congressional race.
Rep. David McKinley is a 7th-generation West Virginian who voted for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law. The electrical engineer is running against Rep. Alex Mooney, a career politician. He moved from Maryland to West Virginia in 2014 — just as a congressional seat opened up. Mooney voted against the infrastructure law to appease Donald Trump. But that runs counter to the needs of all energy companies, which depend on infrastructure expansion and modernization.
West Virginia desperately needs new roads, bridges, and broadband — similar to the infrastructure championed by its former senator, Robert C. Byrd. Indeed, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave West Virginia a “D” on its report card, saying that “much of the state’s infrastructure constructed over the past 70 years has deteriorated, while new construction, replacement, rehabilitation and repair efforts have not kept pace with the needs.”
Contrast this analysis to a just-released report by SmartAsset that says West Virginia receives 2.36-times more revenue from the federal government than its residents pay in income taxes. The state gets more than 45% of its revenue from federal sources. But it is vital to parse the differences between money spent on human sustenance and infrastructure: if people are to become financially independent, they must have economically viable opportunities.
McKinley has the support of most of the state’s business and political leaders. To that end, oil, natural gas, and coal industry leaders are backing him, noting that he is accessible and listens to their concerns. One E&E story said they gave McKinley $190,000 and Mooney $5,600, although Mooney is raking in a ton of dough from hardcore interest groups outside the state.
The Engineer Versus the Opportunist
ExxonMobil Corp., Williams Cos., and Quintana Resources support McKinley. So do Senator Joe Manchin and Governor Jim Justice. And nearly every newspaper in the district has endorsed him, along with the state’s Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers Association.
“The infrastructure law provides an engine for strong economic growth,” says Rebecca McPhail, the state’s manufacturers group president. “It is hard to run a manufacturing facility when there are inadequate roads, bridges, or broadband. These projects will have a lasting effect. Mooney has to examine the data and learn about West Virginia’s needs. His positions come across as political — not ones that are in our state’s best interest.”
The new infrastructure law has helped West Virginia attract significant investment: Nucor Corp.’s $2.7 billion steel mill will be completed by 2024 and will initially employ 800 people. It will rely heavily on green energy to power its facility. A regional “hydrogen hub” may also locate in the state, which would get about $8 billion from the 2021 infrastructure law.
Furthermore, an energy start-up company named SPAR AR -2.4%KZ will build an electric battery factory in the state this year. It will start with 350 people. It will work with the United Mine Workers of America to train people who already have qualified skills. The batteries will power electric vehicles and store excess wind and solar energy.
To reel in those businesses, all hands had to be on board. That includes federal lawmakers rowing alongside those in the state capitol. Implicit in this collective effort is the understanding that the state’s future depends on New Energy Economy investments — things like solar panels, windmills, and battery devices.
But one person was missing: Mooney, who labeled the efforts “part of the Democrats’ liberal agenda,” adding that the state should resurrect its coal industry. He then criticized the money spent building out electric vehicle charging stations — things that might benefit coal. Mooney maintains he is more interested than his opponent in guarding the public’s pocketbook. It's an odd appeal because he faces two ethics claims for spending $40,000 in campaign money on feeding himself, taking family vacations, and sending office staff to run personal errands.
The bottom line is that Mooney is a political hack that degrades public discourse. Maryland sent him off in defeat, and now he globs on to West Virginia.
McKinley’s conscience drives his congressional actions. He wants to see West Virginia lifted — to retain current businesses and attract tomorrow’s enterprises. As a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he co-wrote bipartisan legislation to encourage investment in cleantech and carbon capture and storage. It’s not about reciting catchphrases. It’s about creating jobs.
Because Donald Trump could not pass an infrastructure improvement law, “he didn’t want it passed under a subsequent administration,” McKinley told West Virginia’s Metro News. “Quite frankly, when it comes down to it, this is West Virginia. I’ve waited now 11 years to vote on an infrastructure bill. I’m not going to play politics with this.”
At last glance, McKinley had a 5-point advantage over Mooney. The outcome will speak volumes about the direction of the Republican National Party and whether civil political discourse has a future in American politics. If McKinley wins, it will be a victory for West Virginia — a state that needs federal investment and vital infrastructure to free itself from taxpayer dependence.