When Arch Moore Jr. died on Jan. 7, just about everyone in West Virginia had a story about the man who served as their governor for a record three non-consecutive terms: 1968-76 and 1984-88.
"I met him when he was governor and I was an Eagle Scout," recalled attorney Tom Altmeyer, who went on to hold major positions in national coal associations, "I ran into him in his later years and he was as friendly as could be. And he knew a lot of my family. He never forgot anyone."
At age 91, and after a career that included heroic service in World War II and a dozen years (1956-68) as U.S. Representative as well as a dozen as governor, Moore will be given one of the biggest memorials in Mountaineer State history. On Friday, a day of mourning will begin at the State Capitol, culminating in a service Saturday at the Simpson United Methodist Church in Moundsville, and a sure-to-be-attended funeral.
But what will astonish most non-West Virginians about the state’s farewell to the gregarious, silver-haired Republican, whom most residents called simply "Arch," is that his career ended in 1991 on a dark note. Three years after leaving the governorship, Moore began serving 32 months in federal prisons and another four months in home confinement.
Following an extensive federal probe, the former governor pleaded guilty in 1990 to five felony counts dealing with extortion of $573,000 from the Maben Energy Corporation and with accepting illegal campaign donations.
Moore later tried to withdraw his guilty pleas but was turned down by the Supreme Court. He had to accept the sentence as well as a ban on ever holding office again and disbarment as an attorney.
Where a black mark like that is enough to make a pariah out of most politicians, Moore was largely forgiven by West Virginians. They preferred to recall the good about him.
Certainly, the controversy in his career never affected his daughter, Shelley Moore Capito, in her own political career. After stints as a state legislator and U.S. Representative, Capito made history last November with her landslide election as West Virginia’s first Republican U.S. senator since 1958.
It was an irony of history that Shelley won the lone office that escaped her father’s ambitions. In 1978, former Gov. Moore challenged longtime Democratic Sen. Jennings Randolph. Many felt that Randolph, who was in the House during Franklin Roosevelt’s first term, would step down. But with ample funding raised by Moore’s arch-nemesis and then-Democratic Gov. Jay Rockefeller, the senator eked out re-election by 4,717 votes — or about one vote per precinct.
Much as former Sen. Christopher Dodd (D.-Connecticut) made a big part of his life the rehabilitation of his late senator-father Tom (censured by Senate colleagues for misuse of campaign funds in 1967 and rejected by Connecticut voters in 1970), Shelley Moore Capito did so for her father. He was proudly featured at campaign appearances and always warmly mentioned by his candidate daughter.
Well into his 80s, Moore himself was active in promoting a favorable biography of himself and appearing in a 2003 West Virginia Public Television special on his life.
Shot in the jaw while daring German gunfire during World War II, the young Sgt. Moore was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Like fellow veterans Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, Moore threw himself in politics following his discharge. He served in the West Virginia House of Delegates and, on his second try, made it to Congress in 1956.
Rep. Moore had a conservative record in Congress but he also strongly supported civil rights legislation and measures to assist the coal community. James L. Martin, a top aide to then Rep. Edward J. Gurney (R.-Florida) in the 1960s and now president of the Sixty Plus Seniors Association, recalled that "being from neighboring coal country in Kentucky myself, I knew his empathy for coal miners was passionate."
Support from the coal community helped Moore win the governorship by about 8,000 votes. So did a near-miracle two days before the voting. When a helicopter he was using to campaign from crashed in a parking lot in Hamlin, West Virginia, Moore escaped with two broken ribs and went to the polls in a wheelchair.
"I’m convinced the Lord voted for us yesterday," the triumphant governor-elect said.
As conservatives would later say of Govs. George W. Bush of Texas and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Gov. Moore was a "big government Republican." Much of the state’s interstate highway system was built during his governorship, and he helped get black lung classified as a coal mining disease.
Moore also oversaw the start of kindergartens in the public school system and launched a State Board of Regents to manage West Virginia’s college system.
"Arch was more moderate than many of us in the party but he did do a lot for the state," Lynn Staton, state GOP vice-chairman, told Newsmax. She also noted that when she and her late husband, Mick, were active backers of Ronald Reagan for president in 1976, Moore delivered their state’s delegation to Gerald Ford and officially announced the votes of West Virginia that put Ford over the top at the national convention that year.
But, she added, "when Reagan won the nomination in ’80, Arch let Mick announce the delegation’s votes at the convention that year." (Mick Staton was elected to Congress that same year.)
Perhaps the most poignant postmortem on Moore’s life came from the former governor himself in the '03 television special on his life. As he put it, "You’ll run into Arch Moore stories the rest of your life and nine-and-a-half out of 10, I think, will be a positive reflection. I’m still working on the other half."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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