By Mannix Porterfield
Not many children grow up in the shadow of a famous political leader.
For those who do, the occupation of politics has a tendency rub off.
Consider Shelley Moore Capito, only a high school sophomore when she moved with kith and kin into the West Virginia governor’s mansion.
For her, politics was everyday fare, and of the three children produced by the union of Arch A. and Shelley Moore Jr., it was Shelley in whom the twig was bent, as implied by Proverbs 22:6.
“We discussed politics all the time,” says Capito, now in her seventh term as a congresswoman in the sprawling 2nd District. In fact, she was the first Republican woman elected to Congress from West Virginia in her own right.
“It wasn’t just me. It was everybody. Mom was into it. Brother and sister were into it. My aunts and uncles were into it. Dad and I talked about it a lot. We talked about the frustrations and his experiences when he was a young congressman, of getting to meet Jackie Kennedy and John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and he had some good stories about that.”
Capito took up residence in West Virginia’s most famous dwelling at the age of 15.
“It was really, really exciting,” she recalled of living in the house on Kanawha Boulevard, a stone’s toss from the state Capitol.
“I remember vividly the first swearing in.”
Among those early memories were ones of outgoing Gov. Hulett C. Smith of Beckley and the first lady, and the kindness the first couple bestowed on the new occupants.
“The mansion was absolutely gorgeous,” Capito said.
“We lived there eight years. It was a little bit isolating in a lot of ways, too, because you’re right down there next to the Capitol. You’re leading a busy life and you’re kind of high profile. But if that’s the biggest negative, I can’t think of any other negative.”
Her father served three terms as chief executive, a record unrivaled in West Virginia politics.
Two years before her father wound up his second term, Capito accepted a blind date in Charleston. On that night out, she met the man who became her husband, Charles Capito, and the 37-year union produced three children.
“We used to get teased by the troopers in the mansion because we had a budding romance,” she said, laughing.
Did the Moores have any misgivings about their daughter going out on a blind date?
“They approved of him after a while,” she said, smiling.
Without question, the biggest influence in her life was the senior Moore, whose advice she still solicits in the political arena.
“My father was very instrumental,” she said.
“He didn’t push me into it. Or even make the suggestion. The suggestion came from me that I would first run for the House of Delegates. But he was always extremely interested, always down here for all the election nights.”
In her initial foray, Capito won a seat in the House, but hardly by a convincing margin. Of the seven winners in Kanawha County, she finished dead last, and made a joke of it with her father.
“Well, gosh. Dad, I came in seventh,” she told him.
“Doesn’t matter, honey, you’re there,” the father returned.
Moore passed on the sage advice he had accumulated since the wounded World War II veteran landed a seat in Congress before winning three terms as governor.
“He just encouraged me to always listen and be kind to everybody and enjoy yourself,” she said.
“And he always told me to smile. But I tell you, he just had such a gift, just to watch him among people. He made it look so easy. When I started doing it myself, it wasn’t so easy.”
Capito set her sights on another Capitol in 2000 and won the 2nd District seat occupied by Bob Wise, who became the state’s governor. In that campaign as others, Moore was in the wings, providing a helping hand. And in these elections, the victory margins were huge.
“He helped me with a lot of issues because he knew all the counties very well, and then his friends came out for me,” she recalled.
Capito has earned a reputation as a fighter on Capitol Hill. Any lingering doubts were erased at a recent “God and Country” rally in Beckley, where she pledged unflinching support for the Second Amendment, under fire from liberals, and the coal industry, a continual target of the Environmental Protection Agency. Come April 19, she will address the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce.
“I do have strong feelings on the Second Amendment,” she said.
“I’m reflecting my personal views but also the views of over 600,000 people I represent. I think there’s a real fear — and I don’t think fear’s too strong a word in this case — a fear of impinging on personal liberties that are constitutional rights.”
Capito calls massacres by gun-toting killers, such as at the school in Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere, “heart-rending.”
“Do we need to find solutions to that?” she asked.
“Absolutely. But that fellow (at Sandy Hook Elementary) was mentally unstable and shouldn’t have had a gun.”
If Capito is a strong defender of private ownership of firearms, she is equally passionate about the role of coal in supplying America’s energy needs.
“I thought it was a good tie-in,” she says of her remarks at the Beckley rally.
“Because when you’re talking about freedoms, one of the freedoms that is getting impinged on is our freedom to use our natural resources to power the country. We talk about the independence from foreign sources, yet we’re having issues with permitting, having issues with the use of coal. We’re having issues with research and development of coal and yet we know it’s one of the most abundant resources. I think there’s a future for coal, but I think we have to keep fighting for it.”
President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency by executive order in 1970, hoping to bridge the gap between ugly polluters on one hand, who wanted to go on soiling the air and water, and environmental forces on the other, whom he felt were on the extreme.
Since Barack Obama came to power, the EPA has become the bane of West Virginia’s coal industry. Many feel the agency is so far in left field that it has become out of touch with reality.
“It has,” says Capito.
“It has become really an arm of the environmental community. I think you see that in their decisions.”
Politics has its positives, and its downside as well. Capito is no exception to the rule.
“The ups of being in politics and serving are the opportunities to make a difference,” she said
“I know that sounds kind of canned, but it’s true.”
“Whether it’s helping somebody with a passport, or helping someone with their veterans benefits or helping appoint somebody to West Point. Those are the ways you can help individuals. Those are really what make you feel you’re doing the right thing for the right reasons.”
Capito gets a revived sense of what public life is about when she ascends the Capitol steps and looks at the indentations, the marble worn over the centuries by the footsteps of people such as Lincoln and Kennedy.
“That gives me the historical perspective that we’re dealing with big issues,” she said.
“9/11 probably changed my perspective more than anything. It was my first year. I think that’s when it really kicked into me that this is historic, it’s important, it’s worth a sacrifice, and it’s worth fighting for. Not that I ever thought the country wasn’t worth fighting for. It just really moved me to a different level, mentally and emotionally.”
And the minuses?
“The downs are the loss of your personal time, the inability to control your own life as much, because you’re controlled either by the U.S. Congress, or folks here, or things you want to do here, the politics of it. The down of running seven times, running every two years and raising the money. That’s a huge pain in the neck. I don’t think any member likes that. And that’s a challenge. And something that people get tired of and candidates get tired of, too.”
If all goes well next year, however, Capito needn’t hit the campaign trail so often. She is the first announced candidate for the U.S. Senate, and since her entry back in November, veteran Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has vowed not to seek re-election. Senators are only required to run every six years.
Advanced technology is part of the political landscape, and Capito is no different than others in the public eye. She gets a ton of e-mails, reads Twitter and Facebook comments.
“Sometimes I have to read (Twitter remarks) with one eye open because they can be sort of nasty,” she said.
“I don’t read all the comments and e-mails that come in, but I get a very good sense every day of what’s coming in to our office, both here and in Washington,” she said.
One poll she takes seriously is the informal one at the supermarkets.
Fellow customers have no qualms about approaching her at the store to take part in what she terms “my grocery shopping poll.”
“I get a good sense of what people are thinking,” she said.
Many apologize for interrupting her shopping, but Capito says being accosted by voters is no bother.
“I’m like, ‘I asked for this job. This is fine with me,’’ she said.
“If they’ll excuse the way I look, that’s fine. I don’t get dressed up to go grocery shopping.”
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