The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

May 3, 2011

Former Richwood mayor lands Mountain Party nomination

Bob Henry Baber, a former Richwood mayor and now an administrator at Glenville State College, is carrying the Mountain Party’s banner in this year’s special election for governor with a plan to push West Virginia’s economy into the 21st century.

Baber landed the party’s nomination in a weekend convention at Sutton, after his lone rival, Jesse Johnson, withdrew and promptly endorsed him.

“It feels good,” Baber exulted Monday, as he prepared to embark on the campaign as the first one officially out of the chute, since Democrats and Republicans won’t know their nominees until the May 14 primary.

“I’m excited. I’m going to have as aggressive a campaign as a person can have that has a full-time job and can’t campaign full-time. That’s a disadvantage in one sense. Obviously, campaigning is a full-time job. When you have a job, that kind of keeps you pretty tight with the people, because they’ve got jobs.”

Baber is pitching for a new direction in West Virginia’s economy, breaking from its long-held and traditional reliance almost solely on coal, and says he wants to move into a “greener” state with a heavy emphasis on tourism.

“It will be very interesting to find out what everybody else (other candidates) has to say,” he said in a telephone interview.

“Certainly, the Mountain Party is going to be far more progressive and far more green than all the rest of them. And I think it’s a really good thing for us to be thinking that way.”

King Coal once ruled the roost without any rivals, but Baber, a major gifts officer at Glenville State, said the industry is losing footing and West Virginia needs to pursue a new economy that can provide the jobs.

“The coal industry is not what it once was in West Virginia,” he said, noting the tonnage in one year fell from 180 million tons to 141 million, while its share of the state’s gross product likewise has shrunk.

“I’m all about tourism,” he said.

“To me, if you’re going to promote the incredible and stunning beauty of what I call the ‘Colorado of the East,’ we definitely need to be promoting our environment for the long haul.”

In his days as mayor of Richwood, he advocated development of the Cranberry Wilderness area but said the city council unanimously opposed this, as did the Chamber of Commerce. Despite the rebuff, Baber said he wound up landing the 2000 Environmental Hero Award from the National Wilderness Society.

The Mountain Party arose from the 2000 gubernatorial campaign of prolific West Virginia authoress Denise Giardina.

Besides clean air, water and land, the party stands for responsible mining and logging operations; economic fairness with opposition to corporate welfare; universal health care; small community schools and limited busing; and campaign finance reform.

Eventually, a gubernatorial debate is anticipated, and if he isn’t invited, Baber says he intends to stand outside the door of the host broadcaster to meet with others in the media to present his platform and ideas for running state government.

“Historically, the only entity that has really allowed any third or small party to speak is public broadcasting, and God bless them,” he said.

“I think it would be a crying shame if I am not allowed to speak. I think I’ve got the credibility. I think I’ve got important things to say. I think that anybody that’s on the ballot should have the right to speak and let the public sort it out. To me, that’s democracy.”

This year’s special election for governor was ordered by the state Supreme Court, based on a lawsuit. Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin moved into the chief executive’s seat after Joe Manchin resigned to accept a U.S. Senate seat he won last November, succeeding Byrd. Tomblin is among six Democrats on the primary ballot, while eight Republicans are in the race.

With only some 2,000 members, the party hasn’t been able to generate large sums of cash to run a major campaign, but Johnson once garnered 5 percent of the vote in a race against the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.

“We’re kind of a bake sale party,” Baber said.

“When you get 5 percent of the vote on bake sales, you can crunch the numbers — you figure we spent per vote about 5 cents, and everybody else probably spent $5 per vote.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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