For anyone who knows the common denominator of the West Virginia political culture, it is that its state capital in Charleston loves to control. In government terms, this means taxing and regulating, or taking money or property from its people, and then of course, telling them how to use it. But for anyone that knows West Virginia’s more recent political culture in Charleston, they would be hard pressed to miss a former Delegate from the Northern Panhandle, and someone who has attempted, and is succeeding, in changing the state’s “good ole boy” tradition. His name is Pat McGeehan. Haven’t heard about this one yet? That’s because this movement really runs beneath the surface, but it’s surely there.
To the simple observer, if you only “googled” Pat McGeehan, you would probably find a list of votes in the West Virginia legislature between 2008 and 2010, over half of which this gentleman voted “No.” But if you looked more carefully, you would also see that nearly half of these “No” votes were done alone. That’s right. In more than a quarter of all votes cast during this time period, Pat McGeehan was the only Delegate out of 100 colleagues to cast his vote as “No.” You got it, on countless occasions, the former Delegate from Hancock County was the only man or woman on dozens of issues to cast the lone “No” vote. Intrigued? Confused? If you are, this reality is just the tip of the iceberg, and underneath is a growing movement that he helped pave the way into West Virginia politics. McGeehan left the legislature with a bit of a legacy that is changing, albeit slowly, the political process in Charleston.
Pat McGeehan, a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and served as an Intelligence Officer, did not look upon issues as Republican or Democrat, right or left. Digging deeper into this apparent unconventional outlook, one finds he approached government policy with an attitude of right and wrong, and from this he deduced something, something that from what I have researched and from speaking with him about, has never been tried before in West Virginia Legislative history - the refusal to participate in “vote swapping”.
As a freshman lawmaker, McGeehan’s influence on setting the agenda in the legislature was very miniscule. He would be forced to vote on an agenda that was of course set by connected politicians in the state government. We all know the deal-making and the brokered special interest lobbying that go on behind closed doors. That’s the stereotypical thing about politicians these days. Most legislators go with the flow on this, and at best try to make the best of things, or at worst, end up trying to personally benefit from it. Knowing this, McGeehan wanted to attempt something new. “Wealthy lobbyists set the agenda and career bureaucrats run the government, not elected officials from the people.” With this in mind, McGeehan’s voting trend was established as a way to sort of vote against, not just the actual bill in front of the House of Delegates, but against this system of bad government as a whole.
And this attitude started with McGeehan’s very first vote in the House of Delegates, being the only lawmaker to vote “No” against a bill which would overrule the decision of judges and give “early release” to a prisoner’s sentence if the prisoner completed certain types of counseling classes while in jail. His reasoning: the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government. One branch of government should not interfere with the duties of another, a simple, and almost common sense approach that many grade schoolers can understand. And with every subsequent lone “No” vote, McGeehan garnered more and more notice to his actions. On a number of occasions, the press corps rushed to his desk after a vote, to see just exactly why this gentleman had voted No, all by his lonesome. (Look on YouTube and you can find several videos of this.) Pat McGeehan always had a just reason. He established a philosophy that issues did not break down in his mind as Republican or Democrat, but by what he calls “Statism versus Liberty.”
In a recent telephone interview, Pat McGeehan was asked about these actions of his. “How can I vote against giving welfare to individual citizens, and yet still vote to give millions of tax dollars to large corporations?” referring to dishing out tax dollars to casino executives and other large enterprises, through various government agencies. “All that does is encourage more lobbying, more corruption. What a waste and a travesty to our citizens in the long run.”
But toward the end of his one term in the House of Delegates, McGeehan began to gain momentum, momentum that has yet to stop. In spite of Pat McGeehan no longer being in office (who in 2010, chose to run for the state Senate, losing by just 56 votes), his legacy still remains highly intact. I have counted nearly a dozen new “Pat McGeehan type” legislators now in office, who are mirroring this gentleman’s example, more unafraid to consistently vote “No” against the establishment in Charleston.
Pat said, “If you begin to swap votes, you will ultimately take the path of every other politician who has ever gained political office in West Virginia. You will begin to rationalize your actions, you will give up your integrity, and you will finally concede that the agenda in Charleston being set and controlled by lobbyists is both moral and just. You will trade your principles for power, at the expense of our state’s prosperity, and at the expense of our people. And this is not acceptable to me.”
McGeehan owned a successful business which began to come to an end in late 2008, when the financial and automotive markets began to come crashing down. McGeehan said he began to study in earnest economics and political philosophy, and to figure out exactly why prices began to collapse and how he had lost much of what he had built up. “I just determined that I would not give up, that I needed to go on and there was much work to be done for others. I began to understand monetary policy and interventionism, and I became more and more enlightened about the ails of our country, and of our state.”
Pat said his beliefs really boiled down to three words, “Life, Liberty, and Property.” He believes that the fundamental purpose of government is to protect this, and says that the amount of poverty in West Virginia is precisely because we fail to protect these basic tenets of a free society. He believes this failure also leads to grave consequences. A strong believer in term-limits for politicians, McGeehan says that, “When you have this largesse in government, you will constantly see corruption, and bribery, only we now call this activity campaign contributions. You will also see people leaving our state to escape the mass plundering of the public at large. We regulate and control everything from barber shops to taxi cabs. It’s a wonder we have any commerce left in this state. And the people are growing tired of it. Prices are going up, and our population is shrinking. I just don’t feel that freedom is something we should give up without a fight.”
One of Pat McGeehan’s pet peeves has been to eliminate what he refers to as Crony-capitalism. “Crony-capitalism is essentially one of the root evils of our modern country and is even more evident right here in our State of West Virginia. Influential, politically-connected businessmen often grow wealthy and profit from their government connections. Either because they can help pass more regulations, to keep their competition out of the market, or because they can directly gain subsidies or corporate welfare from the tax payers. Our government-monopolies granted to electric and natural gas providers are a good example of this. And achieving wealth this way, through force, has really taken the place of voluntary free markets.”
This year, with Pat McGeehan no longer in office, he says that a number of legislators often call him for advice or for a “quick talk” about certain issues. “I’m just honest with them. A number of them want to stand for principle, and they are doing a very good job at it. Sometimes they get nervous about voting against a particular issue, because they get scared that it will “look” unpopular. But I always ask them, is it popularity you seek? Or virtue?”
McGeehan now works for Frontier Communications in Wheeling and is hopeful to soon finish writing a book, with the working title of, “Bankers and Bureaucrats: Paper Money and the End of American Manufacturing”. He says he has considered requests to run for office again, but is not certain yet. “I haven’t made up my mind, but I’m leaning that way. I do believe that a large period of national inflation will hit the country in the near future, and we are already seeing this as the Federal Reserve continues to print more paper dollars and monetize our national debt. This will have a deep and grave consequence on our state, and it may well indeed further deteriorate constitutional government. We must be prepared, and help educate our residents on what is likely coming.”
If Pat McGeehan pursues legislative office next year, one thing is for certain, he will find many more like-minded individuals gladly awaiting his return to Charleston.
Edward R. Burgess,
former State Coordinator, West Virginia Campaign for Liberty