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West Virginia in the 1980s - 1990s


W. Gaston Caperton
W. Gaston Caperton

In contrast to the past, control of the executive branch of government in West Virginia regularly shifted between Democrats and Republicans after 1968. In that year Arch A. Moore, Jr., a popular six-term Republican congressman, won the governorship. Two years later, voters approved the Governor’s Succession Amendment to the state constitution, which allowed a governor to serve two consecutive terms and unlimited nonconsecutive terms. In 1972 Moore defeated his Democratic rival, John D. Rockefeller IV, becoming the first two-term governor of the state in 100 years.

In 1976 Rockefeller became governor by defeating former Governor Cecil H. Underwood, his Republican opponent. Four years later, Rockefeller was elected to a second term with a victory over Moore. The election created great attention, and Rockefeller reportedly spent about $11 million of his personal fortune in retaining the office.

Moore remained highly popular and was elected to a third term in 1984, when Rockefeller was elected to the U.S. Senate. In 1988, however, W. Gaston Caperton, III, a Democratic newcomer to politics, also spent heavily and ended Moore’s hopes for a fourth term. Caperton was reelected in 1992. Underwood was elected governor again in 1996 when he defeated Democrat Charlotte Pritt. In 2000 Democrat Robert Wise, Jr., was elected governor. In 2004 Democrat Joe Manchin was elected governor, and he was reelected in 2008. The state’s best-known political figure is Robert C. Byrd, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958 and later became Democratic majority leader (1977-1981; 1987-1988). From the 1970s to the 1990s, parts of West Virginia faced depressed economic conditions similar to those of the 1950s.

When Moore began his third term as governor in 1985, the unemployment rate in the state was 15 percent, the highest in the nation, and the population was again declining. In an effort to improve the economic conditions, a much-disliked Business and Occupations Tax was removed on all businesses except utilities, and coal company contributions to the workers’ compensation fund were reduced. More importantly, tax credits were extended to new industries coming into the state and to existing industries that expanded their number of jobs or modernized their operations. The total tax credits to businesses amounted to $48 million a year at that time. Unfortunately, coal companies, which received the largest share of the benefits, actually cut the number of their employees by 1,650. The management of the tax credit system was found to be corrupt, with the result that Governor Moore and several high-ranking officials were convicted of extortion, bribery, or other offenses and sentenced to prison terms. Moore was sentenced in 1990 to five years and 10 months in prison. "West Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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