West Virginians are suffering from election fatigue after the seemingly endless round of balloting needed to settle who would serve us in the U.S. Senate and as governor.
That, and the fact the state Supreme Court isn't "broken" as it was for so many years, has contributed to apathy concerning this year's high court races. I'm willing to bet a majority of voters will be surprised when they cast ballots in the May 8 primary and learn there are two openings on the court. Justice Robin Jean Davis is up for re-election and Justice Thomas McHugh is retiring.
There's another, even more disturbing aspect of the race for the Democrat Party nominations for the court. It is campaign donor fatigue. Having contributed tons of money in the Senate and gubernatorial races - and not aware of what's at stake May 8 - many people who otherwise would have written checks for Supreme Court candidates aren't doing so.
Among the six Democrat candidates for the court, just $541,643 in contributions had been raised when they filed their most recent campaign finance reports.
That doesn't mean this will be a low-budget campaign for all of them, however, and that's a concern.
Davis has raised $221,050 in contributions and has loaned her campaign $210,000. She still has about $120,000 in the bank.
Judge James Rowe (of the Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties circuit) has raised $96,795 and is using $10,724 in loans from himself and his wife. He has just about $33,605 left in his war chest.
Judge J.D. Beane (of the Wood and Wirt counties circuit) has raised $76,347 and has $35,369 left.
New Martinsville lawyer H. John Rogers has raised and spent $1,860. Louis Palmer, a Supreme Court law clerk, has raised $6,893 and already spent most of it.
Then we come to Charleston lawyer Letitia "Tish" Chafin, wife of state Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo. Chafin has managed to net $138,698 in campaign contributions. She has spent $181,851.
But she's far ahead of the pack in the size of her account, thanks to a $1 million loan she made to her campaign. During the last couple of weeks before the primary, Chafin will have at least $956,847 to spend. That is more than all five of her opponents combined have raised and spent to date.
One interesting aspect of Chafin's campaign is much of it seems to be directed against sitting Justice Brent Benjamin, who isn't up for re-election. My guess is she's hoping her shots at Benjamin, a Republican, will mobilize liberal support for her.
That brings us back to the danger of not paying attention to this year's Supreme Court race.
It is true the court has functioned well during the past few years - certainly much better than it did during the Warren McGraw and Larry Starcher days. Benjamin is part of the reason for that, but so are Davis and Chief Justice Menis Ketchum II.
Before Davis was elected in 2000, some feared she would be a liberal gift to the state's trial lawyers. Instead, Davis has carved a reputation as a fair jurist who worries more about the law and the state constitution than her personal beliefs. She has been an excellent justice, in my opinion.
Ketchum, elected in 2008, also has surprised some conservatives. He, too, has seemed to play his role by the book.
Benjamin, McHugh and Justice Margaret Workman round out a court even most conservatives have to admit is a great improvement over the activist liberals who once held sway.
Chafin could begin tilting the state's highest court back toward liberal activism, some of those who pay attention to politics in our state fear.
Because of apathy among voters, her ability to outspend all her rivals combined between now and May 8 may bring the race down to name recognition and slogans rather than issues. Candidates such as Davis and Rowe, who are solid on questions of vital importance to West Virginians, may be drowned by Chafin's oceans of cash.
Rest assured, Chafin is counting on that.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org