Nick Casey, a 59-year-old accountant and lawyer, announced in late April he would run for Congress in the 2nd District on the Democratic ticket.
He became known throughout the state's political circles during his time as chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, and he stepped out of that role four years ago.
The State Journal had five questions for Casey as he picks up the pace of his campaign. Following is the full transcript of that interview. A condensed version was printed in the Aug. 2 edition of The State Journal.
The State Journal: What have you been up to for the past four years?
Nick Casey: I had a wonderful time being (U.S. Sen.) Joe Manchin's chairman of the party, and was very active in that regard for folks like Joe Manchin, and (Gov.) Earl Ray Tomblin and other folks at that time. There's always, if you're in a role, when I was chairman of the board of St. Francis Hospital or chairman of the party, you need that exit strategy, so some opportunities came up. One of the things that happened, my firm, one of my partners unfortunately passed away of a heart attack very, very unexpectedly, so my colleagues at the firm decided I should be the managing member, the managing partner as we say. We're technically a limited liability company, so we have members as compared to partners, so I ended up being the managing member, so in the last four years in part, for the law firm, we've expanded it.
Things are good. We never had an office in Morgantown, and now we've got about 12, 13 people up there, and we're running out of space, so I was involved in that expansion. And also because of some other opportunities, we put an office over across the West Virginia border, on the eastern side of Columbus, and put an office over there for the firm. So I ended up doing quite a bit of that kind of stuff from the law firm. Basically, my day job. I kept a day job and kept practicing law. Also during that time there was some lovely conversation about whether I might become a federal judge or not, up in the Eastern Panhandle, so that was moving around.
TSJ: Why Congress for your first run at an office? Why not start small and build up?
NC: Well, a very wise person told me, they were talking about opportunity in life, and so sometimes a door opens; you know, you can look through the door or you can step through the door.
When all the changes occurred, primarily when Sen. (Jay) Rockefeller made his decision he was not going to run again and then other folks announced they were going to run for his seat, that door opened up as far as the Second Congressional District. So having been, not on a ballot, but kind of being no stranger to the political process and what goes on, that door opens up, and I looked through the door and what I saw was no incumbent, open seat, the Second Congressional District.
It's lovely across the district, but I'm a Kanawha County fellow, and Kanawha County is a very large, at least voting group, within the district, and I'm a Kanawha County person. Actually, I've got one foot here and one foot in the panhandle, but my major feet are planted here in Charleston, in Kanawha County. So the door opened, so I looked through there, and I saw a chance to make a run at that level. I felt pretty comfortable at that level because of my past activities. I knew people all the way across through there. I kid around and say I've summered in Clay County almost the last 20 years working on houses up there for a week every summer with a bunch of college and high school kids from Charleston Catholic High School, so I kind of know all the people and all the earth in Clay County.
So it just seemed like the opportunity existed. I kind of have a background in the area, strong in, certainly in the Kanawha County part of the area, the Clay County part of the area, going up through Elkins, and even over across the mountains as I like to say, so that looked like a good opportunity for me, and also an opportunity, I thought, to make a difference. You know, I've practiced law for going on 36 years, and I've been a CPA, and primarily practiced law, but had that overlay of being an accountant, I did a lot of financial, and those kinds of things. I thought I might actually have a skill set that can be helpful to the state of West Virginia and the Second Congressional District if I would jump in the race. And I've been very pleased some other folks agreed with me, so that's why I headed in the Congressional race instead of looking at something else.
TSJ: You talked about consensus-building and teamwork … but what about some specific initiatives of things you want to work on?
NC: There's a couple of things, and one is an energy policy. Not just for the Second Congressional District but for the country. We have a very bad statewide relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency, whether it's my farming friends over in the panhandle, or it's the gas people who think they're coming to get them, or it's the coal people who have already been "come and gotten," if you would, by the EPA.
In the Second Congressional District, you know, we've got water power at either end from the Ohio River over to the Shenandoah, Potomac on the panhandle side; we've got coal in Kanawha County and various other parts like Clay County; we end up with all sorts of gas and gas liquids, and that's an old industry that's suddenly come into a new, shining light again of opportunities. The Second's got plenty of wind generation. I don't know if you've crossed some of the ridges as you go through the Second Congressional, but there's not dozens, there's hundreds if not thousands of those windmills out there generating electricity. We even have geothermal hotspots that have not been developed yet but they believe exist and could be a whole range of energy. And I look at that and say, you know, we get what I consider no positive, organized, rational guidance.
You know, when we hear gas will displace coal, we hear that we can liquefy coal to make liquids so we can run, you know, automobiles, we can use gas for the same purpose. We pay huge, huge, huge tax incentives and tax credits for the windmills. We don't pay any incentive, that I'm aware of, of any significance to the gas industry and the gas-liquids industry or the geothermal industry. And so I look at that and say, you know, why isn't there a more organized policy? Not a rule, not a regulation, not a mandate, but somebody who says ‘Look, here's where we see things going.'
I mean, I think our finest scientists all indicate that you can't turn off the power plants to burn on coal, but that's going to be, maybe some say in 50 years you can do that, or a different timeline. We need some overlay on top of that so that, and I'll be real narrow, so the people of the Second Congressional can make some plans. If you're trying to entice business to come in here and develop the gas fields, I think businesses is entitled to have some perspective that on a national basis, we see gas fulfilling this role in the big picture. Same with our folks in the coal industry. Hey, we all know coal is going to be here, so let's make some rational decisions so people can invest their money along those policy lines and know there's some comfort level that what we're not doing is putting these people into a pit where they're going to beat each other up and nobody wins.
The other thing is, I have to put my accounting hat on, so bear with me on this. Being an accountant, I don't use ball-point pens, I have little sharp pencils with erasers on it because, you know, accountants make projections, make estimates, measure things against those and see how they're doing. One of the things that amaze me is our tax circumstances in this country. People have a fun time saying ‘We should raise taxes,' or ‘We should lower taxes,' or we should do this with taxes and all that, but I don't know that anybody understands or has enough perspective to say ‘Hey, look, when the United States of America has money, what are its priorities as to the expenditure of that money?' In other words, just like an energy policy, let's get some priorities in there.
You know, if people would come up to my good friends in Elkins and say, ‘We need to adjust our taxes so that we can finish Corridor H,' by golly, they might think that's a great idea. If they said, ‘We need to raise taxes so we can send it to Afghanistan,' they might not think that's such a great idea. So one of the things that I want to work on is knowledge and priorities. If we believe a program is appropriate to be funded, all right, if we fund A, we can't fund B. If we fund A, why are we funding A? Maybe we should fund B, or maybe we should try to fund something new. So some rationality in how we prioritize expenditures is important to me.
They were kidding me and saying, ‘You can't balance the United States budget,' and I'd say why not? West Virginia balances its budget. It's not as big, but it's complicated. And my other example … when I drive through the Second Congressional, you pass not dozens of churches, you pass hundreds of churches. Those churches aren't just springing up. They've been there, a lot of them, for a long, long time. And when you're a lawyer/finance guy, you end up on the church finance committee, and we have priorities. We can't print money at the church. When we get money in, we prioritize it. Everything we do is wonderful, but we can't do it all, so let's prioritize. If every church in West Virginia is able to use its limited resources, prioritize how it's going to spend it in a manner that that church can continue to survive, it doesn't seem to me that it's such a daunting task to take on the budget of the United States of America and bring some rationality to it.
One more priority that I have, and this might actually be the primary priority … I certainly grew up this way, and had many people say to me, this is the United States of America, we have the greatest form of government in the history of the world, and when you watch what goes on in Washington, whether it's the Senate or the Congress, or just the whole operation over there, they rule by, at the moment by, I call it intimidations or threats. You know, we're going to have a fiscal cliff, or we're going to put in the sequester and we can't even agree to talk about what to cut, so we'll just put these draconian, you know, we're going to filibuster. What happened to Civics 101 or most of the stuff we had in fifth grade or sixth grade where your body of Congress looks at issues, deliberates about issues, has rational conversations, and yeah, then we can't agree, we can't agree. But we've gotten to the point now that if somebody says let's talk about this, then someone says not only can we not talk about that, if you talk about that I'm going to do all these bad things over here to you in your budget. It's embarrassing.
I really feel it's important that people, and not just me, you've got to have like-thinking people, who can go over there and say, ‘Look, we can't agree on everything. But let's process and discuss and be rational on as many things as we can.' I was the president of the state Bar, and chairman of all these hospitals, and they're all just microcosms of Congress. You can be on the hospital board and have the nursing staff disagree with the doctors who disagree with the administrators who disagree with the people that fund the hospital, who disagree with the donors who are the beneficent, and you can have nothing but disagreements, but you can go in there with a little leadership and say we've got a mission, and let's try to balance our respective interests and let's meet our mission. All the hospitals are able to do it, it's just a shame the United States Congress isn't more civilized.
Hopefully we can bring a little more civility back there. Some say, ‘Well, you'll be one guy trying to do it,' and that's right, I'll be one guy trying to do it, and hopefully there will be like-minded people and pretty soon there will be a bunch of people that want to proudly say, ‘Hey, I'm with the United States Congress, and I'm proud of how we act,' instead of now, which is, ‘You want to run for Congress, with that bunch of nuts?' which is really a problem. That's the one thing that has resonated with everybody. … Forget their politics; everybody wants to take pride in the government, and when you talk about how they're operating now, they all frown – some more than others, but they frown and say this is not what we're about as a country, and certainly Congress ought to be more mature and more responsible to the oaths of office they take.
TSJ: What do you think will be your biggest challenge during this campaign?
NC: I think voter apathy. I had a, a bank president, I might add, send me a nice little note that said, he was quoting some Washington Post article that said Congress is broken, and he agreed with it, and he said I just despair it, and I think that's the biggest challenge that I'm going to have, is to say to people, you know, look, you all can make a difference. Your vote counts. You ought to come out and vote for the best candidate, and I'll tell them, which I believe to be me, but you ought to come out and vote and get involved and vote. Don't just say it's so bad it can't be dealt with. Is it broken? Yes. But can it be repaired? Yes. And I think getting that message out to people so that they feel they can meaningfully send somebody over there and vote for somebody they can send over there that they can be proud of is a challenge.
The Second Congressional District is a tough piece of ground to cover, just because of the geography of it all. I've been in statewide races with other candidates, so it's not like it's that tough to cover because you can do the whole state, but getting folks to recognize, whether they're in Lewis County or over in Hardy County, you can make a difference, and you ought to go out and vote for me. You ought to go out and vote, and let me persuade you why you should go out and vote for me, but that's what I like to call the turnout. I think that's a challenge that any candidate faces right now, and that's one that I want to try to overcome.
TSJ: Win or lose, what comes next?
NC: Well, of course, you're in them to win them, as they say. So the after plan, when I win, is just that. My goal is to go serve in the United States Congress, and to do what's right, clearly for the people in the Second Congressional District, but this is West Virginia. We're all in this boat together, so my first priority is the Second Congressional folks and then the one right next to it, pulling the same way, is West Virginia.
So my hope is to be able to do a couple of things, one is to go over and serve with honor, so people say, ‘Casey went over there, we sent him, he listened to us, he did the right thing for us.' And then the second part of it is to retire, not at a ripe old age, but Sen. (Robert) Byrd was there for 50 years, God love him, and he started earlier than I did. My thing is to go over there, serve honorably and then, at some point, let the next folks come in and let them take the ball and advance it down the field.
If I'm elected, I'll be 61 when I'm elected. Term limits are for people who are 35. Am I a career politician? No, I've had a career. I'm a career attorney, and that's been my career. And yeah, I do want to be a career politician for another number of years, but that's the career I want to have secondarily is to be that. Then I'll come back and hopefully continue to, you know, I would say write wills and do things, but I mostly do business and financial stuff, so I'll probably, when it's all over with, I'll come here.
And, God forbid, if, for reasons out there that I don't think are out there, that this isn't the right route, my colleagues at the law firm are very supportive of me, but I think they'd love to see me stay as much as they'd love to have me back.
I can live in the district, and work in Washington, D.C., so I'm really looking forward to that. I've got some friends in the panhandle, one of my buddies up there has been riding the MARC train for 11 years, back and forth to his job in Washington, and so when I work in Washington, I'm not going to live in Washington. I'm going to live in my district.