WHEELING - As he watched a stalemate between Democrats and Republicans in Congress grind government to a halt last month, West Virginia State Auditor Glen B. Gainer III decided he could stand on the sidelines no longer.
Gainer, a Parkersburg resident and Democrat who has held his current job as auditor since 1993, officially kicked off his bid Friday to challenge incumbent Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, for his House seat in the 2014 election. Though Gainer acknowledged he'd been mulling a run for Congress for some time, he said the deciding factor was the impasse over the nation's budget and the new health care law that led to a 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government.
"Common sense seems to be absent from the halls of Congress. ... We're tired of the games," Gainer told a group of more than 30 supporters during a stop at the First State Capitol Building in downtown Wheeling.
Gainer told those gathered that he will need their support in the months ahead, and pledged to reward that support.
"We know this is going to be a tough fight ... and the fight begins today," Gainer said. "I will work night and day for the people of West Virginia and I will always put you first."
When it comes to coal and its importance to West Virginia, Gainer and his soon-to-be opponent appear to share common ground. Like McKinley, Gainer believes it's crucial to push back against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations to preserve West Virginia's coal industry jobs. He said he supports an "all of the above" policy for electricity generation.
Regarding the health care law, Gainer said lawmakers need to investigate why insurance premiums for some will be higher than expected, and fix the problems that have plagued the healthcare.gov website and frustrated many Americans attempting to obtain coverage. In light of those issues, he believes penalties to be assessed against the uninsured beginning next year should be delayed.
But he stressed Congress needs to repair - not repeal - the law, noting House Republicans have voted more than 40 times to strike key elements from the law or reverse it altogether.
"The courts have already said it's the law of the land," Gainer said of the Affordable Care Act. "Let's fix it and make it work for the people it's designed to work for."
Gainer, who pointed out West Virginia's budget has been balanced each year he's served as auditor, believes his ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans would be one of his major strengths as a legislator.
"The thing that I bring to this race is I have been able to bring together people with differing views. ... We have to be able to talk, and not hold the government hostage," Gainer said.
Former state Sen. Ed Bowman introduced Gainer, with whom he said he's had a "special relationship" for more than 20 years. He said during his time in Charleston, Gainer always was there to assist lawmakers in crafting responsible legislation, and he's confident Gainer would do the same in Congress if elected.
"He's someone that I believe we need to send to Washington who is a moderate," Bowman said.
West Virginia Democrat Party Chairman Larry Puccio also expressed his support for Gainer's campaign Friday.
"Auditor Gainer has always shown responsible leadership," Puccio said. "By streamlining payroll, inventory and purchasing for the entire state government, Gainer's priorities have saved millions of taxpayer dollars.
"Glen has proven that responsible leadership works in West Virginia and I believe it will work in Washington."
Representatives for McKinley responded to Gainer's announcement Friday by saying a vote for the auditor is a vote for President Barack Obama and his agenda.
"Right now the only thing standing in the way of President Obama controlling all aspects of government is the conservative majority in the House of Representatives. Electing another Democrat whose first vote will be to return Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker ensures that President Obama would control the House, the Senate and the White House. There would be no checks and balances on Obama's anti-West Virginia agenda," said Mike Hamilton, McKinley's chief of staff. "Instead, we need a fair, independent voice like David McKinley who isn't afraid to stand up to President Obama or his own party when it means doing what's right for West Virginia. McKinley is widely recognized as someone who has worked effectively across party lines to get things done."
Gainer, 53, spent four years with the state Treasurer's Office, another three with the state Department of Energy and a year in the private sector before succeeding his father as auditor in 1993. He has been elected to the position six times, most recently in 2012 when he defeated Republican challenger Larry Faircloth.
His current duties include serving as the state's official bookkeeper, securities commissioner and commissioner of delinquent and non-entered lands, and overseeing financial audits of county and local governments. He and his wife Susan have two sons, John and Joshua.